Over the course several months, there have been heavy speculations that we might not have to wait a full five years for the next General Election (GE).
As a matter of fact, the year 2017 kicked off with Malaysians rushing off to the post office to be registered as voters to exercise their right to vote. While those based in Malaysia can easily sign up and perhaps endure a long waiting period as they wait their turn to be registered, the same cannot be said for Malaysians who are based overseas.
MCA Youth Chief Senator Datuk Chong Sin Woo has urged Malaysians who are based overseas to return to Malaysia and cast their votes in the looming GE to help keep Malaysia a moderate nation.
“It is important that we remain moderate. We do not want any extreme policies be it racial or religious,” he told a press conference to launch the MCA Overseas (United States) Campaign Team two Fridays ago, reported by The Star.
But with technology rapidly advancing, isn’t it time we make the voting process more accessible for our fellow Malaysians abroad?
With that thought in mind, Malaysian Digest sought for the opinion of several Malaysians based overseas and various stakeholders to speak on the possibility.
“The Government Shouldn’t Take Our Right To Vote From Us”
We caught up with Tehmina Zai, and confessed that she still finds it a necessity to vote in the GE despite residing in the United Kingdom since 2010.
“As a Malaysian citizen, it’s my right to vote – every vote counts. This is the day all of us reunite to elect a leader who will represent us at a global stage,” she highlighted.
“Without a doubt, it’s our utmost responsibility to cast our vote as the future of our generations lies in this. Donald Trump made it to the white house as President of the United States after three quarters of the adults denied the elections; let’s not follow suit.”
Tehmina expressed her deep sorrow for not being able to cast her vote in GE13, and urged the government to permit Malaysians living abroad to cast their votes by creating an online platform to vote.
The young mother of one also affirmed that Malaysia will perpetually be acknowledged as her beloved homeland, regardless if she’s residing oceans away from ‘home.’
“The government shouldn’t take our right to vote from us. But fortunately, I compensated my inability to vote by encouraging my friends to vote. Social media as it is the best tool to create buzz and increase awareness.
“Awareness is immensely crucial as there’s no surprise that there are a lot of unregistered voters in Malaysia,” she highlighted.
Similarly to Tehmina, 27-year-old Adnan Shah, noted that he takes great pride in being a Malaysian – especially when he moved to America – as he grew to appreciate aspects of his origin, such as the unique identity that is related to food, language, culture or diversity.
“So I do have a sense of duty to vote for a leader that represents my character and principles – to vote on how our country should be governed with keeping the ‘People’s Interests’ first. Always; my country, my responsibility,” he voiced.
But Adnan revealed that although he was eligible to vote in the previous election, he missed the opportunity to do so as at that point of time, he was not aware on how to register himself as a voter.
“As Election Day grew closer, I found out that I could register at the embassies, but by then it was already too late. The idea of driving 22 hours to one of three embassies between classes was not feasible.
“But that didn’t stop my fellow Malaysians and I from expressing our love for our country, as we got together and spoke about the country’s strength and weaknesses; how our history has laid out the foundation of our current national state; and discussed on the future of our homeland,” he recounted and added that the three hour event ended with a group photo whilst holding our national flag.
Adnan relayed that the government should make it possible for Malaysians living abroad to cast their votes, to which he has kindly listed down his proposals below:
1. Allow online registration and voting;
2. Extensive web support and help desks on our government websites simply because there are too many broken links, crashes or inadequate information;
3. Provide information regarding the election at least six months prior via government portal, news outlet and the embassies (most of my information came from third party websites);
4. Allow credible postal voting, with transparent process
The young lad who’s currently working in the private sector opined that “the biggest problem for voting abroad is the lack of proper infrastructure when implementing these types of system or process; which lacks visibility.
While Tehmina and Adnan admitted to having the necessity to vote, Rayleigh Ooi stated otherwise due to her lack of faith and trust in Malaysia’s voting system.
“I don’t believe in nationalism and I’ve a more Libertarian-leaning belief,” said the 29-year-old, who’s currently employed in the land down under.
“I do understand that need to connect to a place, and I love and miss Malaysia because of these reasons; the nostalgia, the family, friends, food, the culture, the beaches.
“So I express my ‘Malaysian spirit’ by visiting home, attending Malaysian festivals or catching up with my Malaysian friends,” she said, and suggested that there should be a platform where Malaysians can vote online, regardless where they are, be it for local Malaysians and Malaysians abroad.
We then asked for all three interviewees to share with us the voting policy that’s currently being practised in their country of residence, to which we’ve compiled in the image below:
The Right To Vote Belongs To Every M’sian
Speaking with a steering committee member of Global Bersih, Lydia Chai, she emphasised that all Malaysians overseas and the thousands of those in East Malaysia should be permitted to cast their votes because it’s their democratic and constitutional right.
However, Lydia added that the current modes of postal voting may not be the best for voter confidence at this point of time and the nation is in dire need of a more that the ‘rakyat’ have confidence in.
“The EC’s main challenge is to hold an election with integrity – 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, and transparent in its preparation and administration throughout the electoral cycle,” she highlighted.
“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,” and moved for overseas polling to be made available to Malaysians in more city locations.
