Rebecca Lau is interning with the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights and in her debut article for the MCCHR, Rebecca looks at the case of Teo Hoon Seong & Ors v Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya.
In being asked to write this article, frankly, I was quite reluctant. Why? One, I’ve never written an article before. What if I suck? Two, to write on a topic, which is so public, has such a big impact and had thus been written by professionals and journalists, is scary. A thousand questions and worries rushed through my head. Then I thought. Screw it. So here we go.
I was quite an ignorant teenager. Then again, that is not uncommon in Malaysia. A year ago, I entered law school. I personally think it is very hard to be a law student and still be completely ignorant about the things around you. Before I was exposed to UndiMsia! I guess I was an inactive activated student. I cared to a certain extent. Felt angry at times. But I never took action. One of the things I really cared about however was voting. I was very eager to vote (although I am still not eligible). I would whine and whine to my friends about so near yet so far. And they would either brush off whatever I said or merely nodded. It is very hard to explain or describe that eagerness. For me, it is a little like having money to go shopping. Weird analogy I know but it is true.
Anyway, this article is not about me. This story has to do with six Malaysians who are living in the UK and who simply, wanted to vote. However, they could not. This is because they were not registered as ‘absent voters’. An absent voter means you can vote via post. This also means, if you live overseas, there is no need for you to fly back to Malaysia, which is the case for our six friends. They could not register as absent voters because according to Regulation 2 of the Elections Regulations 2002, only members of the armed forces, public servants, full time students or spouses of those people could register as an absent voter. As they do not fall under these four categories, voting for them is highly difficult not to mention costly.
So some of you may think, “cannot then cannot lah. No big deal also.” Now let me tell you why it is a big deal. There are two reasons. The first is Article 8 of our Federal Constitution (the highest law in the land). Article 8 says that everybody is equal before the law. This means that Malaysians should not be discriminated from their right to vote just because they are living overseas. Another reason is Article 119 of the Federal Constitution which guarantees the right to vote to those above 21 and is a resident of a constituency.
As I am a student studying in Malaysia who is not yet eligible to vote, I can only imagine how the Applicants feel. If I were in their position, I would feel a little unwanted. I would feel as if I have been robbed from what is rightfully mine. I would feel angry. I would complain. But most likely, I would stop at complain. Most Malaysians are not known for their ability to take action.
The lawyers of the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) and supported by My Overseas Vote filed a judicial review (an application for the courts to question a decision of the government) against the Election Commission for refusing the six Applicants the right to register as absent voters. Their argument is that based on Articles 8 and 119 of the Federal Constitution, the definition of ‘absent voters’ in Regulation 2 should be extended to cover the Applicants and other Malaysians overseas.
The case was filed, fought and the decision was heard in the KL High Court on 6 January 2012. The decision by Yang Arif Datuk Rohana Yusuf was not in favour of the Applicants. She said that the Applicants were not challenging the validity of the law but merely questioning the validity of the decision of the EC. Thus Regulation 2 is valid. Hence, since the decision of the EC was made in accordance with Regulation 2, the EC’s decision is valid. For the full judgement read here.
Well lucky for the Applicants they can always appeal the decision. And appeal they did. However, an appeal in the Court of Appeal has not yet been heard. The last date for the appeal was set on 26 July 2012 but was adjourned to 15 October 2012. This was due to the fact that on 11 July 2012, the EC made an announcement stating that they are studying the need to amend the law to allow Malaysians overseas to vote.
I read this piece of research undertaken recently by MCCHR on postal voting or absentee voting (for the research, please click here). I was struck by how rigid the Malaysian voting system is. One form of rigidity is how we are pretty much tied down to the state/constituency we are assigned to. For example, if I am registered in Melaka, I would have to travel back to Melaka to vote. I guess for most people travelling back to their hometown would not be an issue. Some would even love a reason for a short holiday (satay celup!). However, how about those from Sabah and Sarawak?
Another disincentive is the fact that Malaysians have to physically go to the polling station to mark the cross on the ballot paper. Although this would not be a problem for most, how about those who are disabled? For them to physically be at the polling station, in their registered constituency might be a huge turn off. To most people, voting would not be worth the time, cost and effort.
Therefore, hats off to the six Applicants. To Teo Hoon Seong. To Vinesh a/l Vijayan. To Paramjeet Singh a/l Karam Singh. To Yolanda Sydney Augustin. To Sim Tze Wei. And to Leong See See, for taking the extra effort to fight to vote.
Rebecca Lau got involved in PusatRakyatLB accidentally and was ‘persuaded’ into interning. Although she has always threatened to quit and walk out the door, deep down she actually loves what she is doing. Plus, she knows that she will now be a #foreverintern.