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On 27 August, 2011, Singaporeans went to the voting booths to elect their 7th President. And were faced with an interesting conundrum—all 4 candidates bore the same last name: Tan. As expected, there were numerous jokes revolving around the notion that regardless of whom they voted for, citizens of the city-state were picking the same person. Predictably, the response from the ruling nomenklatura was: Singaporeans should focus on the fact that this is a watershed Presidential Election. After all, previous incarnations of this exercise were either walkovers or had at most two candidates. Moreover, the last time Singaporeans had to select a head of state was in 1993, when one of the two candidates—Chua Kim Yeow—openly expressed his reluctance at the possibility of becoming President.

As always, the jokes were more insightful than statements from the state. For, the fact that there were four Tans demonstrated, perhaps too clearly, that in this post-ideological political age there really is no difference anymore: anyone, and everyone, standing for office were, at best, variations of the same.

But it is not as if pointing this out is new. Nor does it change anything. The more interesting thing is to ponder Lenin's famous question: "what is do be done?"

Participating in the electoral process—choosing between the candidates on the list—merely reaffirms the notion that one does not have a choice, only alternatives. It is even worse if one critiques the candidates running for office: this only serves to validate the entire system. This is the lesson of The Matrix: each incarnation of the Matrix includes Zion in order to 'test' itself. Zion's overt role is to rebel, to fight against the system: what it actually does is conduct a vulnerability assessment. The result: each new manifestation of the Matrix defeats Zion with increasing speed. To compound matters, regardless of who wins the election, one has validated the result by participating.

If one refuses to participate in the electoral dance, one of the most obvious ways is to spoil one's vote. Even though one has still taken part, one is exercising one's right to proclaim that none of the candidates are worth voting for. As Slavoj Žižek argues: "by abstaining from vote, people effectively dissolve the government—not only in the limited sense of overthrowing the existing government, but more radically … The voters' abstention goes further than the intra-political negation, the vote of no confidence: it rejects the very frame of decision." (Violence, 182). This is also the lesson that can be found in Jose Saramago's novel Seeing. At a certain election, over 70 per cent of the citizens of an unspecified state spontaneously cast a blank vote. This results in the state holding another election: and there is an increase in the number of blank votes. Unsure of how to cope with this benign protest, the state panics, and resorts to labeling it a terrorist conspiracy to destabilize the state. There is a suspension of civil rights and the imposition of martial law. Hence, the real result is the unmasking of state hypocrisy: in its anxiety, the state reveals itself to be what it really is; an authoritarian regime performing democracy through the holding of elections. In this manner, what initially looks like doing nothing (voting for nobody) is actually the most radical act. Here, we can find an echo of one of Alain Badiou provocative thesis from his 'Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art' where he posits: "It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent" (lacanian ink 23, Spring 2004, 119)

However, what is missing from both Žižek and Badiou's assessments is the fact that nothing changes. So, even as it is a radical intervention, even as it might be a "true political act [that] forcefully confronts us with the vacuity of today's democracies," (Violence, 183) the status quo is maintained.

Perhaps a true disruption comes in the form of taking the notion of democracy itself seriously. If power was truly in the hands of the people, surely they should be able to choose whomever they want—a true choice instead of picking from alternatives. What would be a truly democratic vote is an instance where the voter puts the name of whomever they want in power, in spite of the persons presented on that voting slip. And here, we might even echo Saramago: imagine the shock, the effect, if 80 per cent of the voters spontaneously wrote the name of the same person. Not only would the candidate that won through the system be discredited; not only would the democratic system be called into question; the people would have actually spoken.

Is this not the lesson of 12 Monkeys? The sudden appearance of a symbol on the walls captures the imagination of the people. What else is this but the actualization of Paul Virilio's slogan of May '68—"all power to the imagination."

It is, of course, too easy to point out the fact that the chances of enough people spontaneously voting for the same person are infinitesimal. One might even go all the way to the end and call one who posits such a possibility not only a dreamer but one who does not learn. After all, history has shown that winning elections does not come without strategy, plotting, compromising, not to mention huge amounts of money. In short, one would be a picaro—an idiot.

But here, one must also not forget that the idiot is the one that never gives up. Like Wilde E. Coyote, the idiot is the one that keeps trying to catch the Roadrunner, that holds on the possibility that the latter might just tire, slip up, give up. (S)he is also the one who cannot be coopted, who cannot be bought over, who refuses to play by the rules of the system. And here, one must not forget that the Matrix only collapses when Agent Smith takes his role (replicate himself to defeat the rebels from Zion) extremely seriously. More precisely, it is Smith imagining that he has the freedom to choose how many replications of himself to produce that eventually overloads the entire system.

It is not as if the results of an imaginative vote are any different from casting a blank vote. However, in the case of the blank vote, the "vacuity" that is foregrounded can only be filled through an over-throw of the entire system. In short: revolution. Which have an annoying habit of merely going full circle and ending up exactly where they start.

With an imaginative vote, regardless of who wins, the symbol chosen by the people will always haunt the incumbent. Perhaps it can begin with the gesture of reading a proper noun as a colour …

 

 


 
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