Thursday, 18 April 2013

Malaysians Flying Home to Vote!


The upcoming general election in Malaysia, scheduled to be held on the 5th May 2013, is perceived to be the most challenging battle in between the National Front Coalition (Barisan Nasional/BN) that has been the ruling coalition for 56 years as well as the Peopls´s Pact (Pakatan Rakyat/PR) that has shown her willingness to take over the ruling position. Indeed, the GE13 that may mark a turning point in Malaysia´s history is worth to be witnessed by the world citizens how Malaysians move with their peaceful manner in the democratic process of their country.
I am a Malaysian living in Switzerland since I married to my German husband  2 ½ years ago. Upon the day I moved to Switzerland, I have known that I would certainly fly home to vote whenever the election is called. At that time, I had never thought I would tell the whole world that, I among many overseas Malaysians are flying home to vote, indeed we want to vote for “CHANGE”. 




During many of our discussions, my German husband asked what I hold such strong feeling towards my home country as he thinks my country has not done much to me. I replied: “My country may not have done much for me, but it is my country. Indeed, because I personally experienced discrimination, unfair treatments, bureaucracy and inefficiency, I don’t want others who live in Malaysia, even I may not know them, to experience that.”
I don’t see myself a patriotic. The celebration of National Independent Day on 31 August has been merely any other public national holiday for me. However, casting my vote in person in Malaysia for the upcoming 13th general election in 2013 is “something” I have never been so persistent to do in my life. To be frank, I even see it even more important than my own life. I flew back from Switzerland and waited two months in Malaysia from 6 February to 3 April on the fact that the Parliament was due to dissolve by 28 May 2013. Parliament was not dissolved during my two-month stay in Malaysia. Indeed, it was dissolved exactly on the day I landed Zurich after waiting two months in Malaysia. I recalled that the moment I switched on my mobile upon landing in Zurich Airport, the first message appeared was “Parliament dissolved!” from a friend in Malaysia.
Later, I waited 6 days for the Election Commission to declare the Polling Date. Soon after I confirmed the Polling Date was firmed, I purchased my flight ticket without any hesitation to land Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia three days before the Polling Date.
I was also asked why I fly from Switzerland with sixteen hours of flight journey just to cast my single vote in Malaysia instead of signing up as a postal voter. I was questioned should I am concerned of the possibility of my vote being manipulated with voting abroad, vote manipulation could happen in Malaysia as well.
Despite the convenience of “postal voters” offered for the first time in Malaysia´s history to overseas Malaysians excepts for Malaysians in Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan and southern Thailand, to vote at their residing countries, only 6,298 Malaysian voters abroad, or 0.6 per cent, out of about a million Malaysians living overseas have registered as postal voters. On the contrary, thousands of overseas Malaysians rather purchase their air tickets to fly back across the globe to cast their vote in person in Malaysia. 
Some commented that the dismaying registration of postal voters is due to the strict requirements that the number of stays of overseas Malaysians for the last five years must be more than a total of 30 days, indeed actual dates of those 30 days are requested to state in the application form; indeed the applicant must have already been a registered voter in Malaysia. Some commented that the registration was too short as the postal voting was offered in December 2012, five months before the Parliament was due to expire.
In my opinion, the main reason for the poor response of postal voters is the incredibility of Election Commission as well as the process of postal votes counting in doubt.
First, the Chairman as well as the deputy chairman and five members of Election Commission (EC) that is set up to regulate and conduct elections in Malaysia, are selected with the advice of the Prime Minister, who is the Head of the ruling political coalition! By right all members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) after the consultation with the Conference of Rulers that comprises the nine rulers of the Malay states, and the governors of the other four states. Indeed, the Commission must have the confidence of the public. However, although the Constitution does not expressly require consultation with the Prime Minister in this regard, it has been argued that under Article 40 of the Constitution, the King cannot act on his own discretion unless explicitly stated; in all other cases, he must acquiesce to the advice of the Prime Minister, and as such the appointments to the Commission are made with the advice of the Prime Minister.
