Can you please briefly share with us the background of Global Bersih and when was it established?
Following the success of Bersih 2 and 3 and catalysed by GE13, Global Bersih was officially formed in 2014 as an NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland. Its primary purpose is to support Malaysian civil society’s campaign for democracy and free and fair elections in a more formal, concerted and co-ordinated approach. All our steering committee members are unpaid volunteers, as is our network of city coordinators.
In your opinion, should every Malaysian who are currently abroad be allowed to cast postal voting or online voting? Please share:
All Malaysians overseas – and the thousands of East Malaysians who have to travel from the Peninsular to vote, for that matter – should be allowed to cast their votes because it is their democratic and constitutional right. But the current modes of postal / online voting may not be the best for voter confidence at this point in time. We need a more transparent and secure system that the rakyat have confidence in. See answer to question 3.
Aside from challenges, what are some of the things that need to address to help make it a smooth process for Malaysians abroad to cast their votes?
Global Bersih has already put forward to the Elections Commission a workable proposal that addresses voter secrecy, ballot security, transparency of process, and voter enfranchisement. Among some of the changes we propose are:
- Allow party agents who are elected by political parties, candidates or independent candidates to wield the same authority and powers as their counterparts would at polling stations in Malaysia. The overseas agents should be allowed to monitor the receipt and opening of ballot sacks/boxes and to monitor the sealing of ballot sacks/boxes.
- Counting of votes is to be done at the overseas polling locations in the presence of the overseas agents.
- Facilitating more polling locations in more cities so that more Malaysians can vote.
The proposal in full is here: https://www.globalbersih.org/proposal-for-reforms-to-overseas-voting-process
Assuming that the proposal was permissible, what are some of the challenges that the election commission AND Malaysians abroad would face?
The EC’s main challenge is to hold an election with integrity i.e an election that is based on democratic principles of universal suffrage and political equality as reflected in international standards and agreements and is professional, impartial, transparent in its preparation and administration throughout the electoral cycle.
The EC’s next challenge would be to strike a balance between making it convenient for Malaysians to vote, and the financial costs of ensuring a secure process. For eg, we would like overseas polling (where the voter casts their ballot in person) to be made available to Malaysians in more city locations. This would incur more costs and coordination on the EC’s part, but our ASEAN counterpart the Philippines has been doing this for a long time. And over 2 million Indonesians abroad were able to cast their votes at Indonesian embassies and consulates during the 2014 elections. For Filipinos and Filipinas abroad, there were voting booths even in shopping malls overseas in order to encourage all citizens to have their say.
The cost of implementing such reforms would be more welcome than the cost of an electoral system that is not trusted by the people. It would be money well spent.
The EC could consider defraying the costs of such a system by collaborating with civil society (eg Global Bersih, Tindak Malaysia), who can assist with voter registration drives, voter education campaigns, and the training of election observers and party agents. This would be the challenge for Malaysians abroad: how to engage the diaspora, and ensuring the correct information is distributed and shared.
By any chance, do you know the statistics of Malaysians who are currently abroad at this point of time?
The World Bank puts this figure at 1,683,132 as at 2013 (http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/migrationremittancesdiasporaissues/brief/migration-remittances-data). It’s unclear how much this figure has changed or increased since GE13.
Assuming that all of them were allowed to cast their vote via postal or online voting, how would their votes impact the country? OR why is it important for them to cast their votes. Please share:
First, we would prefer voting in person at the overseas polling centres, rather than via postal / online voting.
The voting process is important, not just to influence the outcome of any election but to maintain engagement with the political process. Overseas Malaysians still care deeply for their country. This is one of the very few avenues through which we can make our voices heard. It is the only way to elect a government that is based on peace and security, economic development, and the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Do you have any parting words to say to our readers?
Elections typically are held every 5 years and therefore it’s every Malaysians responsibility to ensure that they register and turn up to vote on election day. Recent elections in Holland, France, Gambia, Nigeria, Philippines etc has shown that at the end of the day, it’s the citizens who have the power to elect a government, so Global Bersih appeals to ALL Malaysians to exercise this power and to remember that every vote counts.
(Interview questions were prepared by Hana Maher of Malaysian Digest)