Andrew Yong, coordinator of MyOverseasVote explains why Malaysian citizens overseas won’t give up until they are given the right to vote from overseas.

1. So why have you started MyOverseasVote?

Well, there are around 1 million Malaysian citizens living and working overseas, out of a total potential electorate of 15 million. That’s a good 6-7% of the electorate. Under the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, Malaysians living overseas can register as absent voters only if they are full-time students or military / government servants. Those who are working in the private sector, retired or unemployed cannot vote unless they to fly back to vote. Clearly, it is impossible for 1 million Malaysians to get leave from work and jump on planes and boats home with little more than a week’s notice.

2. What is the aim of the MyOverseasVote Campaign?

Our key aim is to secure the right to vote for all Malaysian citizens who are living overseas, without discrimination on the grounds of employment or profession. We also want to educate and engage Malaysians so that they are aware of their role in charting the future course of our nation, and more assertive in demanding their rights.

3. How do you plan to achieve your aim?

We are taking a three-pronged approach to this campaign. First, we are raising awareness and support amongst the Malaysian community overseas, via our online petition, Facebook, Twitter, as well as word of mouth. Second, we are engaging with Malaysian MPs, civil society organisations and the media to start a debate back home about the right to vote of their fellow citizens who are living and working overseas. And finally, we are raising funds to support a legal action to force the Election Commission to allow Malaysians overseas to register as absent voters.

4. We have been told in the past by Malaysian embassy staff that only Government scholars could register as absent voters. What’s up with that?

Right, so as the Regulations stand, all Malaysians of or above 21 who are in full-time higher education outside Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak can register as absent voters. But many embassies have decided that only government scholars can register. That the authorities have not even followed their own regulations is proof of why we need to increase public awareness and scrutiny. It has taken four months of pressure from MyOverseasVote and our friends in the media for the Election Commission finally to acknowledge this week that the additional condition was unlawful.

5. Tell me why overseas Malaysians should have the right to vote. Haven’t they left the country for greener pastures elsewhere?

Well, many have left the country out of necessity, in search of education, training and employment. Some have been overseas for two years, others for twenty. But Malaysians overseas are still Malaysians at heart, at least those who have chosen to keep their Malaysian citizenship. We believe in the principle of one citizen one vote. Although many may have been living overseas for 20-30 years, it is surely something that after all these years they still decline to take up British or US citizenship but have instead chosen to retain their Malaysian nationality.

Malaysia cannot afford to lose the best and brightest of its citizens to other countries. The right to vote is the most basic right of the citizen. Yet the irony is that Malaysian citizens who live in the UK and those who are permanent residents in New Zealand can vote in those countries’ elections but they cannot vote in Malaysian elections. If Malaysia continues to discriminate against Malaysians living and working overseas and treat them like foreigners, then why should they go to the trouble of retaining their Malaysian citizenship when it would be far more convenient to switch to a foreign passport?

6. Are you affiliated to any political party?

No, we simply believe that all adult Malaysians must have the right to vote, without discrimination, whether they vote for BN or for PR or any other party.

7. What is the Malaysian authorities response to MyOverseasVote?

The Election Commission has stated that they are studying the possibility of reforming the system of registration, but there is no timescale of this process of “membuat kajian“, and it has no beginning and no end. Recently, the Election Commission has given various excuses why overseas voting is impractical – ignoring the fact that tens of thousands of Malaysian students are already entitled to vote overseas. But whatever the Election Commission decides, at the end of the day it has to be approved by the Agong, who is advised by the Government.

8. Why is the campaign being launched now?

We launched in October last year. It is widely believed that the next election may be launched as early as late 2011. Our country is going through a period of enormous change, and Malaysians overseas cannot afford to remain on the sidelines while others determine the future of our country. The Constitution has made provision for the enfranchisement of absent voters since 1960; yet 50 years later, the vast majority of Malaysians overseas still do not have the right to vote. We are not prepared to sit by while yet another election passes by with Malaysian citizens being denied their constitutional rights.

9. Why are you planning to sue the Election Commission?

It is the responsibility of the Election Commission to make the necessary regulations to allow Malaysians to vote. Clearly, for the past 50 years they have failed to do so. The litigation will go ahead unless and until the Regulations are amended to allow all adult Malaysian citizens to vote without discrimination on the grounds of employment or profession.

