MyOverseasVote finds continued confusion among Malaysian missions overseas

MyOverseasVote conducted a survey of 21 Malaysian missions overseas to ascertain if the missions are equipped to register full-time students as Postal Voters. You can read a summary of our findings below. We carried out the survey over two working days (Friday, 22 July and Monday, 25 July). We use the term ‘mission’ to emcompass Malaysian Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates.

Background
Current EC regulations allow full-time students overseas to register as postal voters. Civil Servants and members of the Armed forces who are serving overseas are also eligible. Malaysians of any other profession are not given the same facility to vote with a postal ballot. MyOverseasVote is a campaign to get the right for all overseas Malaysians to vote, regardless of profession. There is more information about us on our website.

Timeliness of the survey
MyOverseasVote received numerous complaints from students about their difficulties in trying to register as postal voters. We hope that the fresh evidence we have gathered can be fed into tonight’s debate, and would prompt the EC to provide the Malaysian missions overseas with precise and updated procedures on how to register postal voters.
The Postal Vote issue is highlighted in Point 2 of the Bersih 2.0 memorandum. There are Administrative issues that the EC need to address to make postal voting free, un-fettered and fair. More importantly, we believe the EC should address the Constitutional issue we raise about the un-just and arbitrary rule that discrimates against a large section of overseas Malaysians who are not allowed the postal ballot.
It is in our interest to see the postal voter registration issue resolved at the Embassies. It is not our aim to draw negative attention to the overseas missions. We stress that the Consular staff we spoke to were polite and helpful in their dealings with us.

Our Survey

With the help of our supporters around the world, we collected data from 21 Malaysian missions overseas, across the continents.

Asia (9) : Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Mumbai, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai
The Pacifics (3) : Canberra, Perth, Wellington(NZ)
Europe(5) : London, Dublin, Rome, Geneva, Berne
USA (3) : Los Angeles, New York City, Washington DC
Latin America (1) : Beunos Aires


What we did

We called up our respective Embassies to enquire about Voter registration. In particular, we wanted to know if full-time students can register at their local missions, how does one register and whether the Embassies had the necessary forms for the registration process.

Summary of findings

1. Our findings show that Consular staff around the world are unfamiliar with the postal voter registration and voting process. At best, full-time students are welcomed to register as postal voters at the Embassy. However, regarding the details of the registration and actual voting process, answers differed from one Mission to another. At worst, Consular staff readily admit they “don’t know” about postal voting and are “waiting for instruction from the EC or the Foreign Office”. Anecdotal evidence from 2008 paints a similar picture of confusion among Consular staff about postal voting. The Consular staff we spoke to were polite in their dealings with us.

2. Some Embassies will post the applicant a Form-A to fill up at home. The form will have to be returned in person to the Embassy where the registration can be accepted. Some missions recommend(one insisted) that the form be returned to the SPR directly(bypassing the Embassy). From Sydney, you have to write a letter of request for Form-A and provide a self-addressed envelope.

3. Some Missions do not accept postal voter registrations all year round(Rome, Berne). They have to wait for the green light from from Wisma Putra(The Ministry for Foreign Affairs). Once the signal is given, the missions will call up eligible postal voters to invite them to register. Overseas Malaysians are advised to register their details with their local missions so they can be contacted if need be.

4. Some Embassies admit they do not know about postal voting and do not have copies of Form-A to use for registration(Mumbai, Bangkok).

5.The “Form A” application form for ordinary and postal voter registration is available to download from the SPR website.
Some embassies do not accept downloaded application forms while others are unsure about its use.

6. According to an Embassy staff in Los Angeles, the postal voting registration procedure does not require the applicant to produce an IC or passport. However,in Los Angeles, they keep a copy of the IDs for their own record-keeping. How does the Embassy determine if one is a Student or not ? The Malaysian passport lists the carrier’s profession but one’s profession can change during the lifespan of the passport. In Singapore, they ask you for a letter from your college. The EC does not seem to have a stringent nor consistent way to vet applicants based on their status as a student. As such, we are not convinced that ‘Security’ is the reason for barring working or retired Malaysians overseas from voting.

7.The missions in Canberra and New York City are still restricting registration to government-sponsored students. This is in spite of the recent directive from the EC to remind all Outposts that *ALL* full-time students are allowed to register. We note that London and Paris used to deny non-government-sponsored students from registering but they have now lifted the constraint. MyOverseasVote raised this matter with the EC in February and the Deputy EC Chairman, Wan Ahmad, took immediate action to overturn the arbitrary rule. Given how this discriminatory rule was once implemented across the Embassies, one can discern a discrimination against Malaysian voters who are not linked to the Government. An investigation to ascertain the history of this practice should be carried out by an independent party not linked to the EC or Wisma Putra.

8. The EC have no valid grounds to discriminate against overseas Malaysians who are not students, civil servants or members of the armed forces. The Identification problem cannot be used as an excuse for denying sections of Malaysians of their postal vote if the possession of a MyKad and/or Passport with a matching thumbprint can identify a Malaysian citizen.

Conclusion
Administrative issues as illustrated above limit the ability of eligible students to register as postal voters. We believe that getting un-fettered access to register is essential for free and fair elections. Over and above ironing out Administrative issues, the EC must overturn the current arbitrary law which defines who can and who cannot vote with a postal vote. All Malaysians living overseas who qualify as ‘Ordinary Voters’ should be entitled to vote with a postal ballot. The current regulations are against Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees equal treatment for all citizens under the law.

We remind the EC that :

(a) The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law which is
inconsistent with the Constitution is liable to be struck down (Article 4).

(b) Article 119 of the Constitution envisages, and allows for, voting by persons who
are not resident in the country who are termed as absent voters.

(c) The Constitution does not provide for different categories of absent voters, nor
does it stipulate any qualification or distinction between classes of absent
voters.

(d) Article 119 and elections law should be interpreted in a way which enables the
enfranchisement of citizens.

(e) The EC is under a duty to act fairly and impartially to ensure that any eligible
voter (including absent voters) may exercise his/her constitutional right to
vote

(f) Every reasonable effort should be made to enfranchise citizens. The right to
vote by its very nature imposes positive obligations upon the EC to
register any eligible voter and to facilitate the exercise of the right to vote.

(g) The categorisation of absent voters by the EC (under Regulation 2 of the
Electors Regulations) and persons entitled to vote by postal ballot (under
Regulation 3(1) of the Postal Voting Regulations) is arbitrary, unreasonably
restrictive, discriminatory and renders the right to vote of those who do not fall
within those categories illusory and ineffective. These provisions are liable to
be struck down as being unconstitutional.

(h) Alternatively, the failure by EC to make provisions to include other categories
of persons as absent voters and entitled to vote by postal ballot is a breach of
its statutory duties. It is arguable that the EC ought to consider afresh the issue
of the definition of absent voters and add to the present categorisation of
absent voters and those entitled to vote by postal ballot. “Overseas voters”may
be one category of persons to be included as absent voters.

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