Second, the public confidence in the EC is eroded. A number of irregularities in postal voter registration mostly Malaysians residing in China, has been detected. It is reported that some have been made postal voters without their consent. For example, a housewife residing in Shanghai for more than 15 years, and not under any of the EC`s eligible postal voter categories, i.e. a public servant, military (personnel) or a full time student, was made a postal voter without application, without consent, without knowledge, in July 2013, before postal voters are open to civilian overseas Malaysians. In another case, a secondary school teacher in Klang was also made a postal voter without her consent, although she is in Malaysia and had studied in Beijing more than 9 years ago. Till date, she is still a postal voter and hence her constitutional right has been unfairly denied as she is unable to vote at her constituency in Seputeh unless she flies to vote at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing Meanwhile, a businessperson residing in Shanghai for over 9 years found himself registered as a voter in Kelantan, although he has never been to the state. Even stranger, he has never registered as a voter. (Voters are not automatically made in Malaysia. Malaysians age more than 21 years old must submit their application to register as voters.)
On the other hand, while many Malaysians flying home to vote, there are at least two Malaysians known to have to fly out from Malaysia to vote in Taiwan. One is a Malaysian guy who studied in Taiwan in 2004 and stayed in Taiwan for 8 years until 2012 is shocked to find out that he is listed as a postal voter in Taipei without his consent as he has never applied as a postal voter. Another is a graduate student pursuing his doctorate studies in Malaysia who studied in Taiwan in 2003 for 10 years. Although the coming Polling Date will be the first time for them to vote, they joked that perhaps it would not be the first time “they” vote as they believe phantoms have voted for them in the last general election.
Third, the postal votes will not been counted on the same day at the Malaysian embassies, but seven days after the ballot papers being transported back from overseas to a counting center in Malaysia. Due to previous malpractice of EC being reported, overseas Malaysians concern that their votes are exposed under the risk of manipulation during the transportation process.
There are cases of vote manipulations happened even at polling stations in Malaysia as well. The well-spread case comes from my hometown – Lumut, Perak. According to the locals, Kong Cho Ha, a candidate under BN, supposedly should have been lost. The votes were counted two times and he confirmed lost. However, out of a sudden, the counting station went out of electricity supply. When the electricity supply resumed, there was a box of ballot papers sitting in the counting station that apparently had been missed out. In the end, Kong Cho Ha won by the skin of his teeth with the slight majority of 298 votes, indeed through postal votes. Kong Cho Ha later was appointed as the Transport Minister.
Yes, Malaysians who have long learnt with the slogan of “Malaysia Boleh!” (literally “Malaysia Can”) that it turned out to be a national joke that any ridiculous and unreasonable thing can happen in Malaysia, are aware that there is no assurance even voting within Malaysia. However, after experiencing the watershed moment in Malaysian history dubbed “Malaysia´s political tsunami” that shocked the nation that a change of government could nearly been happened, concerned Malaysians who are sick of ruling politicians playing racial cards want to endeavor their very best to kick out corruption as well as to restore damaged systems in Malaysia.
In the last general election in 2008, the ruling National Front Coalition (Barisan Nasional/BN) that is dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) along with the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), as well as ten smaller parties, lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority which is needed to change the constitution and only won 137 of the 222 seats. 4 out of the 13 Malaysian states were lost to the People Coalition (Pakatan Rakyat/PR) formed by the three major opposition parties namely the Peoples Justice Party (PKR), the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Indeed, out of the 222 seats in parliament, 56 (or over 25%) are in Sabah (25) and Sarawak (31), leading some to label these states as “kingmakers” or “fixed deposits of BN”. Had Sabah and Sarawak not brought in their 56 seats in the last elections, there could have been a change of government.
