A Call To All Overseas Malaysians to Rise to the Cause and Suggestions as to How

Leaving the geographic boundaries of your country does not magically make you less of a citizen, in some instances, it could make you a national hero.

Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the Swiss-born architect and pioneer of the modern movement whose ideas influenced the world over, lived almost all of his professional life abroad. So did Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928), who conducted groundbreaking work on the causes of syphilis and yellow fever. Noguchi lived most of his life in the Americas. Yet both men are recognised on Swiss and Japanese banknotes as national heroes and model citizens of their countries. Switzerland and Japan today are among 115 countries that allow and encourage their citizens residing abroad to vote.

Le Corbusier (L) on a 10 Swiss franc banknote, Noguchi (R) on a ¥1,000 banknote.

In my experience, I know of many who passionately care about what is happening in Malaysia and maintain strong ties with family and friends back home. It is no surprise that many Malaysians abroad wish to participate in the democratic process and exercise their right to vote.


Voter eligibility is clearly spelt out in Article 119 of the Federal Constitution:

(1) Every citizen who

(a) has attained the age of twenty-one years on the qualifying date; and

(b) is resident in a constituency on such qualifying date or, if not so resident, is an absent voter

Hence, as I understand it, until our constitution is amended to say otherwise, no institution has the right to impose criteria to determine the “loyalty” of any citizen with the intention of disenfranchising an eligible voter based on their place of residence and vocation.

Our Election Commission must take steps to improve on its current public image to enjoy public confidence of all Malaysians at home and abroad. We need to see that the Election Commission acts within a faithful interpretation of the constitution to facilitate and enfranchise all age-eligible Malaysian citizens to vote and ensure elections held are clean and fair.

While we are quick to expect more of our institutions, it is only fair that we ordinary Malaysians hold ourselves to a higher standard. Democracy is not a spectator sport nor should we expect our overseas ballot to be served to us on a silver platter. Based on the most recent developments — it is unlikely that all Malaysians abroad would have an absentee ballot for the next general election.

Those who truly feel passionate about the issue must now commit to realistically consider their options if they wish to participate in the elections. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be sure to register yourself as a voter.
  • If you are already registered, check your status at the Election Commission’s online portal to be sure your details are correct.
  • Are all your relatives and friends in Malaysia registered voters? Speak to them about it the next time you call home and encourage them to go out in full force to vote on polling day. Together, we can cause the highest attendance at an election ever.
The writer (L), Rameez (C) and lawyer T. Raj (L) having Tosai for breakfast, Melbourne on 05.02.2012.


  • There are at least 400,000 Malaysians residing in Singapore who could easily make the difference at the next elections. If you are working in Singapore, have a conversation with your employer and inform them of your intent to return to your constituency to vote when an election is called. When the time is right, your employer would have had advanced notice of your intent to vote.
  • The same is possible for those who reside in Australia, the UK, and elsewhere. Allocate a budget for a holiday in Malaysia this year. Inform your employers of your intent and execute your plans when Parliament is dissolved.
  • If you feel inclined to do so, surprise yourself and write to Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. Suggest that they have a sale when elections are called for all registered voters to enable more Malaysians to vote. If you are reading this and are in touch with decision makers at these airlines, share with them what a difference this would make for our national morale if they could assist in this matter.
  • All students and their spouses are eligible to lodge a postal ballot from abroad. Encourage students you know to register at their nearest diplomatic mission.
  • Take an active interest and keep tabs on this issue by reading up on the MyOverseasVote campaign. Their website highlights what has been done to date.
  • Find out if there is an active Malaysian community group in your area and get involved in creative ways. If there isn’t one, start your own group and join the global discussion on social media.
  • And finally, touch base with your nearest Malaysian mission to keep yourself informed.  The Consul-General in Melbourne, Dr Mohamed Rameez Yahaya, has always been open, approachable and ever willing to assist Malaysians living here. I am certain that he is not alone among his Wisma Putra colleagues around the world. Details of your nearest mission can be found here.

When we Malaysians overseas request our government to facilitate our right to vote, we must be prepared to rise above being whingers and armchair critics. Instead, let us all be the cause in the matter and do our part in creating a better Malaysia.

* Melbourne-based architect David Teoh currently heads the community organisation SABMoz and co-ordinates activities in support of Bersih2.0 in Australia. He tweets as @dteoh on Twitter.

David Teoh is an architect by training and currently leads the Melbourne-based community organisation SABMoz (Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia, Australia). He also coordinates activities in support of Bersih...

One reply on “Overseas Malaysians, be the cause in the matter and vote”

  1. What a small world.You know Vicknaraj too :) I was in Melbourne for 5 years.I came back home to Malaysia for good early of last year.I wish the government allowed overseas voting back in the 2008 election.This will be my first time voting as a registered voter.I am excited and looking forward to it.Hoping for a new government!

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