Why people support the unsupportable – Dr. Azmi Sharom

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Source: The Star Online

Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher in Universiti Malaya.

Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher in Universiti Malaya.

SHOULD people be given the vote? Are people too stupid to be entrusted with selecting their leaders and the future of their respective nations?

Looking around the world, it would seem that there is a strong reason to believe so. Based on half-truths, nationalist fear-mongering and outright lies, the British chose to leave the European Union.

The Americans have a vile, mi­sogynistic, racist, infantile bully as a potential president. The people of the Philippines are apparently supportive of a presi­dent whose crime-fighting policy amounts to little more than murder.

All these countries have a democratic system of government. At various stages naturally, with some more mature than others, but at the end of the day, in all four nations, people vote. So the question is, are the people too dumb to do so?

That would be an easy answer, would it not? Blame the situation of these countries on the unwashed and uneducated masses.

But then it would also be an answer based on despair for it ultimately says that people are hopeless without looking for any deeper reasoning behind this state of affairs.

Firstly, I do not think that education is important for people to be able to see right from wrong. There are many very highly educated people who are corrupt and devoid of any ethics.

I have heard people with doc­torates spout the most disgustingly vicious and unkind ideas. Just as I have heard taxi drivers and domestic helpers say things of tremendous wisdom, humanism and intelligence.

Education does not make you an intelligent or a good person. Just a person with qualifications.

What is it, then? How can people support the unsupportable?

Well, I think that there is a disconnect between a large number of people and governance. A sense of being detached, somehow, from the running of the country. As though their lives do not matter to the great and powerful. This being the case, then, it does not matter what they do, or who they vote for.

This disconnect is linked to po­verty, because poverty leads to a sense of being left out of the development of the nation. Many supporters of Trump, for example, are working class people who feel insecure about their future.

And if we look at the Brexit vote, England can be divided into two; London and the rest of the country.

A common thread with regard to leaving Europe is that for many, they simply can’t see what effect it has on them and that only the rich (like those who live and work in London) care about remaining in Europe.

This sense of disconnect from the grander scheme of things means that people like Trump and the Brexit politicians with their simple messages become attractive; a way to get at the status quo that does not seem to care for them.

Closer to home, a person earning minimum wage probably thinks that no matter who is in power, they will still be earning minimum wage.

So what if a person takes millions and millions of ringgit in corrupt money, what effect will it have on their daily life?

And is it any surprise that Duterte, with his “man of the people” rhetoric, can strike a chord in a nation with a 25% poverty rate?

Of course, as understandable as these reasons are to explain why some people vote the way they do, it still does not make the reasons correct. Trump’s economic policy is meant to help the normal American; yet his past shows that his business uses cheap foreign labour.

And European money helps communities all over Britain in the form of subsidies and the like; money which can’t easily be replaced by the British government on its own.

And surely a non-corrupt government would mean more funds to be used in sustainable development plans, and not the occasional handouts. Something which ought to help all of us.

There will always be idiots in any country. The racists will be drawn to the language of Trump, Brexit and the Red Shirts.

But I doubt that these are the majority of people.

People need to know that they matter and they also need to understand the real issues and choices before them, not just simplistic political sloganeering. This is the challenge for the future.

  • Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.