10. Do you think the litigation will be successful?

We believe that we have an undeniable case under Article 8 of the Constitution. Whether we succeed or not depends on the independent Election Commission and the Malaysian courts. But we will make it clear that they have a simple choice: either they say yes and give us our constitutional rights, or they say no and they will be completely discredited in the eyes of all Malaysians. Either way, they cannot simply ignore us any longer.

11. How can Malaysians get involved?

We are asking for three things:

12. What money are you looking to raise?

We are looking to raise RM100,000/£20,000/$30,000 in order to cover legal fees and disbursements, and the same again for a contingency fund in case we are ordered to pay the Election Commission’s costs. It’s a large sum, we admit, but still only 20 sen or 4p for each Malaysian citizen overseas. If there is money unused or left over, it will be donated to non-profit organisations that campaign for free and fair elections in Malaysia.

Andrew Yong is a Penangite and a non-practising solicitor of the senior courts of England & Wales. There is no such thing as free legal advice, and any information you gain from this article is worth as much as you paid for it.

Andrew (@drewyong) is an afficionado of the poetry of Dr Seuss and the music of the Muppet Show. In his spare time he seeks to take over the world.

7 replies on “MyOverseasVote: Why Malaysians Overseas Must Be Allowed To Vote”

  1. Andrew,

    I recently relocated my family to Melbourne. I am keen to vote and so are many other eligible Malaysians living here who are keen to exercise this privilege. Perhaps you should run an online site to register all eligible voters globally.

    It would be worthwhile finding out how many are out of the country who are keen to do the same.



  2. Dear Soon Hoe,

    When u say "malaysians who are capable enough to venture abroad" indicates to me a superiority complex. Naturally then u imply that those contributing to economy locally are less capable.does that then mean your choices are then more superior too to the choices we make locally?

    Even assuming u are correct, you don't even pay taxes in Malaysia to demand that you be given a right to participate in electing a govt which will spend that tax money. U are not even alive to local issues affecting a particular constituency now that you are, as u put it,within international community.

    And how is giving you the right to vote from overseas solves the brain drain problem? It will probably make it worse.

    I don't envy your capability. I just don't think that there is enough justification to allow those seeking greener pastures out of own volition to dictate the life of less capable Malaysians back home. Your votes cast from abroad will be hollow as its a vote cast in vacuum without being grounded to reality that is Malaysia. Leave your int community for a bit n I will fight for your right to vote if its denied.

  3. Dear Faisal,

    To say that Malaysians living overseas do not have the right to vote because we would not be directly affected by the consequences of our vote is simply wrong.

    As long as a Malaysian who is abroad but continue to be a citizen of the country and therefore retain the right to return, he or she will be directly affected by the outcome of the democratic process of the country. Simple example – a Malaysian is posted abroad for 3 years with a view to return after the posting. An election takes place during this period of being away, should he not be allowed to have a say in that election?

    If a Malaysian chooses not be part of the democratic process as you have presumed based on the fact that he is not at home, he or she would not vote anyway wherever he or she may be. As a Malaysian who would proclaim my citizenship with pride within the international community that I am now part of, I think I should be given the same voting right as you.

    Conversely, if we were to follow your view, then Malaysians who are capable enough to venture abroad would be politically 'penalised' for being capable. Why then would the government of today worry about the so-called brain drain?

  4. Sorry for digressing.

    Why an 18-year-old can be put to death by the High Court but apparently deemed not mature enough to vote?

  5. The right to vote exist for those who will be directly affected by the outcome of the election and the ensuing rule. Why should Malaysian living abroad (for whatever reason) be given a right to determine the govt of the day when they wont be directly affected by the consequences of their votes? This is especially when their departure is not enforced and is by choice.

    Being Malaysian at heart is good but its not good enough to give you a say in a process and outcome that you have chosen not to be a part of. It is also unfair for malaysians who are Malaysians at heart and are physically present to have their right to choose govt of the day influnced by voters who are not affected by outcome of that election.

    That is why we have constituency system during elections. Going by the writer's argument and reducing it to its organic progression, it is akin to saying that I can vote in any constituency that I like although I may not live in that constituency.

    Come back and live in Malaysia. No one can deny your right to vote then.

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