What have you done for me lately?

After reading Praba Ganesan’s excellent “The immovable 10pc”, it got me thinking about the value of a democratic system of government. If only 10% of the electorate make up the kingmakers of our nation, does that mean that we are beholden to the choices they make? Hardly seems fair that 90% of the electorate have to live with the choices of the 10%, in our electoral systems where “first past the post” wins.

*Of course 10% is a completely arbitrary number. It could be 5%. 15%. Anywhere in between or thereabouts. It isn’t a big number, but it exists.

I’ve always had a grouse with democracy — and that’s it often turns into a popularity contest, and by being as such, votes are cast for the wrong reasons instead of the right ones. Of course, “right” and “wrong” are completely subjective terms. What is right for one voter may invariably be wrong for another. The anonymous ballot is the shield against the conspiracy of stupidity. 

Case in point. Thaksin Sinawatra who came to power on the wave of the “popular” ballot in 2001, only to get kicked out after a slew of scandals and allegations of corruption in 2006. It’s telling that both movements, the one that brought him to power, and the one that got rid of him, were extremely popular “people power” movements. And now, in 2011, his sister (i’m a firm believer that apples rarely fall far from the tree) has come to office in a major show of popularity. History teaches us the same about Joseph Estrada. The Bushes. The Tories (who screw Britons over every time they are elected, but never fail to come to office at least once every couple of elections). All fine examples of democracy, working at it’s finest.

The adage goes that we get the Government that we deserve. That’s so true. But surely there is a better way of doing things. 

It’s something that i’ve advocated on the VOI many times over the years — vote the candidate, not the party. As sure as the rain falls from the sky, this world is full of two types of politicians. One type is the Guy (or Girl) Who Gets It Done. The other type is the Guy (or Girl) Who Talks About Getting It Done (but Doesn’t). And i’m not referring to the Big Things. I’m talking about the Small Things. The things that matter in the day to day lives of the people, the improvement of our surroundings, tangibles rather than airy fairy talk about GDP, per capita incomes and corruption indexes.

I have much less faith in the politician who promises to fix our economy and put more money into our pockets than the politician who promises to fix the traffic conditions near where i live or fights to reduce the tolls i pay everyday to go to work. The difference? One promise is empty. The other promise is achievable.

For the Immovable 10pc Praba spoke about, it’s not about the Big Things. If the country suddenly became corrupt free, or if models stopped getting blown up, or if submarines found the ability to submerge, or fighter plane engines didn’t disappear — these things mean nothing to the 10%. It doesn’t make their life better or worse in any demonstrable way. They will still be slogging to work everyday, picking up their paychecks, rotting in traffic jams, watching Astro when we get home, dealing with crying babies and nasty diapers. The 10% are not necessarily affluent, they come from all walks, and that’s just how they lead their lives (and are happy to do so). Governments, just like Thaksin’s, Estrada’s, the Bushes, the Tories — they come and go, and the lives of the 10% will stay (more or less) the same.

So for them, what makes the difference? What determines their votes? Let it be with their own eyes, and what they can see. Sadly, politicians often get blinded by the Big Picture, they forget the Small Things.

Take Tony Pua, for instance (i have nothing against the guy, he’s probably very smart and an uber-nice fellow). While his speeches and releases to the Press are awesome headliners and offer chest-thumping-freedom-fighting feelings of momentary goodness, he could have done much better for his constituency. The Atria is a mess, roads are choked to hell, and a host of other local complaints. Is it his fault? Perhaps not, because he is fighting the Bigger Fight, the struggling for the Big Picture. He can’t clone himself and be everywhere at once.

But that’s exactly why the Immovable 10% will remain, “immovable”. I put to you that if politicians did more for their own communities, and fixed their own backyards first, that should be the basis for them to earn your vote. Don’t vote them out because you dislike their party (many good politicians lost their jobs this way despite serving their communities well for years). Don’t vote for the candidate just because he promises to Fix the World and make Gold Rain from the Sky. Ask him, challenge him for what he has done for YOU today. Can he make your life better?

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