People are starting to canvass for votes. The Malaysian general election is just somewhere around the corner.

But some are advocating a no-vote strategy and some others are proposing to go out and spoil their votes. All that to express dissatisfaction over the options they will likely face at the ballot box.

I can see some if not most of the no-vote and spoil-the-vote crowd are advocating their case by resorting to analogy. In a Coke versus Pepsi, they want something else not on the menu. Another that I notice is a group of sheep voting for either a lion or a wolf, both of which intend to have the sheep served as lunch. There are others which are absurd but all of these analogies are an attempt to present the low favorability of the likely realistic choices we face in our democracy.

Analogy can be useful in many ways. It is meant to clarify thoughts and sharpen messages. Some situations may be too complex to describe in full that an analogy provides a quick introductory comprehension.

But the use of analogy is no proper comprehension of reality, especially when there is a deeper logic at work. There are limits to analogy and going beyond the limits is an abuse. Proper understanding will need to go beyond analogies.

There are times when the actual situation can be explained simpler and more accurately without resorting to analogy. There are times when no analogy is appropriate and instead analogizing is an exercise in absurdity. In these cases, having an analogy do not clarify our thoughts or sharpen our message. It instead blurs and misrepresents the actual picture.

Analogy necessarily simplifies the picture. A good analogy simplifies by ignoring irrelevant details. A bad analogy simplifies by ignoring relevant details, and worse, by adding unrelated matters.

The limits of analogy, or rather the appropriateness of analogy can be tested by stretching it to its logical absurdity while at the same time, if the same is applied to the actual situation being analogized, no absurdity could be found. The divergence in absurdity between the analogy and the actual situation is a good test for a good analogy. In the analogy of sheep voting for either a lion or a wolf, would the sheep be safe if they refrain from voting? In the Coke-Pepsi menu, would non-voting mean either drinks would taken off the menu the next time?

The reality is that we are not sheep and we are not choosing either Coke or Pepsi, or sirap bandung either.

In Malaysian elections, in the real world beyond elementary analogy, not voting (especially in a situation where wasted votes associated with the weaknesses of first-past-the-pole system is a non-issue; sometimes voting can be meaningless too) would not exclude you from the consequences of political choices made by the majority. While the non-voting or the spoil-the-vote you would enjoy self-satisfaction for not being directly responsible for the choice made by the majority, and that somehow grants you some kind of self-perceived moral superiority, the consequences would still be imposed upon you. If you do refrain from choosing in this system of ours, somebody else would force you to drink the majority’s preferred drinks presented in the analogy.

If you like sirap bandung more than Coke, and prefer Coke to Pepsi, you would worse-off if the majority imposes Pepsi on you in a world of Coke versus Pepsi. There is no question of not drinking it unless you leave the system altogether, i.e. migrate out of Malaysia. The analogy does not capture this.

This is where analogy fails. They do not capture the essence of the real world and obscure the choices and its related preference.

But the general dissatisfaction over the choices available cannot be dismissed and indeed it points towards a larger institutional problem. Our current political and democratic process arising from gerrymandered FPTP system is deeply flawed. It is a sign of growing legitimacy crisis that our political system suffers. One solution is the introduction a new way of doing things, and one of them includes reforming our FPTP contest to some kind of proportional representation system where we will not be trapped in a practical binary choice. Now, who is likely to rock the voting system? The incumbent that benefits from the status quo, or the challengers who think the system is unfair?

But until such reforms happen, we are stuck in our current deplorable system. And what we need to do is to appreciate the complexity of our current system rather than simplifying it with elementary tools.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reservedMohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

Given the current confusing political situation in Malaysia, it is understandable why some voters are thinking of not voting at all. While I am pro-voting with clear preference due to my intention to test the Malaysian system’s ability to facilitate power transfer peacefully, to improve our institutions and due to my belief that power change is the best way to create a competitive and a fairer democracy, I appreciate the non-voting option.

The option off the ballot box tells various political parties that no voter should be taken for granted, and that the cajoling of potential must happen. Efforts at appeasing the voters must happen. Hopefully such appeasement happens at the policy dimension and not as crass as simple handouts. Non-voting is a good credible threat that must exist in a democracy so that the system does not become calcified in a bad equilibrium. For this reason, I am reluctant to berate (too much) those who plan not to go out and vote, however great the temptation is (although I am very much less sympathetic to the spoil-the-vote crowd for it is I feel a very anti-social tactics in the most social of democratic exercises: voting).

Nevertheless on the election day itself, I hope this class of voters would go out and vote eventually because our Malaysian equilibrium is truly horrible and it needs a good jolt. The status quo just will not do and there has to be attempts at changing it.

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