High on the polls

The Star: February 17, 2008

The general election is currently the hottest topic around for many Malaysians residing in the UK.
ELECTION fever is sweeping across Britain, with the Malaysian community glued to political blogs and websites on the campaign trail back home.
From students and businessmen to professionals and community leaders, many appear to be caught up on the latest juicy gossip of who’s in or out.
And the Malaysian High Commission in London is gearing up for the big day as it awaits the arrival of postal ballots from the Election Commission.
Despite having the largest Malaysian community in Europe – some 11,000 students and no less than 5,000 professionals – Britain saw only a small number of postal voters in the 2004 polls.
During that time, it was learnt that only 23 postal ballots were issued to the High Commission and an unspecified number to others throughout the United Kingdom.
“Not many were registered as postal voters then,” said High Commissioner Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohamad, describing the poor response.
He said that once they receive the guidelines on postal voting from the Election Commission, they would post them on the High Commission’s and Malaysian Students Department’s websites.
Abdul Aziz said they would also send the ballot papers to eligible voters in the UK to enable them to cast their votes.
“We will then dispatch the ballot papers by special airbag to the Election Commission within the stipulated time-frame,” he added.
Democratic right
The lukewarm response towards postal voting may be linked to the question of whether only civil servants and their spouses working overseas are eligible to vote as postal voters or if full-time students and their spouses residing with them are also entitled.
Malaysia Think Tank director-general Wan Saiful Wan Jan said postal voting should be open to all Malaysians residing or working abroad.
“All barriers must be removed and voting be made as easy as possible for those overseas,” he said.
He said if postal voting were to be restricted to only the two categories of Malaysians, it would discourage the private sector from exercising their democratic right.
Wan Saiful noted it would be unfair to expect Malaysian professionals and businessmen abroad to fly home just to cast their votes.
In Britain, for instance, the move would affect no less than 5,000 Malaysians if they were disallowed from registering as postal voters.
He also called for greater integrity in the postal voting system, which was a major issue in the last election.
The question of credibility was a matter of grave concern then, resulting in many Malaysians reluctant to register as postal voters, he added.
Overseas Malaysian Executives Club (Omec) president Radziah Omar voiced similar views about postal voting restrictions.
“I’ll raise the issue at our exco meeting,” she said, adding that all Malaysians overseas should be eligible to cast their votes as postal voters.
Omec represents more than 100 Malaysian professionals such as Datuk Jimmy Choo, as well as prominent bankers, accountants, lawyers, engineers and businessmen mainly in London.
Hottest topic
United Kingdom & Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC) chairman Khairizul Rizzuan said they would send e-mail to their members to remind them to exercise their democratic rights.
“We’ll hold a special meeting with students on Feb 23 to discuss postal voting procedures to prevent spoilt votes,” he said.
Khairizul said he had received numerous phone calls and text messages over the past few days from members who were all looking forward to the polls.
“We’ll also create greater awareness by posting news on our website on the 60-day deadline for the election to be held after dissolution of Parliament,” he added.
The UKEC represents 72 Malaysian student societies with over 8,000 members across the UK.
Umno UK Liaison Committee chairman Dzariman Ibrahim said he had been inundated with calls and text messages from members about the coming elections.
“I’ve advised them to vote wisely,” he said, adding that about 50% of the over 1,000 members were eligible voters.
MCA UK Club president Eric Choo said his members had also been kept busy checking Malaysian online newspapers on the latest election issues back home.
“The election is the hottest topic around and we certainly don’t want to miss out on the excitement,” he added.
While most Malaysian students are understandably focusing on their studies, it’s good that they have not neglected their responsibility towards their country.
Choi Tuck Wo is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London.