‘Preparing for the General Election – what can we do?’ attracted approximately 300 people in Penang recently. The talk was organised by the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and the speakers were Azmi Sharom, associate professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya; Lim Kah Cheng, vice president of Women’s Centre for Change; Anil Netto, blogger and writer; and, Dr Francis Loh, political scientist from Universiti Sains Malaysia were the speakers and Fr Fabian Dicom, from the Cathedral was the moderator.
Azmi was the first speaker bluntly announced that the main problem lies in the Election Commission not being independent. He said that as the Election Commission is part of the federal government, it means that by default, the opposition party is always at a disadvantage.
“Another problem is the lack of leadership and ideas. Politicians are usually only being pragmatic. I would like to see a political party which can debate important issues for example, on the economy.
“Although there are lots of changes since March 2008, some things still remain unchanged like the wastage revealed by the Auditor-General’s Report.”
Azmi then went on to emphasise that fundamental liberties have been hard earned and are at the foundation of the democratic process.
Lim Kah Cheng spoke mainly on women’s issues. “Women are still tasked with reproductive responsibilities such as taking care of the kids.” she said.
“Gender violence is widespread and is seen as a woman’s problem. If we do not speak up, who will? Women make half of the electoral population. Our power is in the votes. Every vote counts.”
She firmly stated that voting alone is not enough, and urged people to volunteer to be counting or polling agents.
“Lastly, seek out information about the candidate who stands for election. We want a candidate that is honest and who can work hard. We don’t want a sexist or racist candidate,” she added.
Anil Netto touched on issues such as overseas student voters, commercially centered development, affordable housing, education, household income, rising prices of food, rising household debt, central government debt and widening income inequality.
He believes that electoral reform is badly needed and also suggested a two-party system, as this will provide checks and balances. “Be concerned, get involved, stand up and be counted!” he ended.
In closing the forum, Fr Fabian noted that it is the responsibility of everyone to help build a just and peaceful society that is egalitarian and upholds human rights.
“In order to do that, parishioners must have the opportunity to listen to and critically analyse the Malaysian reality. Forums of this nature provide a platform for people to make informed choices and empowering them to act accordingly,” he said.