Overseas Malaysians frustrated at late ballot papers; volunteers to fly votes home

Overseas Malaysians frustrated at late ballot papers; volunteers to fly votes home

Malaysia election slip
A ballot slip used during the Malaysian General Election in 2008. (Photo: AFP/Tengku Bahar)

KUALA LUMPUR: In Nottingham in the UK, Malaysian student Ana (not her real name) has just found out the ballot paper she needs to vote in nationwide polls is only arriving on May 9 - the day of the elections. 

According to new guidelines, the Election Commission will post ballot papers to overseas voters, unless they live in Singapore or Southern Thailand. It is then up to them, however, to mail it back to their constituencies by 5pm on May 9, from wherever they are across the globe.

For Ana, that is now an impossible feat.

"Surely the Election Commission knew the ballot papers would not reach here and be posted back in time?" she tells Channel NewsAsia.

"I especially feel saddened as this would have been my first time voting in a general election."

Across the pond, in New Jersey, Charlene Wong-Podany is feeling the same frustrations as many others living abroad, from Germany to Australia.

"My ballot paper is arriving here on the end of the day on May 7, meaning May 8 morning, Malaysian time," she says.

"Short of chartering a private jet and flying off the moment DHL delivers my ballot papers, it's impossible to get it back in time ... I tried to intercept my ballot papers (at the airport) ... so that I could still get on a plane to fly back to deliver it personally.

"Unfortunately, that is not possible."

According to the EC, it received 7,979 overseas postal vote applications and 3,653 for "overseas absent voters" comprising civil servants and full-time students as well as their partners. 

However, electoral reform group Global Bersih puts the number of eligible voters residing overseas at more than 2 million people. 

Overseas postal voting was first allowed in 2013. Back then, however, embassies were in charge of collecting the ballot papers and getting them home in time. 

For the upcoming polls, the Election Commission chief, Mohd Hashim Abdullah, says it has given the mandate to Pos Malaysia and he is "confident that they are capable".

"God willing all the voters will receive their ballot papers in time," he told media on Saturday.

"Because I was informed that those in South Korea have received it and that was returned and there are those who've told the Election Commission panel that some in Australia have received it too."

Mr Mohd Hashim dismissed the idea of any "technical" problems too.

"We have a time frame for media or whoever to vote and then send those votes back to us ... we haven't missed that time frame yet," he said.


Still, Malaysians are not taking any chances in this election, expected to be one of the fiercest political battles yet with Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional taking on his former mentor and veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan.

Totalling more than 11,000 people - based on EC figures - overseas voters would make up only a small percentage of the 14.9 million registered voters across the country.

But for Malaysians, like the Hague-based Zafirah, voting is a right she did not want to give up.

"I am very frustrated and sad," she says, having no idea when her ballot paper will arrive.

"It'll be my first time voting and I wanted to make sure I wouldn't miss it despite being away from home."

In some marginal seats, overseas votes could make or break politicians too.

But while it may be too late for people like Zafirah, Ana and Charlene to get a say, volunteers with Global Bersih are offering to collect completed ballot papers, then fly them back to Kuala Lumpur from places like New Zealand. Others, are offering to do so of their own accord on social media.

This would not be the first time crowdsourcing movements have been sparked these polls. Last month, the hashtag #PulangMengundi (Go Home to Vote) and others like it, were used to pair up out-of-town voters with sponsors or transportation to get back to their constituencies.

Polls will be held on a Wednesday this year - the first weekday elections in almost 20 years  - and it has been even longer since one was held mid-week. The date has since been declared a public holiday but thousands working outside their voting areas would have to take leave or fork out money for flights to get home.

For Malaysians abroad, this, plus an 11-day campaigning period, may have contributed to why they might miss out on their chance to vote.

"By setting a short campaign period of only 11 days, the Election Commission has effectively sabotaged its own overseas postal voting system," said advocacy group, MyOverseasVote, on Facebook.

"Postal ballot papers can only be printed after nomination day, when the candidates for each constituency are known. Between nomination day on Saturday, Apr 28, and polling day on Wednesday, 9 May, there are only 6½ working days".

The Election Commission chief, however, has called for patience.

"I think don't be so worried yet," he said.

"But we are excited to vote - and when we are excited to vote, we worry".

Source: CNA/mn