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.
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:
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.