Besides a close chance the federal government would have been changed, the historic Election 2008 has marked four states of Perak, Penang, Kedah and Selangor experienced change of state government for the first time in history, while Kelantan retained by PAS. However a year later, three PR assemblymen in Perak jumped from PR to BN and sparked the collapse of the PR state government in Perak.
Being alert of a real possibility of losing for the first time in history in the upcoming GE13, BN has been utilizing its ruling machineries to win votes. The long list reaches from vote buying, stuffing of ballot boxes, bussing of voters to other constituencies and multiple voting, to granting quick citizenship with voting rights to illegal immigrants (mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan). Under the 1Malaysia People’s Aid program, vouchers in several amounts of money from RM250 and RM500 have been giving out to the elderly as well as low-income families that followed with the message reminders verbally and in written phone message “Remember to vote for BN”. In addition, two weeks after the Parliament dissolved, the Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Deputy Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong under the “Caretaker Government” summoned 6,000 primary school teachers to meet and reminded that civil servants must vote for the ruling coalition.
Largely due to the concern of deteriorating crimes and environmental issues, Malaysians endeavor to change their destiny with mobilizing each other at home and abroad to vote so that a peaceful transition of ruling power can happen in a democracy way.  
Despite restrictions on freedoms of assembly, speech, and the press, Malaysian civil society has moved even more diverse and vibrant. A few NGOs are formed such as “BERSIH” (literally “CLEAN”) that calls for a clean election, “ABU” (Malay “Asal Bukan UMNO”, literally “As long as it is not UMNO”) that aims to detect phantom voters, as well as “Mamas Bersih” with mothers coming out from houses and going to streets speaking to the Public to create awareness over social issues. Besides that, even few mainstream newspapers that are haunted by media censorship transmit some hidden messages of “Change” in their own creative ways. What is more, based on my personal interaction, they are long-term supporters of BN who will either switch their voting preference or they say they will not come out to vote this time.
The limelight of GE13 in Malaysia has drawn the hearts of millions of Malaysians at home and abroad closer should they know each other in real life or merely in the cyber world. They endeavor their best at their own capacity and demonstrate solidarity in calling for more to come out and fly back to vote in Malaysia.
From a population of 28 million people, about 13.3 million Malaysians are eligible to vote, with about 3 million being first-time voters.
Among more than a million Malaysians living overseas, at least 90% of overseas Malaysians numbering between 300,000 and 500,000 work/reside in Singapore. In conjunction with “Malaysians go home to vote campaign”, easibook.com and catchhatbus.com have jointly launched a promotion bus fare for all Malaysians working in Singapore to go home to vote. In addition, Malaysians working in Singapore have also arranged carpool online. Norman Goh will fly back from Singapore to vote in his origin state – Sarawak. He added that some his fellows who are from the interior part of Borneo Forest not only need to fly two hours from Singapore, but also drive two hours and 3 hours by boat upon their landing.
All bus tickets travelling from Singapore to various parts of Malaysia are sold out within a day on the EC´s announcement of the Polling Date. One of the bus operators, Five Stars Tours is considering expanding its daily operations to 100 coaches daily from the present 50. Besides, there are groups have also approached bus companies to charter entire coaches. In addition, there are individuals offered online through social media sites such as Facebook to cross the border of Singapore and Malaysia multiple times in a day in order to transport Malaysians back home to vote. Later, EC reminded foreigners, projecting Singaporeans, not to drive Malaysian voters to enter Malaysia in their vehicles of foreign-registered car plates.
“Bersih Shanghai” – a branch of the global Bersih campaigns for a clean election in Malaysia, initiated a “Go Back To Vote Campaign” to subsidize RMB500, sponsored by self-initiated individuals, for each Malaysian living in Shanghai who are less capable to purchase air tickets to fly home to vote such as students and young workers, till date there are 200 Malaysians living in Shanghai have applied for the subsidy and so far 141 confirmed to obtain the subsidy. Weng Liew from “Bersih Shanghai” estimates total of 3,000 flying back to Malaysia from China. Johnson Chong, a Malaysian in Shanghai purchased four tickets for him, his wife and two children. He said: “Four people sixteen boarding tickets cost at least RMB10,000! Nevertheless, I go ahead beyond my full strength for the sake of my country!”

