The four million who are eligible to vote, but won't

NST: 01 March, 2008
They blame it on the lack of time,lack of quality candidates or just that their vote won’t count anyway. Some Malaysians prefer not to take part in the electoral process. P. SELVARANI and TAN CHOE CHOE speak to some self-confessed non-voters.
Jenny just left it to her husband.
SHE is 60 and she has never cast a vote in her life, unless you consider the time 30 years ago when she had to pick which of her two younger brothers should inherit their grandmother’s house in Segambut.
It isn’t because housewife Jenny Choo never wanted to or that she has no faith in the electoral process.
“It’s just that my husband was always the one who voted, not me. I was always the one who had to stay home to take care of the children, clean, cook …
“I also find politics too complicated, so I have always left it to my husband,” says Choo, who dropped out of school after Standard Two.
Needless to say, Choo’s name is not on the electoral roll.
Like Choo, Rosy Philis Fernandez, 49, won’t be casting her vote in this general election. She has not cast her vote in all the previous general or by-elections.
“Personally, I feel that most of our elected representatives work for personal goals and not for the people they are supposed to represent,” says the pre-school teacher.
Pointing out the ever-present issue of poverty in the country, Fernandez says: “Ours is a rich country, yet poverty is still evident, even in urban areas. And freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the Constitution, is being questioned now.
“All these are making me lose faith in the system.”
Not surprisingly, she never bothered to register as a voter.
“Politicians should heed the call of (former US President) John F. Kennedy — ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’.”
To Fernandez, it doesn’t help that many aging “seasoned” politicians still stubbornly cling to their positions instead of making way for new blood.
But what irks her most is that after 50 years of independence, Malaysians are still being identified by their ethnicity.
“We should all be identified as Malaysians, not whether we are Malay, Chinese or Indian.”
With a population of about 26.6 million, some 15.1 million are over 21 years and eligible to vote.
But only 10.9 million are registered voters, which leaves some four million as unregistered voters like Choo and Fernandez.
That means about one in four Malaysians above the age of 21 are not registered.
According to the Election Commission, those aged between 21 and 35 comprise nearly 70 per cent of those who failed to register.
This includes Harvin Kaur, 25, of Ipoh.
Harvin says she had wanted to register to vote on a few occasions, but was never able to make it on time because the post office was always closed by the time she got there after work.
“Maybe it’s all right because at the end of the day, I don’t think my vote would have made a difference.”
Harvin, who works as a consultant, does not discount the possibility of voting the next time around, providing she manages to register as a voter.
Some non-voters contend that there are faults with Malaysia’s electoral process, so it would be pointless for them to make the effort to take part.
Citing the 1999 general election results, non-voter Fatimah Ibrahim, 33, says Barisan Nasional managed to win some 56 per cent of the votes cast and secure 148 out of the 193 parliamentary seats contested.
“That is some 77 per cent of the seats. What happens to the 44 per cent of people who voted for the alternative? I think they should be more fairly represented in Parliament.”
Fatimah says the essence of democracy is to ensure that the voice of the minority is heard.
“But that doesn’t seem to be the case in our electoral process.”
Best friends Alex Fong, Chew Chee Pin and Ivan Loh, all aged 23 and staying in Kuala Lumpur, are also not voting come Saturday.
Fong and Chew actually wanted to vote but found that it was just “too troublesome to register”.
“If I could register myself online, or say via SMS, then I’d probably be voting this year.
“I don’t understand why with the advent of technology, they (Election Commission) can’t make things simpler and more voter-friendly for us,” says Fong.
IT supervisor Chew admits to feeling embarrassed that he isn’t a registered voter.
“I just never found the time to register. I kept putting it off that eventually it was just too late,” he says.
Loh, a furniture salesman, says: ” People around me occasionally talk about the election, but it didn’t seem to register in my mind that I should vote.”