Is your ‘wakil rakyat’ really the people’s choice?

The US has something called primaries – intra-party elections whereby party members vote which candidates will contest a particular seat.

From local councils to the presidential elections, party members and non-party members can decide who gets to run for office. The non-party members participate in several states and varying levels of public office. Take Virginia for example. It has an open voting system whereby anyone can vote in a primary.

Republicans can vote in Democrat primaries and vice-versa – just show your ID, grab the ballot and vote. So it is entirely possible if there is enough (a lot, actually) coordination from one party to “select” the candidate from the opposing party for a particular seat. It will take immense effort but it is not impossible.

When I first got here, I marveled at how Americans participate in elections. Something comes up every two years – presidential elections, general elections, off-year elections, local council elections, ballot initiatives, referendums. All of which involve primaries before anyone gets to contest.

Primaries are taken just as seriously here so candidates will campaign and are afforded the same resources as a general election. Some states have manual pen on paper voting ballots, others have touchscreen machines, some a combination of both. They are all generally well-organised and civil. Turnout can vary but hey, all that matters is the party loyalists and that the best candidate wins.

This is a foreign idea in Malaysia. I know parties have their own conventions and party elections but there is never really any contest for party positions and even fewer for state and parliamentary seats.

I don’t think PKR, DAP or PAS ever gave their members or the public a chance to vote on who gets what seat. It is more of a handout, crony, nepotism, seniority, who-owes-who-what-favour kind of deal.

So much power in party leaders in Malaysia and most decisions are made top-down. In America, it’s definitely the opposite.

Party leaders wield power for sure but they can be removed in the drop of a hat if there is sufficient blowback from grassroots supporters and then guess what happens – these leaders get primaried and someone else will take their place. Easy as that.

Primaries are big business and can sometimes be time consuming and costly but it does give the word “representative” real meaning. Makes you wonder how much does “wakil rakyat” actually really mean?

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