Lydia stated that in doing so, it would incur more costs and coordination on the EC’s part, on top of the cost of implementing such reforms would be more welcome than the cost of an electoral system that is not trusted by the people.
“The EC could consider defraying the costs of such a system by collaborating with civil society, who can assist with voter registration drives, voter education campaigns, and the training of election observers and party agents,” she suggested.
Andrew Yong of My Overseas Vote, revealed that there are roughly one million Malaysians living overseas, with approximately 40% residing in Singapore.
“The right to vote belongs to all citizens regardless of where they live. At the moment, Malaysians living in Singapore, Brunei, southern Thailand and Kalimantan are not given postal votes and have to return home to vote,” he shared.
“Overseas postal voting has been conducted smoothly in the 2013 General Election, and while there are improvements to be made in terms of security of votes and ease of registration, the system is clearly workable.”
As such, Andrew advised the EC to make it easier for locally-based Malaysians and those abroad – who are not registered as voters – to become registered voters and for the three to six months registration period to be replaced with automatic voter registration.
“In terms of postal voting, there is a balance to be struck between making voting easy and making it secure. On the whole, we think postal voting could be made more convenient, like by extending the period for overseas Malaysians to cast their vote by post.
“If all Malaysians overseas voted, they would amount to up to 8% of the Malaysian electorate. It is therefore possible for overseas Malaysians to have a large impact on the election,” Andrew opined.
As highlighted earlier, registering as a voter is one part of the process while being able to vote in GE14 is another issue altogether. Successfully completing the first part does not automatically grant you access to the second part.
If you have not already been made aware, it will take on average four months for your name to appear on the electoral rolls.
So while in theory, any Malaysian citizen living abroad who is 21 years old can register as a voter, please bear in mind that if an election is called while you are still in process of being registered (remember, the four months time frame), then you are not eligible yet but but at least you have made the first steps to become a registered voter.
As a registered voter living abroad, read on to find out how you can exercise your right as a citizen.
If You Are A Malaysian Living Abroad, Here Are The Options Currently Available
In the GE13, The Star reported that a total of 13,268,002 Malaysians cast their ballots at 8,789 polling centres nationwide, subsequently surpassing the 2008 election. Although 58.99% of voters nationwide casted their ballots by noon on that eventful day of May 5, 2013, it was reported that only 80% of the total (eligible) population turned out to cast their votes.
However what’s shocking is the fact that The Star reported in October last year that there are 4.2mil Malaysians who are acknowledged as eligible voters but have yet to register.
“We did a survey to find out why they had not registered as voters and we found that these people take things for granted. They feel it is not a problem if they don’t vote.
“But we want everyone who is eligible to be part of the democratic process to cast their vote,” EC chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah said.
Malaysian Digest made several queries into the matter with the Election Commission (EC) and found that for one to be recognised as an Absentee Voter is dependent on case to case basis.
“Generally, those who are employed in the private sectors overseas or are not JPA-sponsored students, are required to register as an absentee voters in Malaysia, prior their departure,” the officer explained.
Be that as it may, the officer encouraged every Malaysian to register as a voter aside from ensured that the EC is readily available to provide aid if further clarification on their voting status or registration procedure is needed.
Overseas embassies in countries with a significant Malaysian population presence like in the UK and Australia have the instructions for those seeking to register as voters abroad readily available on their embassy websites.
The High Commission of Malaysia in Canberra clearly outlines the steps one needs to take to register either as normal electors (which means you have to go back to Malaysia to vote) or absentee voters (if you fulfil the criterias set out).
Meanwhile, the official website of the High Commission of Malaysia in London has also clearly outlined the steps Malaysias in the UK need to take if they want to vote in their country’s election, outlining three categories of voters, namely the armed forces, civil servants and government sponsored students and their spouses, normal voters and absentee voters, all clearly spelled out with their respective criterias.
Clearly from a check through the existing critierias, all Malaysians who do not fall into the respective categories to qualify as absentee voters are still at a disadvantage.
“Absentee Voters don’t have the luxury to travel back to their homeland and cast their votes. But taking into account that we have a number of Malaysians employed and studying across the globe, I believe that online voting should be materialised,” a political analyst who lectures at a local public University shared with Malaysian Digest.
“Every citizen has the right to vote, be it abroad or local. Hence, online voting will be very beneficial for everyone as it will save time and movements for every party.”
However, the political analysis highlighted that the EC will have their work cut out for them as they have to provide the platform to materialise online voting, whilst ensuring the platform can accommodate high traffic without crashing.
“This proposal should be brought to parliament as such notion welcomes various risks that can be prevented with thorough bi-laws and regulations.
“On top of that, the EC along with the relevant parties have to answer questions like, how can they ensure online voting is safe?; how can we ensure the results aren’t rigged?; how can we ensure that no one will be hacked?; and many more,” the political analysis listed.
While our stakeholders are all gunning for online voting to one day be a reality, the political analysis added that with due time, perhaps it will be possible.
“Yes, it is a good suggestion. But we must also understand that such implementation must go through several stages and test-run to ensure that it is feasible.
“But for now, let’s all do out bit to encourage people to not only register as a Malaysian voter, but to exercise our right to vote as well.”
(Source: Malaysian Digest)