Targeting the unregistered

by Zakiah Koya (The Sun)
POLITICAL parties are hot on the heels of those who have turned 21 but are not registered as voters.
And the reason is obvious – these young voters may just give them the edge come the next general election.
Election Commission (EC) deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar recently revealed that some 28% or 4.39 million Malaysians over the age of 21 had yet to register as voters as at the end of last year.
Many of the electorate registration units of political parties are already on the ground, trying to get as many as possible registered.
Tony Pua of the DAP says that although those registered as voters by a certain political party will not necessarily vote for the party during an election, past experience has shown they are more likely to do so.
“More likely” is our hope, says Pua, who heads the Voter Registration Task Force in Selangor for the DAP. He is also the member of parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara.
S. Murugesan, secretary-general of the MIC – of ruling coalition Barisan Nasional – says this is so because voters are more aware now of their rights and know they need not vote for the party that registered them.
He observes that BN parties are going full force to ensure that every eligible member is a voter, unlike in the past. Before, they had many members who were not voters, but after the big swing to the Opposition in the March 8, 2008 general election, the BN has come to realise that every single vote counts.
An Umno member from the party’s Membership and Voter Registration Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to party orders, says Umno has learnt its lesson the hard way and now makes voter registration its top priority.
How political parties register voters
As of December last year, Umno was reported to have about 661,000 members who had yet to register as voters, and the party is determined to tackle this problem.
Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said then that the party would ensure all eligible members are registered as voters by June.
Deputy Umno Youth head Datuk Razali Ibrahim says the task is now left to all divisions to locate those who fall into this category and register them.
Razali, who is also the deputy youth and sports minister, says Umno has been “triggered” to do this to make sure there is no rep-eat of the last general election.
An Umno member who declined to be named, and whose work is enlisting members over 21 who are not voters, adds that the party is also targeting campuses.
“This is the new stage – the students who will graduate,” he says.
Admitting that the whole process of registering voters is a “big headache”, he adds that Umno is targeting 85% of the 4.4 million eligible voters.
“That is definitely a tall order,” the Umno member laments, saying the party definitely has to improve its machinery in registering voters.
“Our Wanita Umno and Puteri Umno make up the main machinery of registering voters at the grassroots. They work really hard, and every month we also monitor every division’s increase in voters.”
While BN parties work on getting their many members to become voters, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has set up a special joint committee to address the problem. PAS, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP are to manage different areas.
“We are targeting 50% of non-registered voters. As for PAS, we have set up voter registration bur-eaus at the state level and have our units at the state assembly level,” says Datuk Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman who heads the party’s Voter Registration Unit.
He says PAS has always gone to the ground to register voters. This time however, realising that the number of non-registered voters is really big, PAS has decided to do it “gerak gempur” (onslaught) style.
Saifuddin Nasution, secretary-general of the PKR and MP for Machang, says the party had worked together with the EC to train its officials in the voter registration process.
“These assistant registrars are licensed by the Election Commission and we work together with the political appointees made up of village headmen, village councils and council members as these will be the people who benefit when we are elected the government of the day,” he says.
“Our timeframe is 12-18 months and we are concentrating mainly on the states that we have won as we want to win them again in the next general election.”
Pua says the party makes it a point to have voter registration booths in places such as morning and night markets where people are more likely to go.
“We want voter registration to be instilled in the mindset of the people. The EC has its voter registration booths in post offices and the post office is not a place youth are likely to go nowadays, what with the internet and all. We can blame it on apathy on the people’s part, but the way the EC conducts its voter registration process is not adequate and there seems to be no push and pull,” he says.
MIC’s Murugesan says one cannot necessarily blame the EC for not doing much as it is not given enough allocations and has a shortage of staff for such a big task. He adds that voter registration is a community service that should be taken up by all political parties.
Why they don’t register
There are three types of people who have yet to register as voters, according to Pakatan Rakyat.
“The first group are politically apathetic – they ask what is the point if they cannot change the government with their votes,” says Saifuddin. “The second group is the one with a logistics problem – to get to the voter registration centres is a hassle. Then there are those who just don’t know that they have to register as voters.”
Halim agrees, saying that there is a lack of understanding among youth on the importance of being involved in the political process.
Saifuddin adds that the EC should be more involved in the political education process from the perspective of an election commission rather than a political party.
Razali comes to the defence of the commission, saying Umno has always realised that the party need not only find eligible voters and register them, but also educate and instil in them the need to participate in the process of democracy.
“A government which has been formed by a low turnout of voters does not show the support of the rakyat. We do not want to use the enforcement method but want them to come out by themselves and exercise their right to vote. This is not only for the party’s gain but Umno believes it is necessary to expose the people to the importance of voter registration,” he says.
“The people must decide their own government and we in Umno are doing this on the ground, albeit quietly. Furthermore, we have always made it mandatory that we are part of the democratic system.”
The EC would do well to take suggestions from political parties to prevent the number of unregistered but eligible voters from climbing – the most popular solution being the automated registration of voters.
Saifuddin says the problem would be eliminated if the government introduced the automatic-voter status system.
In their Common Platform of the Pakatan Rakyat which will come into force if the Opposition comes into power, Malaysians will automatically be registered as voters when they turn 18.
“As we are already using our MyKad to register as voters, why can’t the EC work together with the National Registration Department and make such a recommendation? This will solve the problem,” Saifuddin suggests.
Halim says this will also save money and time, not to mention cut down the hassle.
Although BN parties have yet to make an official comment on this proposal, MIC’s Murugesan and the Umno member who spoke to theSun personally feel that it is a good idea.
Murugesan says he believes this will ensure every citizen has a right to vote, but warns against phantom voters if such a system is not implemented properly.
Razali, being part of the government of the day, requests we work with the system we currently have and that all parties involved work most on educating citizens on the importance of exercising their rights. — theSun