POLITICAL literacy is a set of competencies citizens should master in order to participate effectively and meaningfully in government. The abilities of political literacy encompass understanding on how a government works and the important issues facing society in the short- and long term.
As citizens exercise their rights, it is necessary that they do so critically, mindful that their decisions will have consequences.
Political literacy is related to other literacies, including economic literacy, historical literacy, cultural, religious literacies, and even aesthetics literacy. Organisations interested in participatory democracy are concerned about the levels of political literacy in their societies.
Acquisition and development of other literacies enable citizens to be critical based on facts, concepts, information, and thinking cultures, which enable the exercise of critical thought and vision. Values enable visions to be measured against the rightness of logic and kindness of the human heart. Political literacy then must be accompanied by other core literacies in a democratic society.
Besides the national elections and by-elections, a referendum is one of the most import means of determining the wishes of the people. Malaysia was founded based on the referendum.
People walking past a statue of Lenin in Yalta, Crimea. All votes, be they for the local, state or national government, have international consequences. AFP pic The new authorities of the Peninsula announced the nationalization of Ukrainian resorts and hotels in Crimea. Crimean authorities have released the head of the Ukrainian navy whom they had seized during a raid on a base in the rebel peninsula, Ukraine's acting president said. AFP PHOTO / Vasily Maximov
Crimea had a controversial referendum to stay with Ukraine or to join Russia. Based on the majority of votes in favour of joining Russia, Crimea has applied to join Russia. Opponents have labelled the situation as "the annexation" by Russia. In the first Iraq war, Iraq was accused of "annexing" Kuwait in 1990.
This year, Scotland will hold a referendum for independence. The consequences of the referendum are so great that Scotland has embarked on a programme to enlighten people in political literacy.
Under ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, the vote can be considered sacred. The right to vote and the thinking process that leads to choice and the exercise of the vote must have clarity.
For various reasons, political man continues to destroy his human heritage: the library of Iraq, the museums and artifacts of Syria or the Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.
Underlying the destruction is ignorance and lack of profound understanding of the long human journey and the hard-earned milestones of the human heritage.
Insights from thinking leaders contribute to profound understanding of leadership and political literacy, as exemplified by the following observations:
LEADERSHIP has a harder job to do than just choose sides. It must bring sides together -- Jesse Jackson;
THE highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it -- Lord Thomas Macaulay;
ONE measure of leadership is the calibre of people who choose to follow you -- Dennis Peer;
THE people have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied of knowledge... I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers -- John Adams, American founding father and second United States president; and,
EDUCATION make a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave -- Omar N. Bradley.
It was not too long ago, before the birth of modern nations, that people did not have the right to choices and to the vote.
Even today, throughout the world, people still have no right to vote in many societies.
The right to vote has come about after long global struggles and the sacrifices of so many in different societies and cultures. The achievement of the universal franchise has come about after triumph of democracy over ignorance, anarchy, feudalism, tribalism and dictatorship.
The blood of martyrs of the human rights struggle has enabled others to experience individual freedoms everywhere.
While the vote seems to be for the local, state or national government, there are, however, international consequences.
A local, state or national government may have political postures friendly towards certain countries and certain businesses in favour of others, welcoming to some foreign interests, sometimes, would even be hostile or neutral towards relations with others.
With greater political literacy, citizens will understand the consequences of their votes, whether for party or personality, state government or federal government, short-term or long -term and the destiny of issues. Exercising the vote in Kajang, Balingian, Crimea, or Scotland matters.
Malaysia must quickly take steps to educate its citizens in political literacy. When people are politically literate, leaders will be held to higher standards of attributes of character, competence, contributions and commitments.
Politically literate citizens think at a higher level and set higher standards of leadership virtues for those they choose to follow.
Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid | firstname.lastname@example.org is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University NST Opinion Columnist 21/03/2014