On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

What a letdown

After all the brouhaha to get Malaysians living abroad the right to vote, only a dismal 6,268 out of over 700,000 have registered as postal voters.

IT’S disappointing, especially after all the brouhaha over giving all Malaysians living abroad the right to vote.

It has now been reported that only a dismal 6,268 Malaysians out of over 700,000 living abroad have registered as postal voters. There are some who think there could be as many as a million Malaysians abroad.

The Elections Commission (EC) had estimated that there would be at least 100,000 or even 200,000 overseas Malaysians who would register.

The criteria are fairly simple – they have to be registered as voters first and have been in Malaysia not less than 30 days in the last five years before the dissolution of Parliament.

Objectively, no one can say that not enough time has been given. The worst excuse I have heard is that the Elections Commission website broke down last week and this made many who are overseas unable to register as postal voters.

This was reported in the pro-opposition Malaysiakini news portal. Surely, if you are seriously concerned with the developments in this country, you would have taken the trouble to register yourself much earlier.

It does not matter if you are overseas or in Malaysia. If one feels so strongly about what is taking place in Malaysia and wants to change the government, the obvious thing would be to ensure the change takes place via the ballot box.

Since the 2008 general election, it has been a long drawn campaign by both sides. Never has political awareness been so high.

That probably explains why there are 2.9 million new voters – all first-timers and mostly below 40 years old – out of the country’s 13 million electorate. That’s one out of five voters taking part in this general election.

It does not matter whether these new voters want to throw out this government or keep the status quo. The most important point is that they believe they can make a difference. They believe passionately that talk is cheap and that they will let their votes do the walking.

The call to allow overseas Malaysians to vote was on the agenda of Bersih, and two platforms – MyOverseasVote and Bersih Global – were set up to facilitate overseas Malaysians to register as postal voters.

Early this year, the EC announced that Malaysians residing overseas, except in Singapore, southern Thailand, Kalimantan and Brunei, would be allowed to apply to vote by post provided that they have been in Malaysia for at least 30 days in total during the last five years.

We have heard the arguments before – there are those who claim that those who have been abroad too long do not understand what is taking place in Malaysia while many overseas Malaysians have ridiculed such arguments, saying that they follow events back home closely via the Internet.

Others suggest that the large number of overseas Malaysians are mostly non-Malays who are critical of Barisan Nasional and are likely to vote for the opposition.

They include many who have migrated because of their unhappiness over the affirmative action programmes that favour the bumiputras.

This argument does not hold water because the reality is that even if Pakatan Rakyat wins, the same affirmative actions will continue. Not even the DAP has dared to ask for these special rights to be removed.

While we do not know if the low number of overseas Malaysians registered to vote as postal voters is due to their indifference or because they still find the procedure cumbersome, the EC must continue to improve its mechanism to ensure a bigger turnout.

The reality is that more and more Malaysians, especially the young, will work overseas because travelling has now become cheaper, faster and easier.

Many Malaysians work in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou or Bangkok while they keep their Malaysian permanent address.

Many companies have also become more global in their set-up and send talented Malaysians to work in their regional hubs.

Unlike the older Malaysians who packed off with their families for a new life abroad, most young Malaysians are often single and live jet-setting lives.

They are not necessarily the grumbling and whining types who run down Malaysia. They may enjoy life overseas but deep in their hearts, they miss the many good things in this country.

These younger and more mobile Malay­sians keep their minds open and while they are critical, they also make better evalua­tion of the issues.

This will be the new overseas Malaysians in the coming years. Make it easier for them to cast their votes in the coming general elections.

For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site