Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote? | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 03 Feb 2012

How do people evaluate their leaders in government, through their satisfaction with policies, or based on emotional tags linked to the personalities of politicians? When voting, do they think of the impacts felt on a daily basis, or are they reminded of the candidates’ antics as portrayed in the media?

Perhaps there was a collective sigh of relief (or horror, depending on which side one was on) after the verdict of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case was announced. There was certainly a tension that had been built up in the preceding weeks, with members of his party making preparations for a worst-case scenario.

The decision was predicted to have coloured the political fabric for the year ahead, giving pundits some indication as to when polls may be called. Predictions vary for the elections to be held any time between June to March 2013, the latter being the full term of five years. Malaysians have been sitting on the edge of their seats for at least two years already, waiting for the big game to begin.

Politics does have the tendency to transform Malaysians into wild things who channel all energies into anticipating a single event. Press conferences, finger-pointing, scandalous revelations and the like are geared toward the likelihood (or not) of a particular party winning in the elections.

What often goes swept under the carpet is the arduous task of policy-making. This ought to be the bread and butter of governments, where positions taken by federal, state and local governments, then translated into programmes and projects, are evaluated and scrutinised by citizens. Surely the socio-economic philosophy behind a certain party should influence how people feel towards them.

However, this requires a more educated society. When I went to the United States to observe the 2008 presidential elections,  I was surprised at the detail that the average American voter was expected to know when voting. There, you are not merely voting for the president, senator, congressman or local councillor; depending on the state and municipality, you are also expected to vote for specific legislation. For example, Californians were able to vote on whether to ban same-sex marriages in the state.

In such a situation, numerous civil society groups and non-governmental organisations publish information in little booklets to educate the public, conduct seminars and campaigns for or against a certain legislation being voted upon. This of course requires an educated public and an environment conducive to promoting freedom of speech and expression.

We have not gone down that route yet, where Malaysians only vote for two public representatives: their state assemblyperson and Member of Parliament. These elected individuals are then expected to represent their constituents’ views in making policy decisions. By right, these leaders should therefore be judged according to their policies and actions, since we have given over the right to decide on what’s best for us to them.

Let’s face it. Elections are a popularity contest, and numerous factors come into play, not necessarily reflecting how wise the candidate has been in executing the best safety, health or public transport policies. The media also contributes to playing up issues: the question thereby arises on whether the supply of political gossip precedes its demand, or vice versa.

That being said, Malaysians are maturing as a voting society. Take Bersih 2.0 as an example, where people root for what is essentially a policy change. In this respect, the policy of electoral reform precedes the personality of a leader. Whichever political leader who is able to demonstrate his affinity to the reform demands would be seen as favourable in the court of public opinion.

And this is surely the route to take if we want to develop an advanced democracy. Sure, Malaysia is still very much a rural polity, and sure, the national education system has not necessarily produced critically thinking individuals. But we cannot wait for that to take place. Already, heated discussions ensue on important policy issues facing the country: budget deficits, economic sustainability, national bankruptcy, urban poverty, and so on.

As we find ourselves facing an upcoming election year (whether or not the elections are actually called this year, politicians will surely act as if it will), it is important that Malaysians stay focused on what will most impact society and the country. It is often easy to be distracted by reports on sodomy, party-hopping, traitorous behaviour, and so on.

Evaluating  our leaders based on their performances, how they have handled their budgets, and positions taken on everyday affairs, say, violence against women or traffic jams, should be considered important indicators of effective leadership.

This piece argues for greater consideration of policy decisions and their implementation when observing politicians. However, the reality is that how people vote will be an amalgamation of their perceptions both emotional and rational: the fine interplay between politics and policy. Research into this area would surely offer a rich understanding of voters’ behaviour, expectations and how these values influence their final mark on the ballot.


 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











From Windows to a Mac: A guide




In for a sweet treat




A Majestic presence





Copyright © 2018 Selangor Times. All rights reserved. Designed By Senedi