Independent Candidates As A Counter Position Against Political Parties

Ever since the idea of independent candidates was announced to the public, we have had very polarised reactions. On one hand, there were those that were so fed up with the current situation that they were willing to give anything a shot.

On the other hand, there were also those that downright scoffed at the idea, pointing out the obvious flaws in independent candidacy: What about the funds? Do they have enough support from their constituencies? How do we actually reach out to the rural heartland?

Although we appreciate the supporters of the idea, the naysayers do have their points. However, they fail to recognise that there is a catalyst to the change that alters the landscape. Every discussion seem to miss this. Whilst the effect starts small initially, at every cycle it builds up like an earthquake. Its not a matter of when but a matter of how. 

In this article, I hope to build a strong case for why I think Gerak Independent is the perfect counter position against the fiasco that is our current political parties.

Imagine owning a multibillion dollar global business, seeing a small competitor eating up your market share right in front of you, and yet being completely powerless to do anything about it, despite having a gigantic warchest of both funds and talent.

Seems improbable? That’s what happened to Kodak when digital cameras started entering the market back in the late 1990s.

In hindsight, it is easy for analysts to criticise Kodak for not “evolving with the times”, or any other accusation of the lack of effort on their part to adapt to the business situation.

But the truth is that Kodak’s entire business model was based on analogue film, and even though in hindsight it would have been the right thing to do, it is rare for any CEOs to be bold enough to risk it, or even if they would, to convince everyone else in the company that it was the right idea.

Even customers are unsure when digital photography started out. We were invested in our expensive cameras. We see digital photography as a fad. Its not sophisticated enough. How is it going to reach a global dominance? No investors bailed out on Kodak.

A company like Kodak is entrenched. It found the analogue film goldmine and proceeded to dig as deep as it could. This puts it in a position of dominance against other analogue film companies, but the moment another technology arrives that is counter positioned to its main product, it is helpless to do anything, precisely because of its entrenched position, ironic as that may be.

If you were the CEO of Kodak at the time, what would you do? Would you start another arm of digital photography? That would cannibalise your main product. Would you ignore the upstart? Your market share would be eaten up right in front of you.

Should you upturn the whole business model and move the whole company towards digital photography instead? What if you are wrong and digital photography was just a fad? These are all billion dollar decisions that are very difficult to make.

The hilarious thing about being counter positioned in this manner is that a lot of the damage being inflicted on the incumbent is self-inflicted. They either ignore the threat and get their profits eaten up over time, or, as in Kodak’s case, make several poorly executed attempts to respond to the threat.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is very rare that a leader would be bold enough to cannibalise their own products, and not only that – get everyone on board with it. Such was the genius of the late Steve Jobs.

But how does any of this relate to our current political circus? Imagine that you were the president of a political party that has been dominating the country’s politics for the past half century.

Out of the corner of public consciousness appear these upstarts who start vetting and actually fielding young, vibrant, and capable independent candidates to the fore, and surprisingly enough, the people are in for it.

What would you do? Do you ignore the threat? You will see your votes being eaten up in front of you. Do you have another arm of the political party that fields independents to “get with the times”?

That does not make sense and will only serve to legitimise the oncoming threat. What if you decide that the current technology does make political parties obsolete? Do you overhaul the entire organisation? If so, how would you convince everyone to agree with it?

Political parties – like corporations, are entrenched. They have likely reinvested every single resource they have accumulated since their existence to play the political party game. If a new movement comes along that can develop the concept of independent candidates into a viable option, they are powerless to do anything about it.

The only way they can really respond is to reorganise themselves into something that’s more person-centric instead of party-centric, and if that happens… well, isn’t that what we want anyway?

This is all well and good on paper, but haven’t independent candidates been around since forever? They have had a dismal track record over the years of getting barely any votes, and that’s being generous. Well again, the naysayers have a valid point here.

But what were the independent candidates up against? Actually TIME and REACH. Basically the promotion of candidates is effectively limited by the time and the funds needed for them to maintain a presence to the voters. The political parties has been in the public consciousness for years and the campaigning period is only 2 to 3 weeks at most.

