Life in Kuala Lumpur in the past few weeks has been a constant reminder of our flawed democracy.
If you are in the city, look all around you. You will see banners and posters of political parties almost everywhere. Superficially, the colorful show of political flags is a sign of democracy. Now, look closer at those belonging to Barisan Nasional and especially those with Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin on it. Be mindful of their messages.
Those messages celebrate the achievements of Raja Nong Chik as a minister. It highlights what he has done over the past few years, with him heading the Ministry of Federal Territories. It appears like the all too admirable democratic judge-my-record, thank-me politics. He even thanked himself in many of his political banners and posters for stuff he did in the city.
Yet underneath this veneer is acid corroding the pillars of our democratic institution.
The campaign narrative told by BN to the voters in the city makes one think that Raja Nong Chik is the mayor of Kuala Lumpur. This is all the more so in Bangsar where he is contesting in the general election. If those messages are to be believed, it would appear that he was both the mayor of Kuala Lumpur and the Member of Parliament for Lembah Pantai, the parliamentary seat which Bangsar is a part of.
If all those achievements highlighted for electioneering purposes are truly his, then he must have directed the very public resources belonging to the city to do what he did. He takes credit for things that are the normal function of City Hall, like the maintenance of drainage around the city, which is funded by taxpayers’ money.
There is a problem with this if one views it through a democratic lens.
The truth is that Raja Nong Chik is an unelected senator appointed as the minister for the Federal Territories. He is not the elected mayor of Kuala Lumpur and he is not the elected representative for Lembah Pantai.
The 2008 general election saw BN win only one out of 11 Parliamentary seats in Kuala Lumpur. While Parliamentary seats are an inadequate proxy to the will of the majority in the city, it is the best proxy we have got since there is no local election. Based on that proxy, the majority in the city conclusively rejected BN candidates and BN itself then in March 2008.
In spite of that, BN continued to control City Hall through the Ministry of Federal Territories as if they had the moral mandate to do so. With that, the party was the one that determined the development agenda of the city. Or perhaps, more importantly, BN controlled the spending priority of City Hall.
Add in the fact that the actual mayor of the city also is unelected, voters of Kuala Lumpur are quite simply unrepresented in the very authority that governs the affairs of their home. The elected representatives are dependent on the goodwill of City Hall and the ministry to execute the normal functions of an elected representative.
It is Putrajaya with its pretentious grandiose buildings that dictate the affairs of Kuala Lumpur. The city of millions is being governed from a desolate town erected in the middle of nowhere.
That is undemocratic. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly the premise that BN’s campaign messages rest upon.
How long more will the Kuala Lumpur electorates continue to be politically unrepresented in the running of the city?
There is no reason for BN to change the status quo because it is the beneficiary of things as it is. If BN continues to be in the minority in the city, it is in their favor to keep the whole undemocratic structure intact. Even if BN somehow miraculously wins a majority of Kuala Lumpur Parliamentary seats and by proxy, the will of the voters of Kuala Lumpur, the moral authority BN might gain through this democratic process is only a redundant bonus.
That begs a question. If Raja Nong Chik and BN do not require a win to do what he did in the next Parliamentary term, why vote him in at all?