Call for the EC to remove the 30-day requirement for Malaysians overseas to be eligible to be a postal voter and review the procedures of casting and sending the overseas postal ballots

Media Statement by Anthony Loke, DAP National Organising Secretary-cum-MP for Rasah and Dr. Ong Kian Ming, DAP Election Strategist on 25 January 2013

The Election Commission (EC) announced, on 21 January, 2013, the requirements and procedures for Malaysians overseas to apply for approval to cast a postal ballot in the upcoming 13th General Election.

We are disappointed that it took the EC almost 14 months from the Parliamentary Select Committee’s Preliminary Report which was released on 1 December 2011 to implement this proposal. The EC now has approximately 2 months to register the many registered voters who are living and working overseas. This unnecessary delay means that many Malaysians will continue to be disenfranchised even after this announcement by the EC. During this time, there were no attempts by the EC, together with Wisma Putra, to encourage Malaysians overseas to register as ordinary voters at Malaysian high commissions and consulates. This means that the many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Malaysians living and working overseas who are not yet registered ordinary voters, are not eligible to apply to be a postal voter.

In addition, we are extremely disappointed that the EC has introduced a requirement that Malaysian overseas have to have been back in Malaysia for a period of 30 days in the past 5 years before they are eligible to be a postal voter. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform agreed to the condition that a voter need to have been back in Malaysia at least once in the past 5 years without specifying the time period. This was in recognition of the fact that many Malaysians living and working overseas may return to Malaysia for holidays for only a one- or two- or three-week period. Furthermore, imposing this 30-day condition increases the processing time for the EC to approve applications for postal voting since the EC has to verify with the Immigration Department on whether the applicant has fulfilled the requirement. We find this 30-day requirement to be unreasonable, unfair and against the spirit of wanting to include as many overseas Malaysians as possible in exercising their constitutional right to vote. As such, we call on the EC to immediately remove this condition and allow Malaysians overseas who have come back to Malaysia once in the past 5 years, regardless of the length of stay, to be eligible to cast a postal vote.

We also call on the EC to review the procedures of casting and sending the postal ballots. Firstly, instead of only setting aside one day for Malaysians overseas to go to the respective high commissions and consulates to collect and cast their ballot, we ask that the EC set aside 3 days for ballot collection and casting. This will allow overseas voters the option of going to the high commissions and consulates on different days to collect their ballot and to cast their vote. It will also decrease the likelihood of overcrowding in certain embassies which serve a large Malaysian overseas community such as London, New York and Canberra.

Secondly, we ask the EC to allow polling agents from each of the political parties to be stationed at the high commissions and consulates in order to monitor the ballot collection, vote-casting and the use of the diplomatic dispatch to send the ballot papers back to the EC headquarters in Putrajaya and also for polling agents from each of the political parties to monitor the process of sending out these postal ballots from the EC headquarters in Putrajaya to the respective constituencies. Here, we are not asking for a polling agent from each candidate in the 222 parliamentary and 505 state constituencies to be represented. We are merely asking for one representative from each political party to be represented which should total up to less than 10 representatives in each embassy. This is to assure many overseas voters, almost all of whom are voting via postal ballot for the first time, that their vote will not be compromised and to assure the political parties that ballots cast at the high commissions and consulates are the ones which are eventually sent to the respective counting stations in Malaysia.

Thirdly, we ask the EC to give their assurance that they will provide the names of all of the overseas postal voters to the respective candidates at the end of nomination day. This is to ensure that the candidates know exactly how many overseas postal voters have been approved by the EC to cast their votes in the respective constituencies and that no additional overseas postal voters will be added to the electoral roll after nomination day.

Fourthly, since the process of printing and sending the ballot papers overseas, the casting of the votes at the respective high commissions, the sending of these ballot papers back to the EC headquarters in Putrajaya and the sending out of these ballot papers to the respective constituencies is likely to take more than 2 weeks, we ask that the EC have a minimum 21-day campaign period, which is consistent with one of the eight core demands of Bersih. In the past, overseas votes of absentee voters which includes Malaysian students overseas as well as civil servants stationed overseas were not counted because the ballots either reached them too late or could not be sent back to Malaysia in time to be counted. To avoid disenfranchising Malaysian voters overseas, we ask that the EC commits to a minimum 21-day campaign period.

We have waited a long time for the EC to make clear the procedures to allow Malaysian voters overseas to cast a postal ballot. If the EC is sincere about making this process work for the benefit of these Malaysian voters, it should abolish the 30-day residency requirement in the past 5 years and it should review the process of casting and sending these postal ballots so that Malaysians overseas and political parties can have the peace of mind that the secrecy and security of these votes will not be compromised.

Anthony Loke Siew Fook
Dr. Ong Kian Ming