All for one, one for all

SHOULD the Malaysian voting system be changed to allow voting by race? When the founding fathers of our country decided on the kind of voting protocol that should be implemented in our young nation, they opted for the model where any citizen can vote for any other citizen.

That is how Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun V.T. Sambanthan envisaged the essential character of the nascent electorate.

They all agreed that the Malay community would lead a multi-racial population, given the historicity of the people.

Little has changed over the past 57 years except for the fact that Chinese are a smaller percentage of the population as are the Indians, their numbers dwindling over the years to 24.6 and 7.3%.

The Malays have grown percentage-wise to a little more than 50% with the bumiputra component from Sabah and Sarawak taking their numbers to nearly 65%.

As always, Malaysians are voting for the candidate of their choice, regardless of whether or not they come from the same racial grouping. And this has been the foundation on which a nation founded on democracy has grown.

Singapore has incorporated a proportional representation system to protect the minorities in an overwhelmingly Chinese society where 74.2% of the population come from that community.

A Malay or an Indian may realistically stand very little chance of winning in a Chinese-majority constituency (to be sure, most are).

The Malay vote used to be divided between Umno, the main partner of the Alliance (later Barisan Nasional and PAS (earlier the Pan Malayan Islamic Party PMIP); the Chinese vote between the MCA, (the second pillar of the BN) and DAP; and the Indian vote between the MIC (the third pillar of the BN), the Gerakan and the DAP.

Today, the Malay vote is split three ways with Parti Keadilan Rakyat being the newest kid on the block; the Chinese vote has almost totally deserted the MCA and Gerakan for the DAP save for stray pockets of support; the Indian vote is equally distributed between MIC, DAP and PKR.

Things have changed for sure. That's how it should be in a democracy where everyone's right to chose their leaders is a sacred cow.

And this is why Minister without Portfolio in the Prime Minister' Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim's suggestion that racial voting should be introduced may rank as one of the whackiest ideas mouthed by a Malaysian ever where voting is concerned.

At first glance, the arguably regressive proposal which he specifically qualifies is a personal sentiment, rankles us to our inner core built over generations of multi-racial living and repeated exhortations of Malaysians being one people.

What was he thinking of when he suggested that racial voting take over from the one man one vote system currently in practice which has served us well and led to Indians winning in a multi-racial seat despite lacking a vote bank in the constituency.

What Shahidan is saying is a direct antithesis of the Barisan National's 1Malaysia concept where, among others, Chinese have been urged to vote for Malays, Indians for Chinese and Malays for Indians. There are, of course, other configurations.

If Shahidan's proposal is taken up, it will mean that Malays will only vote for Malays, Chinese for Chinese and Indians for Indians putting paid to the dream of our founding fathers and subsequent generations of leaders from all communities.

And how is this novel formula expected to work?

I assume the minister knows that Indians are divided into numerous linguistic groups with a somewhat similar division among the Chinese.

Already, Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin is saying that his Orang Sungai will have more leaders from the community if this formula is used.

The Sabah MP knows, of course, that every other community in his state and Sarawak with their numerous tribes will be asking for a similar consideration.

And where will this lead us if not to infighting over which community needs a state or parliament seat more.

Something troubling is taking place with a minister asking the country to throw out a time-honoured system as an expedient move to prevent some Malaysians from questioning the King and Islam.

I respect his concern for both institutions which are inviolably protected by the federal constitution and the norms of Malaysian society.

But surely the law is comprehensive enough to deal with malefactors who deliberately breach these parameters.

On the same topic, I was surprised by another Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, days before Shahidan's statement, urging the multi-racial voters of the Kajang state constituency to support a representative from own community.

Incidentally, he is the de facto minister of national unity, representing the government in talks with the various non-Muslim communities on issues related to race and religion.

He may have slipped up in so doing as more Malays voted for the PKR candidate, Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, than they did BN's Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun who also upped her share of Chinese votes on the back of a low voter turnout.

Again, it was clearly a case of political expediency.

Malaysians have, by and large, achieved political maturity and do not need myopic views that may very well disturb the carefully-nurtured racial unity and inter-communal cohesion that we enjoy.

Balan Moses (executive editor, news) realises that the only constant is change. But he also understands that we should not fix something that's not broken. The voting system is a classic case of the latter. Comments: