Overseas Malaysians file suit against Election Commission

A Agroup of Malaysian citizens overseas has filed a lawsuit against the Election Commission (EC) asking the High Court to compel the EC to register them as absent voters. The group of six Malaysians, who all work in the UK, applied to be registered as absent voters in order to be able to vote in the coming general election, but were instead registered by the EC as ordinary voters, who must return to Malaysia to vote in person.

At present, the EC only allows government servants, members of any armed forces and full-time students to register as absent voters, so as to be entitled to vote by post at the next election. The bulk of Malaysian citizens living overseas, who are working in the private sector, and those who are retired or unemployed, are required to return to Malaysia to vote in person.

In addition, although the existing regulations allow all Malaysian students over the age of 21 to register as absent voters, Malaysian students overseas who have attempted to register have had to overcome many obstacles put in their way, with some embassies and consulates refusing to register students who were not sponsored by the government, and others refusing to register students who had previously registered as ordinary voters at home. Although the EC has clarified that all students are eligible to register as absent voters, as recently as this month, the Malaysian consulate in New York was still telling students that only government scholars could register as absent voters.

Dr Teo Hoon Seong, one of the litigants, said:

“I believe that the right to vote is the fundamental cornerstone of democracy. It is the absolute duty of government to ensure that each and every citizen is treated equally within the law in a manner which allows them to exercise this right.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the KL High Court on Tuesday and served on the Attorney-General and the EC on Friday afternoon, is based on Articles 8, 10 and 119 of the Federal Constitution, and is supported by the MyOverseasVote campaign for voting rights for an estimated 700,000 to 1 million Malaysian citizens who live and work overseas, and follows in the wake of the Global Bersih 2.0 movement, where Malaysians around the world turned out on 9 July 2011 to support clean and fair elections in Malaysia and to demand voting rights for Malaysians overseas.

A MyOverseasVote spokesman said:

“The extraordinary thing about the current regulations is that a Malaysian serving in the Israeli army would be entitled to vote in the next Malaysian general election as an absent voter, but a Malaysian who works overseas for Petronas, which contributes 40% of Malaysian government revenue, would not”

Dr Teo added:

“To say that only certain groups of citizens are allowed the postal ballot is a nonsense that amounts to outright discrimination against the others who aren’t. There are nearly a million Malaysians living overseas. Re-enfranchise them now and give them their rights,”

Although the EC Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof, announced on 25 August 2011 that all Malaysians overseas would be allowed to vote by post, the EC has recently clarified to MyOverseasVote that the EC Chairman had never promised that the EC would do so before the next general election. Two months after the announcement was made, the EC has still taken no action to enable Malaysians overseas even to begin the process of registering as absent voters, which usually takes 3-6 months. Overseas Malaysians are increasingly worried that the 13th General Election will come and go while they continue to be deprived of their constitutional right to vote.

As the MyOverseasVote spokesman explained:

“Few Malaysians working in the private sector are able to take a few weeks off work and to organise flights to return to Malaysia at short notice. And even if they could, it is improbable that all 1 million of them could book flights to return to Malaysia at the same time. And why should they have to, when the EC is already organising diplomatic pouches to send postal ballots to Malaysian embassies and consulates in London, Sydney, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc., to enable government servants and students to vote?”

Dr Teo called for other overseas Malaysians to contribute to MyOverseasVote’s campaign at www.myoverseasvote.org, concluding:

“It’s time for us to be allowed a stake in our countries future. I want all Malaysians to remember this: the government works for us, not the other way round.”

The lawsuit filed last week seeks to compel the EC to register the six litigants as absent voters and to compel the EC to amend its regulations within 14 days to allow Malaysians overseas to apply to be registered as absent voters. The KL High Court will decide on 14 November 2011 whether to grant permission for the judicial review to proceed.

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