Vote With Discernment
By Eugene Yapp, NECF Research Commission Executive Secretary
SPECULATION continues that the 13th General Election will be held at anytime. More than ever, Christians are keenly aware of their responsibility both as believers and as citizens of this nation to vote for a government that will fulfill the Biblical mandate of a just, righteous and fair government.
Since the last general election in 2008, there have been multiple by-elections and numerous political controversies. Various complexities and issues have eroded public confidence in the governing authorities and as the general election nears, political temperature and rhetoric have increased. The choice seems to be either "stability" under an experienced government, or "change" under an untested alliance of parties who present themselves as more democratic than the incumbent.
Is the choice as stark as this? Or is it a case of having to choose between the lesser of two evils? While some of us are confident about who we will vote for, others may not find the choice so straight-forward. There are still hard questions that trouble some of us as we decide how to cast our ballots.
What should we make of the calls for hudud law to be implemented? Can we reconcile and wholeheartedly vote for a coalition whose member has an overtly Islamic agenda? Can attempts to reform by the current regime really be trusted? How do we know that the next government won't backtrack on its promises once it comes into power?
These and others are difficult questions. There is no absolute answer to any of them. But they are realities facing every citizen, including Christians. However, as Christians we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us. We have the words of wisdom from our Holy Scripture to light our path as we decide on how we are to cast our vote. Discernment is therefore needed and for Christians, it is imperative that we understand the social-political realities and currents that undergird Malaysian society.
Religion as a political tool
Religion has always been a tool in securing political support in elections anywhere, and Malaysia is no exception. Umno and PAS have regularly tried to out-do each other at being more Islamic, ostensibly to garner greater support amongst the Muslim population. This has given rise to what may be described as "political Islam"; an ideology which involves using the State apparatus to uphold the dignity and the sovereignty of Islam while also extending an Islamic agenda, often in disregard of minority interests. As supportive as some Christians are of an alternative government, it cannot be denied that there are those in the opposition, as well as in the present government, who have no qualms in subscribing to this ideology and play the religious card freely in their favour.
Hence, if Malaysia is to maintain her multi-religious character, it is imperative that there be checks and balances against attempts by any government to impose the dictates and practices of any one particular religion over society. Such a call is in accordance with the Christian understanding that there should be no prohibition in the profession and cohesion in the practice of one's religion. This notwithstanding, Christians ought to constantly remind themselves that the Kingdom Christ came to establish is not one of political power but one that is characterized by the divine.
Can reform attempts and promises be trusted?
As electors, we will need to carefully examine the manifestos of each political parties as well as their "track record" before deciding how we should vote. Support for a particular party or candidate must be based on policies and programmes viewed as a whole, rather than on a stand on a single issue. What are some policies and programmes we should take cognisance of?
Recent attempts at reform by the ruling party in their intention to repeal certain oppressive laws should be evaluated against the party's position on rights and fundamental liberties in totality. Does the party speak of civil liberties as inherent rights of citizens, or as a "privilege" only the government can bestow? Is its language on reform populist, or does it display genuine appreciation of the people's aspirations and understanding of what is for the country's betterment, even at the cost to its own hold on power? Is such an understanding consistently applied across the board or is it merely responding to pressure points or worst, in a piece-meal fashion?
True transformation and genuine reform is now critically needed. Genuine reforms for Malaysia must involve the strengthening of public institutions including the judiciary, law enforcement, education and government administration. Genuine reform must ensure that integrity and rule of law is restored and respected. Genuine reforms must ensure that biases in whatever forms are removed and that there is no place for arbitrary decisions and abuse of power and of processes. These should be the yardsticks by which to evaluate the promises of contesting parties in the election.
A framework for decision-making
In the Genesis account, it is significant to note that God did not mandate the angels or the spiritual beings to tend the earth. Instead, He chose humans, created in His image, who are physical and spiritual, rational and moral, social and sexual, to bring good to creation.
Humans are invested with dignity and authority by God and delegated the task of ruling the world. The election process is one way to in which we now exercise this delegated authority. Those who are in power must in turn facilitate and ensure that the conditions to live and express ourselves as free human beings are guaranteed and safeguarded.
As Christians who believe in this "high" view of the dignity of persons, we must be particularly sensitive to attempts, however well-meaning, from any quarter to exploit or manipulate people, or to deny or curtail their freedom to function humanly.
It is therefore the duty of every Christian to vote wisely in the hope that the government elected will serve the common good of all and ensure our democratic space for freedom of religion and other human rights. The government elected must foster public institutions that bring about the conditions for good and righteous living so that all citizens may live in a peaceful, harmonious manner, as well as responsibly and contentedly.
Let us also remember that beyond the election, the next government will only be as good as citizens allow it to be. Therefore, missional-minded Christians who see themselves as agents of change must continue to strengthen democratic governance by participating in it through prayer, action and advocacy.
May your conscience, directed by God's Word, enable you to make a wise decision. God bless you.