“Bersih Hong Kong” has also launched a similar campaign offer HK$500 per person to support Malaysians flying home to vote. According to “Bersih Hong Kong”, there are 50+ Malaysians have applied for the subsidy program of flying back to vote in Malaysia. On top of that, “Bersih Hong Kong” estimates about 800 Malaysians working in South China (Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau) fly back to vote in Malaysia. Lee Willson, the key person in “Bersih Hong Kong”: “Malaysia is our home, it is our basic duty to safeguard it and see improvements to it. Coupled with cases of phantom voting, a high voting turnout rate will minimize the fraud at the same time offers a better chance of stability in the event there is regime change or hung parliament.”
Talking about the inconvenience of flying home to vote, Lee Willson said: “Yes, there is definitely lots of inconvenience such as meetings will have to be postponed and business trips to be rescheduled, not mentioning family arrangements as children are still schooling.” Nevertheless, he added “Wherever we are, home is a place where we ultimately belong, its well-being being determined by political factors. We shall not let inferiors rule over us without us having a say in how we want our resources managed. The progress of Malaysia should have nothing to do with racial and religious issues, not even political parties.”



In Taiwan, there are about 100 Malaysians fly home to vote. Among those, there are not lacks of university students who have to deal with limited living expenses. Wong Wei Cheng and Sherl Hon are both university students in Taipei. They respectively spent their one-month living expense to purchase air tickets in order to vote in Malaysia! Sherl Hon described herself a lazy and cowardly person who is afraid of hassles, however, this time, she believes flying home to vote is the right thing to do. She is inspired that her single vote is able to contribute to the restoration of a safe land to herself, her family as well as her fellow Malaysians. Besides, there is a Malaysian student in Tokyo has spent his two months of part-time earnings for a flight ticket to vote at home. In corresponding to the shortage of fund for overseas students and young workers wanting to fly home to vote, there are Malaysians at home and abroad try to reach out those needy to sponsor them airfares to fly home to vote. 


Dr Vanaja Panickar, a Malaysian who lives in Gold Coast, Queensland says: "I don´t have any plan to head back to Malaysia, but I will certainly go back to vote because I believe Malaysians deserve a better homeland." Dr Vanaja explained that she and her family grew up with having experienced racial policies in Malaysia, now she hopes, not so much for herself, but for all Malaysians that Malaysians can finally change evil in its naked form for a government that promises fair play. She added: “I believe in basic human rights and we, as Malaysians, should do our bit for the country of our birth land.” With her move of flying back to Malaysia, she will not be able to take care of her two little grandchildren during her absence and thus her daughter will need to do everything by herself. Dr Vanaja revealed: “If I had to fly to the moon to vote in Malaysia, I would gladly do that too!”

Hanim Seymour is a self-funding master student of Counseling at the Curtin University of Perth who is determined to fly back to vote. She explained that her motivation is all about exercising her civil rights as a Malaysian who is very concerned about the negative developments politically, especially in relation to corruption, to growing racism, and to growing poverty. The experience of interacting with women and children from lower income households in Malaysia when Hanim worked as a head of a TV production filming in the slum area of Chowkit in Kuala Lumpur continually reinforces within her, that the country needs to change - to be more just, fairer, and to be corrupt no longer. Hanim elaborated that she overcame tedious process to obtain approval from her university as well as the Australian Immigration Department before she finally be able to purchase her flight. In order not to miss any class, she will spend merely three nights in Malaysia for the sole purpose of casting her vote in person in her home country.
Ammar Khairi, a Malaysian working in Melbourne, has flown back to Malaysia with Air Asia, a Malaysian-originated Asian budget airline that has introduced promotion airfares for Malaysian voters, soon after the Parliament is dissolved to campaign for more Malaysians coming out to vote for change. He is among Malaysians who will not only vote, but have registered as counting agents at the polling stations on the election date. Besides coming come to vote, there is also a drive of urging more to sign up as counting agents to monitor, reduce and report malpractice.
Even though the number is not as large as those flying back from countries in Asia, there are Malaysians living in Europe, North America and Middle East flying home to vote. I am a Malaysian living in Switzerland. I am flying home to vote as I want my fellow Malaysians to have the chance of living with integrity in a safe and clean land even though I do not live in my motherland.
Sim Tze Wei, a Malaysian living in London who has not been back to Malaysia last three years, will head home for three weeks during the election period. Sim said: “It is a good chance to improve the living condition in Malaysia. Every overseas Malaysian should vote by going home or postal vote.”
Francis Dass, a Malaysian working in Kabul, Afghanistan, waits anxiously for the leave approval from his boss. He explained: “Election is announced after I just came back from a three-week home vacation which was one of three annual vacations allowed by my company. However, I insist to fly home to vote rather than voting as a postal voter due to my concern of possible malpractice in the postal voting system.”
A middle-aged Malaysian lady posted her photo online with holding a “Flying Home to Vote” postcard while she was heading back to her hometown Perak at the Los Angeles Airport. She said: “I am flying home from Los Angeles to cast my precious vote! I refuse to be a dumb anymore for my grandchildren and next generations. I love my country. I love the land where I have grown up ~ Malaysia! Change!”

