Reconsidering Elected Representatives

What is the role of a member of Parliament? A state assemblyperson (ADUN)? A local councillor?

And where is the citizen in this superstructure of modern organisation called democracy?

These are some questions that I believe Malaysians must face in order to overcome the illiteracy in democracy which I strongly believe is crippling our nation.

As my esteemed readers may or may not know, for the past two years I have been working for and with the MP for Lembah Pantai, which is one of 11 parliamentary constituencies in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur.

In these past two years, which seems a lifetime if my swiftly greying hair is anything to go by, I have learned more than a bit about the inner and outer workings of politics on many levels of society.

And while I pretty much jumped into the deep end of the political pool and quickly learned how to swim (or rather, not sink), I found that I was still ill-equipped to really understand how things worked.

I did wish that there was some sort of primer, some kind of 101 manual that could have been handed so that I could quickly learn what to do, what to avoid, and to understand where everything stood when you took a step back and looked at the bigger picture.

Today, when I am asked why hasn’t the MP done something about the potholes, or rubbish, or missing street lights, I can confidently say that actually that’s not what the MP is there for. If one is in KL, one must quickly contact DBKL at either its hotline (1-800-88-3255) or visit its website to lodge an e-complaint. If one is in PJ, it would be via MBPJ or the local councillors – i.e. local government.

In other words, I have come to understand that an MP and ADUN is really elected to listen to the rakyat, to look at the bigger picture and why things are currently not working so well, and to propose systemic changes to the superstructure through promulgating new laws or reforming current ones.

Yet we are still under the impression that MPs and ADUNs are like “Swiss Army knives” – multi-purpose miracle tools to solve all problems.

Perhaps it’s because we have been raised with such expectations all these years.

Perhaps not much has been systematically done to change the perception that people have about the role of elected representatives.

Perhaps it has much to do with the fact that some 60 per cent of Malaysians are living with a household income of RM3,000 and below – and when we see many of these MPs or ADUNs with means (which might have been the fruits of their own hard work… or otherwise), it is not unnatural to inquire how our lot might be made better. Quickly.

Fundamentally, I believe it is a question of economics, and more specifically our current political-economic regime.

I believe that if we are able to fundamentally and permanently raise the household incomes of Malaysians, we will begin to see a shift in the dynamics of our political economy.

To put it simply, we will rely on elected lawmakers to do the work they are entrusted to do: make good laws.

And while the prognosis is much agreed by both sides of the aisle, the manner in which the goal of uplifting our common condition is being achieved is structurally divergent, if we are to look at the latest Budgets proposed by both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat – the former is looking at quick, temporary, and ultimately expensive fixes such as BR1M2.0 for the purposes of winning the next election, while the latter is focused on holistic reforms to undo debilitating cronyistic practices.

I hope that one day Malaysians will be able to appreciate the role that each and every citizen has to play, in order to make a better Malaysia a reality for all.

(First published in Selangor Times on 19 October 2012)

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