Overseas Malaysians to sue EC over non-voting rights

By Teoh El Sen (FMT)
PETALING JAYA: A group of Malaysians demanding voting rights for all citizens living abroad are planning to bring the Election Commission and the government to court.
MyOverseasVote (MOV) international coordinator Andrew Yong (photo) told FMT that the group is looking to file the suit in the first half of 2011.
MOV or ‘Malaysians Overseas – Right to Vote’ is a campaign that was recently kicked off in London and aims to encourage Malaysians living or working abroad to vote.
It is also raising funds to legally challenge ‘discriminatory’ regulations preventing many Malaysians overseas from registering as ‘absent voters’.
“We want the court to say that the current regulations are against Article 8 of the federal constitution, which guarantees equal treatment for all citizens under the law.
“We want the court to declare that the Malaysian government and the Election Commision cannot discriminate against citizens abroad from voting on arbitrary grounds,” said Yong.
Under the Election (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, only members of the Armed Forces, public servants, students on government scholarships and their spouses living overseas are eligible to register and vote as absent voters.
“We believe that there are no rational grounds for the government to say that only people working for the government can vote. We believe in the principle of ‘one citizen, one vote’,” said Yong.
“To date, we have collected about 10% of the RM200,000 required legal fees to cover everything right up to the Federal Court and includes costs in the event we lose the suit.
“Currently, the 10% is sufficient to launch the action and get it through the first few stages,” said Yong.
Though there are people ready to be litigants, MOV is now looking for more Malaysians abroad to better represent the wide spectrum of people denied voting rights, said Yong.
“We have people in the UK and we need people in the US and Australia to volunteer as litigants. We are looking at professionals and people of the lower income group as they are the ones who are not financially able to return to vote,” he said.
Election Commission being unreasonable
Yong said MOV has already engaged severals lawyers in the Malaysia, including prominent human rights lawyer Edmund Bon, who has agreed to take up the suit.
“We want Malaysians to be really involved and we’re conducting campaigns. There’s no point in us winning the suit if we don’t have people voting.”
About 20,000 students overseas are facing problems. In London, students wanting to register were told that they had to be students sponsored by the government to be registered as absent voters.
He added that the Election Commission was also not facilitating the registration through embassies and had not responded to applications in several cases since 2008.
Yong said: “This is unfair. Are certain people special and the rest of us don’t count? Does the Election Commision automatically link government workers to the BN government?”
“There are so many Malaysians who have been out of the country from five to 15 years and they could’ve easily become British or US citizens but chose to remain Malaysians. But for some reason they are being denied the right to vote. It’s unreasonable.”
Yong said in his own case, he studied law in London and he could vote after he was 21, but when he was in private practice, couldn’t, and was eligible when he continued his masters.
“For me, I was in a position where I couldn’t vote, can vote, couldn’t vote, then can vote again,” said Yong, who recently returned to Malaysia after being in the UK for 15 years.
There are 11 million registered voters in Malaysia, out of a potential electorate of 15 million.
Over one million Malaysians are estimated to live and work outside Malaysia and this, MOV said, could potentially provide an 8-9% increase in total voters.