Our intrepid LoyarBurokker in Australia, Melody Song (her real name; we’ve checked her IC) tells of her overseas voting experience.
My strategy for attacking polling day in Melbourne for registered postal voters was one I had carefully laid out as soon as I found out the date. One must, when it is a 324 kilometre-round trip which will take up the entire day. Alas, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray, to paraphrase one Mr Burns (the literary Scotsman, not the nefarious animated character). Whattudu.
It seemed, on the surface, pretty done and dusted: we (my patient and extremely layan Australian husband) would be up by 8.30am on Sunday, drive to the suburbs for a nasi lemak ayam goreng brunch with friends, catch a train into the city and tram it to the Malaysian Consulate General in St Kilda Road by lunchtime, when everyone else is presumably busy eating. Voting would take about an hour, while travel would take about two hours each way. Plenty of time to go to Ikea after that, to do some shopping (because you know, you can take the Malaysian out of Malaysia, but…)
It turned out the three hours we allocated for the travelling and voting part of the day ended up being spent solely lining up. During my commute to the city, I was scrolling through my social media feed, looking at pictures of the line outside the Consulate General, thinking “surely not…”
But sure as you can find food where you find Malaysians, there was a line, two deep. And it was not moving. At one stage, the queue became three deep and I joined that line, for voters from the states of Negri Sembilan, Selangor and Kedah. Because apparently the polling officers for the other states were taking a break. The news, passed down the line, like a game of Chinese whispers, had most of us shrugging nonchalantly — who knows, ikut aja lah. Whattudu right.
But standing in line, oddly enough, was an utterly uncanny Malaysian experience.
People were huddling in line, eating the cold mihun siam from a pop-up stall (“Thank God still Malaysian price,” someone remarked loudly) while chatting away; they were catching up with old friends, asking you to chup their place in line while they went to the toilet or hung out with another group of friends…there was even some shamelessly good-natured line-jumping from a couple with three kids who had missed the call for Selangorians to join the separate line as they had been across the road at McDonald’s. You know, the things you’d do at home but wouldn’t normally do in Australia at the risk of being told to “go back to where you come from”. Mat salleh spouses and young children had even set up a makeshift creche on the grassy area nearby. It was almost festive.
But as the autumn chill set in and the sun began to descend, people began to wonder if the Consulate General staff — whom we overheard were only six, and had been working tirelessly since before 9.00 am — would get through the estimated 1,000 Malaysians registered to vote in Melbourne by 8.00 pm. Those who had cast their ballots de-briefed others in small clusters of what we needed to do — one lady even made little model envelopes, ballot papers and information sheets as a visual guide on what-goes-where. The ‘Guide to the Postal Voting Process’, which someone had printed out, was also passed down the line. Anything to speed up the process.
But as the masses inched closer to the glass doors, where scary looking gentlemen were enforcing crowd control, conversations got livelier. More agitated (“Mummy, what time finish? Got badminton at 5.30…” one young ‘un was heard grumbling), more animated, more friendly. People were talking about home, how excited they were to vote, and for many — how it was their first time. Three hours in line? Aiya. Whattudu right.
Once we were through the glass doors, it was over fairly quickly. We checked our details, collected our brown envelopes containing the precious papers, unfolded them, and waited to be told what to do next. From his place on the wall, high up, a framed picture of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak smiled benevolently upon us.
This was also the point where some were left swallowing their disappointment and nodding numbly as they were told their details as a registered postal voter were not found and they had to fly back to Malaysia if they wanted to vote. Three hours in line, to be turned away. Aiyo. Whattudu.
For the rest of us, passing the checks, we each scrutinised our papers for marks or irregularities, and closely compared the serial number on our ballot papers with the envelopes and form affirming our identity, signing it in front of a consular staff member.
And then, a little slice of heaven — the luxury of sinking into a chair for a few brief moments while those ahead were busy in the two — yes, two — polling booths, which by the time 5.00 pm had rolled around, were coated in residual glue from the vigorous envelope-sealing (four in total). A heart-stopping moment when we walked up to the bag to deposit our two envelopes, a silent prayer all goes well, and then a sense of relief, knowing this task as a Malaysian is done, and is out of our hands.
Having done the deed, most participated in a quick exit poll carried out by Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia Melbourne volunteers, on how they found the voting process. I was told conspiratorially most had given it a one out of five, one being the worst possible experience (nobody likes waiting in line, least of all for three hours). And while I may have ranked it similarly just based on the poor planning and logistics, I would give it a five out of five for spirit and a sense of community.
There was no politicking by voters — not that I experienced, anyway. People were friendly, curious, vulnerable in talking about their hopes for Malaysia and eager to see what 5 May brings. Yes, there were also loud, obnoxious and rude people who talked over others to let everyone else know exactly what they thought, but we were all united in the fact that we gave enough of a hoot to spend hours in the gloomy Melbourne chill on a Sunday. You know, when we could have been in Ikea.
And regardless of whether we travelled from Gippsland, Adelaide, or Richmond, we were all there in earnest; we were all there to do our part and participate in the democratic process so vital to the future of our beloved Malaysia.
Whattudu, you ask? The answer is simple: suck it up and vote lor. If we can do it, so can you.