There’s no discernible indication that the supposedly long-awaited Malaysian General election is almost here. In a few days, on 9 May 2018, Malaysians will be rallying to decide who they want their next leader to be.
I say it isn’t noticeable because election season in Nigeria is not something you’ll need to be reminded about. From competing politicians getting assassinated to increased military presence almost everywhere.
For a long time in Nigeria’s history, election days in some states and communities were like trailers of your favourite action movie; cars rolling in with armed mercenaries out to steal ballot boxes while people scramble for safety amid gunshots. Sometimes, they even have shootouts with the police (if the police are brave enough).
There are almost always riots and protests afterwards. The streets crowded with people who don’t have much else to lose chanting and facing off the anti-riot Mopos (mobile policemen) while tires get burned, heavy black smoke clouding the skies and visible for kilometres.
I was reminded of this recently when someone mentioned that they were going to get provisions stocked at home for the week. As foreign nationals—from New Zealand—they had been ‘informed’ by their employer that “there might be protests after the elections”.
She took that to mean doomsday warning hence the stocking up of a week’s worth of groceries ‘just in case’. I tried to convince her that the recent protests in Malaysia are typically mild natured, failed and let her be. Experience is a better teacher. Hopefully, I don’t get surprised.
Meanwhile, a colleague—also a foreigner—casually mentioned that he’d been advised that foreigners should stay indoors during the elections. My first thought was that it is BS.
But on second thought, it does make sense that he does stay indoors, seeing that he’s from Indonesia. In the last Malaysia General Elections, there were accusations of a party importing foreigners into the country to vote. Stay home. I think I’ll do the same even though there’ll be less confusing about me.
“I hate these flags and all these campaigns,” my Grab driver muttered, referring to the political party flags that seemed to be everywhere in the small Bau community in Sarawak. The people, he said, never remembered. “It is a curse.”
The politicians always say the same things before every election. They give the people the same few hundred ringgit to help them campaign. “And after they win, they forget the people and steal millions of ringgit for themselves. And the people complain until it is time for another election again and they can get less than 1 per cent of the money. THEIR money. It is sad.”
He looked pained. Saddened by the thought. If it makes any difference, I offered, the same thing happens almost everywhere around the world—at least in the developing countries. My country is no better. But that doesn’t make it okay.
I wished I could have played Tuface Idibia’s E Be Like Say for him and if he’d get the gist of the song.
“Who do you think is going to win?” I have asked friends and colleagues several times over. No one appears eager to want to volunteer any concrete details about who they’re voting for or who they think is going to win.
Everyone that I’ve asked implies that I know who they’re voting for like I should somehow calculate all their past actions and know who their preferred candidate is. What is more apparent, however, is that everyone who I have spoken with about the Malaysian political environment is eager for change; for something new and different.
We’ve been there before, Nigerians. We decided we had had enough of the military regime and wanted democracy back—something new and different. We wished for it and fought for it and we got it.
Only it was a former military ruler who was now a civilian. The same thing in a different packet. I guess it works. Or worked—we still have our country.
I recently offered that Malaysians are going to be choosing between an old hard, pointy rock and an even older, possibly harder place. “At least the second rock isn’t pointy,” was the response. I guess it isn’t. Also, old rocks get weaker and probably lose the pointy edges as they get old—or that’s what the internet said.
While this isn’t my country, I live here. And the country’s welfare affects me directly—whether I remain or go back home. If you’re an expat, studying, visiting or even just passing through, the Malaysian General election may sound like something far away that has nothing whatsoever to do with you.
Just ask the dreamers and immigrants being threatened by President Trump’s policies in the US and find out just how much the country’s government matters to your visit or stay. With that said, I hope all eligible Malaysians go out, choose wisely, vote and decide who the next person who’ll take the country to greater heights should be.