By Nalina Nair
Many of us who live in Malaysia have the impression that Malaysians who chose to leave the country have no interest in our dear homeland. That these are the ones who have abandoned all hopes for a better Malaysia, who do not believe that we will ever achieve a Malaysian Malaysia. Many of us back home may hold this view due to the constant calls by individuals in the government for dissenting voices to leave the country and find a new home.
While this may ring true to some Malaysians packed their bags and never swore to come back, I had the opportunity to be part of Global Bersih’s efforts to spark meaningful conversations with three prominent Malaysian activists. I saw that overseas Malaysians are also truly anak Malaysia, no matter how far away they are.
In June, Global Bersih organized a conference call which saw an enlightening exchange between former chairperson of Bersih 2.0, Ambiga Sreenevasan and Global Bersih city coordinators from New Zealand, South Korea, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and America.
The call was held the very next day after the Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar by-elections. Attendees were briefed about the events leading up the polling day and the irregularities that occurred on polling day itself. Ambiga, who was in Kuala Kangsar during the campaigning period, lamented that the National Front’s cheating machinery is down to a fine art and if continued, it will enable them to win big unfairly for the 14th General Election. It also saddened attendees to hear that the opposition, too, had succumbed to playing the National Front’s game and that many good people had fallen victim to thinking that vote buying is nothing but an ordinary practice.
It was unanimously clear to all attendees that voter education is paramount if we were to see reforms take place in the near of distant future. Without any hesitation, attendees brainstormed, seeking a resolution that they themselves can carry out to contribute to the cause. Distance held them back from volunteering to help educate non-urban areas on voter education and the legalities of campaigning. They would instead approach leaders of the opposition parties who visit their residing countries to organize their own discourse with these leaders. Otherwise, Global Bersih or even city coordinators themselves can organize online discussions as well. It was noted that a clear message is in dire need for opposition leaders to take heed: get your act together! The Rakyat must be given a proper alternative to vote for, an alternative that gives them hope for a better Malaysia.
Global Bersih secretary Bala Chelliah, who is based in Geneva, pointed out that overseas Malaysians need to make sacrifices. For those who can afford to start saving up to buy flight tickets back to Malaysia to cast their vote ought to start saving up now. Malaysians who plan to have holidays back in Malaysia soon should plan their holidays accordingly in order to allow them to vote in the upcoming general election. Those who see it impossible to come home to vote need to register themselves so that they may vote from their respective residing countries. It doesn’t stop there. Wherever you may be, galvanize Malaysians around you to start taking steps to enable them to vote in the 14th General Election.
Ambiga was moved by the strong support and enthusiasm overseas Malaysians have for the struggle of reforms. She urged them to be creative and to try new ways to achieve our goal of a better Malaysia, as the 14th General Election is the most critical election he country will ever see.
At the end of the call, Ambiga imparted her words of wisdom. “Despair though we may, now is not the time to give up. Now is actually the time to show strength far beyond what we ever had. Shoulder to the wheel!”
After the successful call, Global Bersih took the opportunity to once again gather overseas Malaysians for another call. In July, Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah and vice chairperson Shahrul Aman Mohd Saari spoke to Malaysians residing in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and America. Maria and Shahrul briefed attendees on the prestigious Gwangju Award, Maria’s travel ban, the Sarawak state election and the Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar state elections.
Maria kept attendees up to date with Bersih 2.0’s focus. Bersih 2.0 would be visiting the Election Commission every Friday, revealing evidence of foul play by the commission and demanding answers and corrections be made. She added that Bersih 2.0 will continue to focus on the 8 demands and institutional reforms. She reminded attendees that the struggle is not just to change leaders but to have good reforms. These reforms will not happen with the current Prime Minister in place, as he and his cabinet do not want their powers be taken away from them.
Attendees were most keen on discussing with Maria on what they can offer as Malaysians residing overseas. I found their keenness in wanting to be part of the struggle extremely comforting and ensuring. Maria urged overseas Malaysians to register as overseas voters immediately. She also suggested that Global Bersih should start a dialogue with the Election Commission to talk about overseas registration and ensuring that the process of registration and voting be improved.
Global Bersih president Colin Rajah, who resides in San Francisco, noted that we ought to learn from countries that have carried out overseas voting successfully. He pointed out that the Philippines latest general election, counting of the ballots were done in respective embassies, instead of having the votes brought back to the country. He also reminded attendees that while reforms may not take place as soon as we would like for it to happen, we need to start somewhere.
Putting their heads together, the attendees eagerly discussed ways to improve overseas voting and how to get more overseas Malaysians to register as voters. With zeal, it was agreed that another meeting is to be held, solely to discuss on these issues.
As a young Malaysian who sees her future in Malaysia and nowhere else, it was revitalizing to be part of these conversations. It is indeed heartening to know that my fellow Malaysians abroad still care and love Malaysia as much as many Malaysian back home do. It fuels my passion to strive for a better Malaysia to know that Malaysians residing in other countries are not just leaning back comfortably waiting for change to happen, but are themselves taking action to be part of reforms back home. With this, I march forward knowing that while the struggle for a better Malaysia will be hard and long, we are all in this together as one, as Malaysians.