KUALA LUMPUR – “We want to fly home. We want to vote.” This is the clear message put across by an online campaign portal ‘Jom Balik Undi’ (www.jombalikundi.com )
Created about three months ago, Jom Balik Undi has been receiving positive responses. Visitors engaged in the space by sharing stories and photos, the most notable are photos of Malaysians holding placards that read messages from ‘Let’s Go Home and Vote’ to ‘I Love Malaysia’ set against the settings in foreign countries.
One of the stories posted raised concerns on Malaysia’s alarming rate of brain drain. Malaysia has always been “an incredible pool of talent”, said Alex Lee, and the unbalanced outflow of talent is seen as “damaging”.
Lee said, “Malaysia is now at a unique moment in its history. For the first time, there’s a broad realisation that the country must move in a new direction.”
“We are on the verge of being able to make a great change to our country in the next coming election, but will it be possible without the support from all of us?”
Where are our overseas voting rights?
The website is also campaigning for the overseas voting rights, something that has been fought for so long by many Malaysians whom have sought to live and work overseas.
According to the current law, only Malaysians abroad who are government servants, military personnel and full-time students and their spouses are allowed to vote by absentee ballot, something that is seen as “unfair” by many.
One of the Malaysian expatriates, Nurul Syaheedah, said in her e-mail to the website: “The right to vote is a basic right of all citizens.” Syaheedah, 27, is currently living in Jersey City, working in New York’s Wall Street as a financial analyst.
The New York university graduate further cited that, in this time and age, “no one should be disenfranchised”, even in differing locations anywhere in the world.
“We are all rightful stakeholders in our nation,” Syaheedah urged.
The number of Malaysian expatriates is reaching an all time high of more than one million, most of them finding opportunities in countries like Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
A reckless statement by the chairman of the Election Commision (EC) chairman, Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, however, has sent Malaysian overseas infuriated.
Responding to the question of whether should Malaysians overseas vote or not, Abdul Aziz is reported as saying: “Do we want to take in Malaysians (as voters) who do not come back to Malaysia? Do we take these people as voters?”
Understandably disgruntled, a post-graduate research assistant, Zaleha, insisted that she has voting rights too.
Zaleha, working in a teaching school in the UK, told Jom Balik Undi that she still pays tax for her properties in Kuala Lumpur while sending money home to support her parents and siblings.
“The EC does more harm to take away my vote. How about making it ineligible for those immigrants with questionable citizenship, to vote in Malaysia?” Zaleha argued.
A glint of hope shined last year when, after being put under pressure especially by the Coalition for Free and Fair Election, Bersih, the Election Commission (EC) has announced plans last July to allow eligible Malaysians abroad to vote.
However hopes were greatly turned down when the EC ruled that overseas Malaysians were not taxpayers in Malaysia thus should not be eligible to vote in parliamentary or state elections.
Abdul Aziz resorted to using the United States as an example, saying, “Only American taxpayers were allowed to vote”.
Married to a Brit yet not having the intention of staying permanently in England, Adele, from Penang, responded to the decision by describing it as “ridiculous”.
“We might as well let foreign citizens living in Malaysia vote because they pay taxes in Malaysia.”
Adele owns a home in Malaysia as well, in which she returns to annually. “I pay quit rent on this property, I pay Malaysian taxes. I should have the right to vote in Malaysia although I live in the UK,” Adele told the Jom Balik Undi.
Several Malaysians have pushed the matter to High Court. An advocacy group, MyOverseasVote (www.myoverseasvote.com) set in 2010 by six Malaysians living in the UK, filed a suit against the EC last year after it refused to register them as voters. Their attempt to obtain their voting rights, unsurprisingly, was rejected.
Sitting in the group’s board of trustees, a disappointed See See Leong questioned the decision, reiterating, “The Constitution gives you the right to vote.”
“So long as you are a Malaysian citizen, you should have the right to vote,” added Leong, living his life in London as a software designer.
Despite all the setbacks, many Malaysians are willing to go back home to cast their votes during the elections, though according to Hwa Shi Shia, a biologist living in Singapore, “it should not be a cost required for people to bear.”
Citing the example of the Philippines arranging their overseas citizens to cast their ballots in Singapore, Hwa told the website, “I don’t see why we can’t.”
Electoral reforms: now
Bersih has been pushing for reforms evidently through massive rallies held locally as well as in major cities throughout the world in the past few years.
In Malaysia, despite the constant crackdowns by the authorities, the rallies drew crowds coming in large numbers, a sign seen by organizers and supporters alike as “a firm proof that Malaysians want change.”
The biggest of the protests took place in Kuala Lumpur last year in April, where more than 300, 000 Malaysians took to the streets in a rally described as “one of the biggest in the country’s history.”
There are 11 million registered voters in Malaysia, out of a potential electorate of 15 million. – The Rocket