The postal voting process for the 14th General Election (GE14) – as announced by the Election Commission (EC) chief Mohd Hashim Abdullah for registered voters residing abroad – is riven with unresolved problems that threatens to deny the right of hundreds of thousands of Malaysians abroad to vote at the next elections, Global Bersih warned today.
It is particularly worrying that Pos Malaysia Berhad will be fully managing the sending and return of ballots. For the previous elections of 2013 (GE13), there were about two weeks between dissolution of Parliament and nomination of candidates, and two weeks again between nomination and polling.
These very short intervals, in themselves problematic, are typical of recent Malaysian elections. But for overseas voters, the use of Pos Malaysia increases the risk of voters not receiving or not being able to return their ballots in time. No instructions have been provided on the return of ballots; it is highly unclear if they will reach constituencies by polling day.
The GE13 overseas voting process has great room for improvement. However, it was successfully implemented in many countries where Malaysians reside. We therefore urge the Election Commission to revert to using Wisma Putra to manage the overseas advance voting process, with the implementation of Global Bersih’s recommendations to improve the process (https://www.globalbersih.org/proposal-for-reforms-to-overs…/), notably the counting of votes in each overseas polling centre in the presence of party representatives and neutral observers.
Global Bersih also finds problematic and disappointing the fact that Malaysians residing in Singapore, southern Thailand, Brunei and Kalimantan are not able to vote from overseas. There are about one million Malaysians – or more than half of Malaysians overseas – residing in these locations. These Malaysians risk being disenfranchised for logistical and financial reasons. Other ASEAN countries already lead the way in showing how to fix this risk: In the last presidential elections in Indonesia, voting facilities were provided for an estimated two million Indonesians abroad, without the arbitrary geographical restrictions Malaysia uses.
“Malaysians in these countries [Singapore, southern Thailand, Brunei and Kalimantan] may live far from their hometowns in terms of travel time and cost relative to their incomes,” Global Bersih’s president Bala Chelliah pointed out. “It could be more difficult for a construction worker in Singapore to return to Bau, Sarawak, than for an accountant in London to fly back to Kuala Lumpur.”
Bala Chelliah also criticised the EC for not providing permanent overseas voting procedures. Instead, overseas Malaysians are being left in the dark about the overseas voting process every time a general election is called, until the last moment.
Global Bersih Steering committee member Charis Quay said Malaysians abroad have already found embassies unable to give official guidance on the voting process this time for GE14. “Malaysians in various cities abroad who are part of the Global Bersih network have been in continual contact with their respective embassies for almost two years on the issue of overseas voting procedures,” Dr Quay said. “However, with GE14 expected these next few months, it appears that the embassies do not have any more information than what is already in the press.”
The Election Commission and Putrajaya have yet to respond to Global Bersih’s recommendations on the overseas voting process, which were submitted in December 2016 and supported by a petition signed by more than 500 Malaysians and friends overseas.
Free and fair elections are an essential component of democracy. Yet, instead of facilitating an accessible process to ensure that every Malaysian living overseas is able to cast a vote – and guaranteeing the security of every ballot – the EC’s proposed process is fraught with obstacles and question marks.
We urge the Election Commission to engage all stakeholders in this very important issue of overseas voting. Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians living abroad will be disenfranchised if the EC continues to deny this likely reality, as has already been the case in the 12 general elections held since the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.