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15th Malaysia General Election: Time to Campaign Online

15th Malaysia General Election: Time to Campaign Online
© Camilo Jimenez on unsplash 

I’m not sure how the community leaders were chosen in the prehistoric times. I can only imagine that the process is similar to choosing the leader of an animal pact; the strongest individual will be appointed as the leader and will give protection to its followers.

The birth of democracy and human civilization have introduced an easier method to choose a leader; which is through an election. Humans evolve through time and now we are currently in the period where everything is on the tip of our fingers.

Looking into the unstable government today, almost all of us are certain that the 15th General Election is going to happen soon.

The problem is, will we be able to conduct the 15th General Election amidst the Covid-19 pandemic which is will haunting us?

Make use of the digital space

I can say that most political parties in Malaysia have not yet used the digital space fully, eventhough they realize its importance.

In 2018, the digital report issued by Hootsuit and We Are Social showed that the number of internet users in Malaysia increased to 25.08 million users; or 79% of the people of Malaysia. That report also puts Malaysia’s position as the 9th most active country in the world in social media.

During the tabling of the 2021 Budget in Parliament, many were astonished with the MYR 85.5 million being allocated to the Department of Special Affairs (JASA) of Malaysia. It’s not that difficult for me to understand; the government is trying its best to refresh its image in social media; and this effort will need a lot of budget.

I would be lying if JASA has successfully performed its task well; in reality the image of Perikatan Nasional (PN) is going downwards with all the criticism and the crisis they are currently facing.

Touching back on the original issue I wanted to discuss; in my opinion, digitalizing democracy in this pandemic is possible. In the context of the internet base achievement in Malaysia, we can conclude that at least half of the Malaysian population have access to the internet.

If we are optimistic, the points I mentioned before shows that 79% of the population have access to the internet in 2018. Furthermore, political parties are already comfortable with digital campaigning – this is because there are already quite a number of political campaigns being conducted in the digital space.

Approaching the 15th General Election, I think that the election can be done digitally – if not fully digital, then it can be conducted in hybrid. The process of voting digitally is still new to us, however I do not think that campaigning digitally is something new. This can be the initial phase towards digital voting which needs to be a smooth and transparent process.

In order to conduct a smooth and transparent online election, we need to explain to the public about the blockchain technology that makes it impossible for fraudulent practices to occur. This model has been practiced by many countries such as Estonia. However, it requires time in order to gain confidence, which is why we need to start with online campaigning.

We can conduct elections with regulations mentioning that digital campaigning must be prioritized compared to physical campaigning which has a higher risk. In other words, the permit to hold physical campaigning must be limited which will then force political parties to prioritize in digital campaigning.

This method actually gives an upperhand to the election machineries, in which they will be able to measure the success rate of their campaign through empirical data given in the digital platform.

I believe there are a number of people who are not comfortable with this method since there are many candidates who gives away money at their constituencies for their voters. Digital campaigning will make it challenging for these practices to happen during the campaign period.

If candidates gives away money to their voters, they need to do banking transactions – which can be used as concrete evidence in court.

If the element of these political money can be decreased during the campaign period, we can certainly look at the criteria of the candidates from a different perspective, such as their track records, the ideas they offer during the election.

We need to find a way in order to make an objective assessment towards members of political parties. It is necessary to assess these issues before voting days, after the people have voted, we need to critically question their “promises” in order to ensure a fair check and balance process.

I would like to highlight that the performance of these representatives must be made possible to be assessed! The digital sphere enables us to do so; if they do not perform.

We are in the phase that requires urgent steps to be taken. The government of the day is currently unstable because it seems that UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), the largest party in the government, has retracted its support in the government coalition, Perikatan Nasional, and has requested to hold a general election.

It is time that we return the mandate to the people to vote for the government that they want. With the development of technology in hand, we will be able to hold a general election while lowering the infection risk of the pandemic. – March 1st, 2021.

* Rahman Imuda,  alumni of the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) on Safeguarding Freedom in the Digital World, , Gummersbach, Jerman.

*This article first published on The Malaysian Insight