At the outset, I must declare my interest. I am one of the 23 candidates in the Bar Council 2013/2014 elections.
But this article is not about the candidates. This article is to try and persuade lawyers to just cast their votes, irrespective of which candidates they vote for.
Last year, out of 13,957 ballots issued, only 3,120 were returned. Only about 22 percent of the 13,957 eligible voters actually voted. 10,837 lawyers did not vote in the Bar Council 2012/2013 elections.
The numbers do not lie. It is abysmal, really. It goes to show that we lawyers simply do not care about who sits in the Bar Council.
But we care about everything else, do we not? We are so opinionated when it comes to politics, governance and public interest issues. The Malaysian Bar is at the forefront of matters pertaining to human rights and the Constitution. So much so that the United Nations saw fit to award the Malaysian Bar for its efforts throughout the years.
But when it comes to our own affairs as lawyers, it seems that we are less passionate, less interested and less opinionated.
In 2010, a group of young lawyers from Kuala Lumpur started an initiative for the Bar Council 2011/2012 elections. Known as ‘Candidate Watch‘, the premise was simple; a set of questions were sent to the candidates for that year on various issues. The answers were displayed on the Malaysian Bar website. We hoped that if people knew their candidates better and what they stood for, they would be persuaded to cast their votes instead of merely chucking it to the nearest wastepaper basket. Unfortunately, while it was a novel initiative, it did not achieve the desired effect. In fact, the ballot returns for that year was lower than usual. Only 2,837 returns out of 13,313 issued ballots.
So why are we not voting?
The reasons given are many. Some are said to be unhappy with the Bar Council. There is even talk of another Bar. But if indeed you are unhappy with the current Bar Council, all the more reason that you should cast your vote. You should be voting for the people whom you want to be in Council, so that your unhappiness about Council will be addressed. It is akin to being dissatisfied with a government yet not bothering to vote in the General Elections.
Some say that Bar Council is irrelevant to them. The role of the Bar Council is only to renew their Sijil Anual. But when issues arise in your areas of practice, it is the Bar Council’s responsibility to try and address these issues. Problems with the Courts for litigation, the Land Offices for conveyancing, the police officers for your criminal practice, the insurance companies for those practising in personal injury litigation; it is the Bar Council’s responsibility to deal with them. It is in your interest that the Council members who serve you represent and protect your professional interests.
It is an interesting and challenging time for us at the Bar. Liberalisation of the legal services is upon us. We have new Rules of Court for civil litigation. Rules on Group Legal Practices are being finalised. The Limited Liability Partnership Act 2012 may come to force soon. More and more legal, constitutional and human rights issues are cropping up as we inch closer and closer to the General Elections. We have been attacked from the outside as a result of our stance on matters deemed ‘political’.
The Bar Council’s role is more important than ever.
It is your Council. You determine who sits in it and therefore, you determine how it is run. But you will not be able to do so if you do not even pick up that ballot paper and make your choices. You have the power to decide the Council that serves you, so use that power!
This young lawyer, who is wet behind the ears but who is passionate about this Bar, hopes that by reading this article, you will be persuaded to tick your ballot papers. You can even do it in the comfort of your own office. If you have not voted before, why not give it a try this time?
It does not matter who you decide to vote for, whether it be just one person, or whether you exercise all 12 votes that you have.
Just, please, vote.