Voting is a right, so go out and vote ! Change takes time, and will not come if Malaysians are unwilling to take the first step.

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“I want to boycott this year’s election lah!” “Young people should boycott the upcoming election because a young candidate was not presented as prime minister!” “What is the point of voting? We can’t change anything.”

These are a few of the comments that I have read and heard over the past few days, and even last year when I randomly asked Malaysians about the 14th general election (GE14). At the moment, many Malaysians especially the young voters are complaining about Dr Mahathir Mohamad being the opposition’s candidate for prime minister and using this as a reason not to vote in GE14.

These are all baseless reasons because voting is a part of democracy.  It is our responsibility as Malaysian citizens to vote in an election regardless of who we actually support.

We should be thankful and even feel lucky that we have the privilege of a choice to vote for the ruling government or the opposition coalition. Malaysians, especially young voters, should remember that some countries such as China and North Korea vote in elections but don’t have much of a choice but to vote for the ruling party as both countries are ruled by a single political party.

In Russia, which is also a democratic country, elections have been the subject of international criticism due to rampant cases of ballot-stuffing since 2003. The likelihood of Vladimir Putin and his party gaining victory is so high that it questions their democracy.

We are definitely better than Russia in managing our elections as the ruling party does not unanimously win. However  Malaysians continue to complain although we have a choice between the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

I think the Russians should be complaining, not us. What else do we want? Yes, we want free and fair elections, and we might or might not achieve that in GE14. But Malaysians as a whole should understand that in order to achieve everything they want now, there is a process to go through. A young candidate for prime minister, better policies, free and fair elections – it does not come overnight.

Some may argue that the Federation of Malaya is already 60 years old, and Malaysia is 54 years old, so we should already have all these changes.

One should remember that it was only in 2008 that the US elected its first African-American president in Barack Obama. It took almost 232 years, and the country had 43 other white presidents before Obama was finally elected.

I am not suggesting that we wait 200-over years to make changes, but change takes time. How are we going to make changes if we can’t even  commit to the simple act of voting?

Many first-time voters such as myself are contemplating whether or not to vote in the upcoming election. We as Malaysians are fortunate that we didn’t go through a tough time to get our voting rights as both men and women were granted equal voting rights regardless of race, religion or gender as we voted during the federation’s first election in 1955.

mywant multiracial malaysian

It seems that we are now taking the privilege of being able to vote for granted. We are blessed to have not gone through apartheid where coloured citizens in South Africa had no right to vote.

Women in Malaysia, too, should generally be thankful because they were not barred from voting like in many other countries. The United States of America gave women the right to vote in 1920, followed by the United Kingdom in 1928, France in 1944 and Switzerland in 1971. These countries had a history of actually not allowing women to vote, while Malaysian women have always had the right to do so along with men.  Saudi Arabia only granted women the right to vote in 2015.

With that said, I would like to urge all Malaysians, especially the young voters, to exercise their responsibility as citizens by voting in the upcoming general election this year. We should indeed use our right as well as our privilege to vote wisely without taking it for granted, regardless of our political support.

For those are voting for the first time just like me, exercise your right; go and vote!

Aaron Denison is a research assistant at the Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya.

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