The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0) today launched a report entitled “Improving Access to Voting in Malaysia”. The report was commissioned by BERSIH 2.0 and written by Chan Tsu Chong to study the challenges for voters to exercise their right to vote in Malaysia and make recommendations on how the access to voting can be reformed to make it easier for all voters, and safer in particularly during Covid-19 pandemic.
The report has identified several obstacles for voters to exercise their rights to vote:
1. Voter registration and voting age are still the barriers to vote in Malaysia. In July 2019, the Dewan Rakyat unanimously amended the Federal Constitution to allow for automatic voter registration and to lower the voting age to 18 years of age. However, the Election Commission (EC) has not enforced this amendment. Consequently, over 5.6 million citizens are directly disenfranchised.
2. The present postal voting and advance voting system in Malaysia is limited in scope. Outstation voters who are living away from their registered constituency, are not entitled to postal or advance voting. They have to incur costs in terms of time and travel expenses to vote on election day, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak who are working in peninsular Malaysia, and vice versa.
3. Postal voting is offered to voters who are residing overseas. The short period of time between nomination day and polling day adversely impacts the delivery and return of postal votes.
4. Persons with disabilities (PWDs) face physical barriers to voting, especially in terms of the facilities in polling stations. There are no arrangements to assist those who cannot go to polling stations because of severe health issues or infirmities. Contrary to global best practices, Covid-19 patients were not allowed to vote in previous state and by-elections.
5. The election date is not fixed or known in advance. Political parties would be caught off guard and opposition parties would be at a disadvantage. The EC cannot make preparations for elections with certainty. Voters, especially outstation ones, face practical challenges in terms of planning their schedules so that they do not miss the opportunity to vote.
6. There is no mechanism to allow prisoners to vote during elections. Besides them, voters from the low-income group face financial and time-related barriers to voting. There are also voters in remote areas who still face practical difficulties in physically reaching polling stations.
7. There are insufficient voter education initiatives. The EC has established an Election Academy (Akademi Pilihan Raya) under its purview, but the budget allocated for voter education annually is unclear. The Covid-19 pandemic that broke out in early of 2020 and continues its worsening trends to this date, further restricted and complicated the right to vote and access to voting of voters following the declaration of several area-targeted emergencies and the proclamation of emergency from 12 January 2021, effectively suspended all by-elections and state elections.
BERSIH 2.0 believes that the Covid-19 will stay with us for a long time and human beings will have to learn how to live with Covid-19 and learn how to adapt to this new challenge and the new norms.
In view of the barriers to access to voting in the current system and the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic, BERSIH 2.0 urgently calls for the following reforms:
1. Immediately implement the automatic voter registration system and the lowering of voting age to 18. This would immediately enfranchise 5.6 million Malaysians into the electoral process.
2. All existing categories of domestic postal voters shall be abolished because of the lack of transparency and trust in the process and the EC. The existing categories of postal voters shall be allowed to vote via advance voting instead. However, domestic postal voting shall be extended, on a very limited basis, to PWDs or voters with health issues that prohibit them from physically voting.
3. Postal voting should be maintained only for overseas voters and shall be expanded to voters residing in Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Southern Thailand (Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala, Songkhla and Satun). The EC should remove the current requirement for overseas voters to have spent at least 30 days in Malaysia in the last five years to be eligible.
4. The advance voting system shall be reformed and expanded to outstation voters who are absent throughout polling day from the state where he/she is registered to vote, existing categories of domestic postal voters and voters who are incarcerated in prisons.
5. Military and police personnel shall vote under a free and unsuppressed environment during advance voting, without the presence of their superiors or any other conditions which may affect the exercise of their free will or cause intimidation.
6. The EC shall ensure that there is a sufficient spread of polling stations in remote areas, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. The EC shall review the spread of polling stations in urban areas in view of making voting more convenient and less costly for voters from the low-income strata.
7. In terms of health and safety measures, the EC shall create additional polling stations, or polling streams (saluran) within the polling station, to avoid overcrowding of voters. The number of voters per polling stream shall be capped at 400 voters, which is in line with the general safety recommendation to halve the operating capacity of public venues. |
8. The government shall introduce a Fixed-term Parliament Act with the aim of having a fixed election date to ensure that voters and political parties are not caught by surprise and have legitimate expectations of when elections will be held. This would facilitate voters in making their respective arrangements to vote.
9. The government must ensure that there is sufficient budgetary allocation for voter education with at least 10% of the budget allocated to the EC shall be earmarked for voter education purposes. The EC shall facilitate a multi-stakeholder approach in voter education and develop a three-year Voter Education Action Plan in consultation with the stakeholders. The action plan shall be made public, and progress shall be periodically monitored and reviewed.
The Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0