March 8, 2008
By CHOW HOW BAN
As much as Malaysians abroad would like to vote, it is just not practical to travel home to do so.
AS MALAYSIANS go to the polls today, our 2,000 fellow counterparts living in Shanghai and surrounding cities can only follow the results of the election on the Internet or television.
They are not qualified to cast postal votes away from home because the privilege is only for certain categories of Malaysians.
Over the past few weeks, these Malaysians – mostly executives and managers with international firms – had waited eagerly for confirmation from the consulate office in Shanghai on their eligibility for postal voting.
But when the mission got back to them with the answer, it was a big disappointment.
According to the Election Regulations (Electoral Roll) 2002 and Election Regulations (Postal Votes) 2003, only military personnel, students, staff of embassies and high commissions and their spouses can vote through the post. All other overseas Malaysians must return home if they wish to vote.
Malaysians living in Britain have also expressed their frustration over the issue and called on the Election Commission (EC) for electoral reforms so that ordinary Malaysian citizens can vote overseas as well. (see Eurofile, The Star, Feb 24)
It is reported that of the 10,922,139 registered voters on the 2007 master electoral roll, 221,085 are postal voters.
Malaysian Association in the People’s Republic of China president K.Y. Lai said: “Most Malaysians living abroad would like to vote but due to work, leave problems or the cost of flying home, it would be good if we could vote by post at the consulate office in Shanghai.”
Vincent Choo said he had received a lot of complaints from fellow Malaysians who filled up copies of Form A and registered as voters at the consulate office but yet were not allowed to vote.
“Why in the first place did the consulate office request all those living here to register?” he asked. The consulate office opened for registration upon the EC’s request from Jan 14 to 25, but things became confusing when the office found out later that ordinary Malaysians were ineligible to vote by post.
An official from the consulate office said that none of its staff workers (who are supposed to fall under the category of staff of high commissions) had been granted the chance to vote via the post.
She said the office did not receive any further notice from the EC on the registered voters’ status after the registration exercise.
The consul general in Shanghai had previously said that ballot papers would usually be sent to the consulate office a week before polling day.
The qualified persons would have go to the office to cast their votes on polling day, after which the ballots would be counted and sent back to Malaysia on the same day itself.
Cherleen Yap, a mother of two who has settled down in Shanghai for many years, said she wished Malaysians abroad could have the chance to vote by post, as it would be much more convenient.
“I have not voted before as I am always out of Malaysia. It will be a long trip back home to vote,” she said.
Malaysian Association of Jiangsu (Maju) president Michael Oh said that its members wanted to vote but the present system made it difficult for them to do so.
As much as they would like to exercise their right, he said, it was just not practical to return to Malaysia to cast their votes.
Many also wonder if it is logical to pay for the cost of mailing the ballots when the number of overseas Malaysian voters is a lot smaller than the total voter population in Malaysia.
There is also the question of the manpower needed to supervise the voting process at embassies and consulate offices.
“If postal voting is extended to normal citizens, we would still have to make some sacrifice. If we want to vote, we may have to travel further than the average voter back home,” Oh said.
“Most voters back home will be within 10 minutes’ drive, or 2km to 3km away from their voting centre,” he said.
He believes postal voters should not be made responsible for the cost of voting, saying it is the responsibility of the Election Commission to ensure that every citizen is not deprived of his right to vote.
“All rules and laws are created by humans, and can therefore be amended,” he said.
Oh, for the chance to cast vote by post