Malaysian Elections: A vote for technology

May 5, 2013 marks the 13th General Election in Malaysia since Independence.

As politicians from both sides of the divide campaign in earnest, accompanied by a healthy sprinkling of independent candidates in the mix, we clearly look forward to dropping our voting papers in the ballot box. But how has technology, over the years, changed the way the man on the street view elections?

It cannot be denied that the power of social media and the Internet has significantly altered the way the electorate decide come polling day. Take a look at the Arab Spring where social media has been accredited to play a central role in forming political debates, not to mention tearing down traditional borders associated with news reports, as the man on the street equipped with a decent smartphone is able to shoot a photo, send a tweet, post a Facebook update, or email about it for the masses to read and decide for themselves.

Closer to home, the advent of information technology has definitely changed the way the political landscape is shaped. One thing for sure is this: The average person is able to get the viewpoints of politicians from both sides of the divide, and this would help one cast votes in a fairer, more balanced and informed manner.

Technology has also helped in the dissemination of information quickly, efficiently, and making things a lot more affordable compared to using traditional print media that has limited reach. It also helps promote a healthy discussion among the electorate, as one leaves comments and tweets opinions across the board for all and sundry to see.

Having said that, one must bear in mind that social networks and Internet sites are a double-edged sword - they can also be used as a platform to spread disinformation and fear-mongering at similar lighting speeds, hence it always pays to run whatever you read online through the common sense filter, in addition to investigating the reliability of the news/information source itself.

When I was a wee lad, elections meant one thing - the elected representatives finally make their way to the ground to meet their electorate, and this happens only once every five years or so. If you wanted to speak to your MP or to get in touch with him, it was a long and arduous process, but thankfully the introduction of social media and other forms of e-communication over the past decade has made the elected representatives a whole lot more "human" and reachable.

E-communication is good as it keeps them on their toes since the electorate are able to share their grouses with almost immediate effect, and while good news spreads, bad news and ill reports spread even faster. Unless one has a hide that rivals that of a rhino's, it will help hasten a fix for a particular situation in the latter case.

If there is another positive that one can attach to the power of the Internet and mobile phones when it comes to elections, it is the ease of communications and retrieval of information.

You are now able to check with the Election Commission (EC) as to whether you are a registered voter from the comfort of the home as long as you have an Internet connection, and this means it does away with the need to call up the EC's office and deal verbally with an officer on the other end of the line, more often than not after you are subjected to a five-minute jingle due to an automated machine response.

If you do not have access to the Internet, fret not, sending a text message to a designated number will yield the same results. This has led to a sense of empowerment among the eligible voters, as they too attempt to help the EC weed out ineligible and phantom voters.

In fact, it was just this week when I decided to check out for myself a registered voter who was born on April 12, 1896, and she happens to be still on the electoral roll. That will make her out to be 117 years old and counting, which will certainly be a world record for the world's oldest living woman, but that record is held by Jiroemon Kimura, a woman who just turned 116 this month. Hopefully the furore raised will help the powers-that-be to streamline the official electoral roll.

The proliferation of smartphones and digital cameras has also made it easier for the masses to capture the many ceramah (talks) as they happen, and politicians too, will have to adhere to a higher standard of honesty and integrity as it will border on the impossible to deny what they did say, or did not say.

Once a video has been uploaded to YouTube or other video sharing sites, you can more or less say that it is open for folk to share their two cents' worth in a comment. It also paves the way for citizen journalists to offer an alternative viewpoint from the mainstream media, which can be refreshingat times.

Campaigning has taken on a different form too, where the traditional approaches of walkabouts and attending community events still have their place, especially more so in the rural areas, but urban areas also require a changed, and more high-tech approach.

Lately, we have seen a blitz of political advertisements all over cyberspace, and some of the more enterprising politicians have even come up with their very own music videos to entice fence sitters to jump aboard the party bandwagon.

There are always pros and cons attached to a particular idea, and in this case, technology has certainly left its mark on Malaysian politics. History will be the judge of whether this is for the better or otherwise, but it certainly is an exciting ride to be on that I will not want to miss for the world.

I don't know about you, but at the end of the day, there is one vote that should be made compulsory by all, and for all. That, my friends, is the vote for technology.

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