The Election Commission (EC) Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, is clearly out of touch with reality if he expects 1 million Malaysians living and working overseas to register their postal addresses with Malaysian embassies overseas when there is no provision in the EC’s regulations for them to vote by post.
Since October 2010, MyOverseasVote has been campaigning for all Malaysians overseas to be given the right to vote by post. In August 2011, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz announced that the EC would extend postal voting to all Malaysians overseas, but nearly a year later, nothing has been done by the EC to allow Malaysians overseas to register as postal voters.
The EC Chairman is quoted in a Malaysiakini article (“EC rues ‘poor’ response from Malaysians abroad”) dated 14 June 2012 as saying that the response of overseas Malaysians to the EC’s calls for them to register was “poor”, and that only 400-500 overseas Malaysians had registered their addresses with Malaysian embassies overseas.
Tan Sri Abdul Aziz is fully aware that the EC’s regulations only allow overseas Malaysians to vote as absent voters if they are serving members of the military, government servants or students. At present, Malaysians overseas who fall outside these categories are only able to register as ordinary voters, who must return to Malaysia to vote. In 2011, six overseas Malaysians applied to register as absent voters at the High Commission in London only to discover months later that they were registered by the EC as ordinary voters because they did not qualify under the EC’s regulations. They are now challenging the EC’s decision and its regulations in a Court of Appeal hearing that will be heard on 26 July 2012.
Under Article 25(2) of the Federal Constitution, Malaysians who are citizens by registration or naturalization are required to register annually with the Malaysian consulate if they wish to retain their Malaysian citizenship while residing overseas. But for Malaysians who are citizens by birth, or otherwise by operation of law, there is simply no reason to register with the Malaysian embassy or consulate unless consular assistance is required, especially if the EC refuses to allow them to vote by post.
Registering as an absent voter under the 2002 Registration of Electors Regulations is a 3-6-month process as lengthy as the process of registering as a new voter, involving public display, inspection, objections and quarterly gazetting of the supplementary electoral roll. Until late last year, Malaysians students overseas were required to take time off their studies and travel in person to the Malaysian embassy or high commission in the capital city, which are only open for voter registration on weekday mornings, if they wished to register.
For this reason, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform has recommended that overseas Malaysians be added as a category of postal voter, who do not need to go through the whole 3-6-month voter registration process all over again. However, as of now, the 2003 Postal Voting Regulations do not allow for the registration of overseas Malaysians as postal voters. The PSC tabled its final recommendations on 3 April 2012, and gave the EC a three-month deadline for implementation of its recommendations. The simple amendments that are needed to allow Malaysians overseas to register as postal voters should therefore have been made ready to be laid before the Dewan Rakyat during the current sitting, which lasts from 11 June until 28 June 2012.
Many overseas Malaysians have already registered as ordinary voters while in Malaysia, and have therefore been waiting anxiously since August 2011 for the EC to announce the forms and procedures for registering as a postal voter. It is a travesty of the highest order that the EC Chairman should now be trying to divert attention and shift the blame to overseas Malaysians for his commission’s failure to meet the PSC’s deadline of 3 July 2012.