But today there is a game-changer. The hand-held mobile phones and devices. Their ubiquitous presence in every human hand with the ability to interact directly with whomever is on the other side cuts out any middle-men.

The only question is how do we create this direct interaction and promotion year long, year in and year out for each independent candidate. This is the solution from Gerak Independent.

So why do we actually need political parties? What is their function in the democratic process? I submit that the political parties are merely middlemen in the transaction of votes.

If the desired product is good lawmakers – also known as MPs – who will pass good laws that benefit their constituencies and by extension the Rakyat as a whole, then the role of the political parties is mainly to steward the Rakyat’s resources in such a way that will produce the desired result.

I do not think I need to repeat here the failings of this system. It is the reason we are having this discussion in the first place. The problem with having middlemen is that when they grow too large, we end up serving them instead of the other way around.

Back in the day when the current technology was not available, it makes sense to pool our resources into a central hub where it could be distributed strategically to where it was most needed. A political party with a central headquarters and several branches across the nation was the perfect setup.

In this day and age where upwards of 70,000 people can be reached via a live webinar with just 2-3 hours of any real work, is it still necessary to have political parties? In the 2020 US Elections, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have spent a combined total of USD100 million on Facebook ads alone, netting a whopping 3 billion impressions between the two of them.

Doing the math, that means that on average, each and every American would have seen an ad from either Trump or Biden at least 9 times during the whole campaign. And this is just Facebook, we have not even factored in Google and Twitter yet.

The thing about platforms like Facebook and Google is that they benefit from economies of scale, which means that the more users they have, the less it actually costs to maintain each user, which in turn allows them to keep their inventory cheaper compared to traditional media.

Oh, and voter turnout has reached record highs, and there is a strong correlation between voter turnout and digital ad spending. How do you get access to these powerful ads? You only need a laptop and an internet connection.

In 2012, 20-year-old Palmer Luckey started a campaign on Kickstarter for his virtual reality visor for gamers, Oculus Rift. Two years later, in 2014, Facebook bought his company for 2 billion dollars. The fact that the company grew so fast in two years is impressive. What’s more impressive? When Palmer launched his Kickstarter campaign, he didn’t even have a product yet.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform, and how it works is that if you have an idea for something that you think people would want, you can put it up on the platform so that people can help fund your idea for you, and be the first owners of the product once it’s shipped out.

Let that sink in for a bit.

No bank loans, no borrowing from relatives, no eating ramen for a whole year to save up the cash. Put your idea out on the platform, and people vote on it with their hard-earned cash. You get to bring your vision to reality, and people get something they actually want. Isn’t that a win-win? Kickstarter has been around for 11 years now, giving birth to dozens of new products every year.

The point here is that as technology keeps evolving, centralised systems are going to be relegated more and more to the back seat. The political parties are no exception to this. The more technology increases the availability of reach and resources, the more difficult it will be for centralised systems, including political parties, to navigate the waves of change.

We will harness technology to create this change. We will strategically start where the reach is easiest and where the people has been let down by frogs and incompetents. We put up the alternative onto a technology platform, PeoplElect for Gerak Indeoendent that will reach and allow people interaction continuously, cheaply and deep into the masses where we need to.

Dear readers, I hope I have made a sufficient case for the entrenched nature of big political parties and their helpless condition should there be a strong enough counter position against their main product. Especially if the only response would be either to ignore, or to cannibalise their own.

I hope I have also built the case that whilst independent candidates were a hopeless case in the past, we have the proper infrastructure currently available to us to make it work.  If 2020 has taught us anything, it is the annoyingly accurate cliché that change is indeed the only constant.

With the position of the incumbents being eroded by technology, what is there to stop us from affecting this change ourselves? The real challenge ahead is that of educating and inspiring our fellow Rakyat to take ownership of our country. The power will be literally be in their hands. Give it a run.

Amri Ahmad
Council Member
MAJU Foundation

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