Lydia Chai is a Malaysian living in New Zealand. Here she shares her experience voting in the New Zealand general elections as a permanent resident.
NEW ZEALAND : Voting is EASY
The New Zealand general elections were held on 23 September 2017. Like Malaysia, voting in New Zealand is not compulsory. If there’s one thing I am grateful for when I cast my vote here, it’s how easy it is to vote. Advance voting is available to anyone. Whether you’re a normal voter, a permanent resident, voting outside of your constituency or an overseas voter, all you need to do is pop down to the nearest advance polling booth and cast your vote. Polling booths pop up like mushrooms in places like shopping centres, neighbourhood schools, community centres and churches. The Election Commission uses social media and volunteers to educate people about the process. It’s as if the Election Commission wants as many people as possible to vote!
No Ballot Paranoia
I walked into a mall to cast my vote and the atmosphere was very laid-back because there was no paranoia surrounding ballots being tracked or tampered with. Queues were short, party observers were sitting around in a relaxed manner and ballots were collected and taken away with no fuss.
In the case of overseas voters, as long as you are a New Zealand citizen who has visited home in the last 3 years, you may cast your vote overseas. If you are a permanent resident, you have to have been in New Zealand in the last 12 months. There is no electronic voting but one may cast their vote in person at several places overseas.
Engaging this demographic seems to be a global headache. In New Zealand, there was a push in the media to encourage the youth to vote. This seemed like a no-brainer, since the youth will be suffering the consequences of continued inequality, impossible living costs and debilitating student loans. The problem is that young people are often overwhelmed by too much information, and with so many parties vying for attention in an MMP system, it is a convoluted menu indeed. Voting booths were set up at tertiary institutions and, boy, I have never seen such queues of young people waiting to cast their vote. It was like witnessing a phenomenon. The news media picked up on this ‘youthquake’ but it remains to be seen whether the youth vote really did increase much this time.
What MMP means?
New Zealand has a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system where you get to vote for your local MP as well as your favoured party. The MP seats in Parliament are based on the percentage of the party vote. Sometimes this means that even the most popular party may not gain 50% of all votes, so parties often have to partner up with others to form a government. It’s like Parliament Lego!
Comparing MMP to Malaysia’s First-Past-The-Post
MMP is not a perfect system. But it is a system that Malaysians could start thinking about adopting, because it allows for different parties and values to be represented in Parliament. If New Zealand, Germany, Mexico and Lesotho can make the switch to MMP, why can’t Malaysia?
Issues in the New Zealand Election
Where to start? The big issues in this election were housing affordability, tax cuts for the asset-laden versus taxing them, eradicating child poverty, alleviating stresses on the health sector, keeping waterways clean, and calls for free tertiary education.
This election will always be remembered for the rise of a young female politician, Jacinda Ardern, who was suddenly catapulted to become the social democratic Labour Party’s leader just 2 months shy of the elections. When it looked like she could become New Zealand’s third female Prime Minister, the competition between her party and the incumbent National Party became a hot contest. It looks like most people voted for a change of government, judging from the number who did not vote for the current government.
Yes, that’s right. New Zealand has already had 2 female Prime Ministers. It was also the first country in the world to grant women suffrage. This election has seen many young women gaining high profiles. This includes 23-year-old Chlöe Swarbrick who has made it into Parliament as the youngest MP in 42 years, and human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman who is the first refugee to become an MP in New Zealand
Leader debates were televised, streamed and conducted in a civil manner. However, at times, smear campaigns or scaremongering tactics were used to discredit other parties. At no point in the campaign was there any act of politically-motivated violence.
Comparing voter turnout with Malaysia
The voter turnout in this New Zealand elections was 79.8% which is deemed high. Considering advance voting in Malaysia’s was not as widely available to its citizens as the New Zealand elections, I have to say that Malaysia’s voter turnout of 84.8% at GE13 is very impressive. It shows how much our democratic right means to us.
My Hope for Malaysia
My hope for Malaysia, in concrete terms, is for us to start thinking beyond First-Past-The-Post and to adopt fairer systems such as MMP. I hope we can have an independent body to redraw electoral boundaries, as many other countries do. I hope we can have an independent-minded Election Commission and Caretaker Government. I hope we can see more women leading the country and that our politicians wouldn’t even dare to engage in racial politics.
Malaysia has a long way to go but we are brimming with talent and spirit. We have the power to change the status quo and create a fairer system.
Global Bersih has come up with a proposal to reform the overseas voting process. You can access this document at https://www.globalbersih.org/proposal-for-reforms-to-overseas-voting-process
Lydia Chai is a Malaysian living in New Zealand. The views expressed here are her own and not necessarily those of Global Bersih.