It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over a year since the last Malaysian general election. Somehow it feels like it’s been just a few months ago. But perhaps it feels so recent because people are still talking about the general election up to now. I had one such conversation with a friend a few days ago, and one of the points raised by him was that the opposition parties garnered more (total) votes when compared to the eventual winner, Barisan Nasional (BN), which has since formed the governmentagain. It was a mere 2%-3% margin, but the argument was that because the opposition parties received more votes, they were the “real” winners of the general election.
Actually, the argument that “the opposition parties received more votes than BN” by my friend is somewhat unoriginal. I’ve heard of that same argument raised over and over again by so many other people before this. I’ve seen it mentioned in countless articles too. I dare say it’s one of the most popular justificationsif not the most popular justificationto support the view that the opposition has earned the right to govern Malaysia today. And that argument seems logical too.
The trouble with many Malaysians, however, is that they don't really understand about the kind of democracy system that we have in Malaysia. Specifically, they don't understand the rules of the game. I don't claim to be an expert in politics, but I'm quite clear about the elections that we have here in Malaysia.
In whatever competition, there will always be rules and regulations which are to be adhered to. Take for example the game of badminton. The organiser assembles a group of players to compete for, say, 2 weeks. They are separated into several groups according to some sort of ballot system. They will then play against each other through several rounds. Perhaps the earlier rounds are based on points collected, and then later becoming sudden-death rounds where only a win will ensure progress into the next round. When the final 2 players reach the grand final to decide the champion of the tournament, it doesn't really matter if one has scored extremely well in his previous games, because all that really matters in the score for that final game.
In the Malaysian election, it has long been the case that the party that will be declared the winner is the one that has won more seats, and not necessarily more votes. But of course to win those seats, it must get more votes than the rival. It is in that sense that the "real" democracy is truly practised. However, once the seats have been won, the number of votes acquired doesn't really matter. A seat is a seat, regardless of whether the victory for that particular seat is won by a majority of 100 or 10,000 votes. All that matters for the competing parties is to ensure that they have more seatsnot votesthan the rival(s) to win the general election.
That's the rule of the game in the Malaysian context. Whether or not that is a fair rule, that is a separate matter altogether. I don't understand why so many people are still harping on the popular votes received by the opposition parties when all that really matters is the number of seats.