Some overseas Malaysians especially those live in the North America and Europe, although they not be able to fly back to vote due to various reasons, some have registered as postal voters whilst some insist not to register due to the anxiety of their postal votes being manipulated. Nevertheless, they have also joined the force of influencing as many votes as they can from the closest network of family and friends to vote for change.
Thousands of Malaysians overseas spend their own pocket money to purchase air tickets, tolerate the long-haul journeys, overcome the inconvenience caused in their daily life and sacrifice their precious time to fly home to vote. Countless number of Malaysians campaign untiringly in physical life and/or in cyber world. Their hopes are merely: Kick out corruption as well as racism, establish a bi-partisan system that encourages counter-check-and-balance culture as well as to restore a clean, green, safe and progressive country for all Malaysians!  
                                                                       
Without many being aware, Malaysians at home and abroad have demonstrated the spirit of solidarity and they have united across all ethnics. Indeed, the upcoming GE13 may mark the beginning of the end of racial politics which has been a practice for politicians to win votes since Malaysia obtained independence in 1957 by BN coalition that is defined on explicitly racial lines: one for Malays, the country’s largest ethnic group; one for Chinese; and one for Indians. But in recent years, the cohesion of those groups has begun to fray.
Opinion polls suggest a narrow win for the National Front with the head of BN coalition Najib faces pressure to return the party to its two-thirds majority in parliament. According to a survey of 1021 voters in Peninsular Malaysia conducted between 23 January and 6 February 2013 by Merdeka Centre, an opinion research firm, the Prime Minister’s approval rating fell to the lowest in 18 months which slipped even further to 61% from 63% at the end of December 2012 and from 65% in November 2012.
The survey also detected movements in voter sentiments towards the government and the ruling BN whereby 48% said they were “happy with the government” while 45% reported they were “happy with BN”. The survey also found declines from among Malay respondents towards the government and BN. The survey found Chinese voters, who make up about one-quarter of the country’s population of nearly 30 million, have abandoned the BN coalition in large numbers, and the Malays who have dominated the political hierarchy for five decades are divided. According to the survey, while satisfaction among Chinese and Indian voters remained at 34% and 75% respectively, the sentiment among Malay voters had declined 4% from 77% to 73%.
The survey also stated that 20% strong feel and 36% feel the country is moving towards the right direction while 28% strong feel and 9% feel the country is moving towards the wrong direction, with 7% answered unsure and 1% refused to comment.
It is believed that first-time voters, who make up a significant 30% of the total 13.3 million voter population, are seen to be the kingmakers in the GE13. Nevertheless, the number may include 2 millions of foreign workers who have obtained quick Malaysian nationality with voting rights as claimed to have detected by ABU, among Malaysians who have never voted in their whole life but they feel the urge to vote now.


3 comments:

  1. Welcome home to homeland to exercise your rights as a Malaysian citizen. =)

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