By Mariam Mokhtar
Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, and Malaysia’s missions overseas, will have to get used to scenes like the one last Saturday in London. For over a year, scores of Malaysians have braved the elements to gather in front of the Malaysian High Commission and protest about issues which contravene the constitution.
The solidarity rally organised by the London-based ‘MyOverseasVote’ on Nov 26 had three aims:
– To uphold the rights of Malaysians residing overseas to vote in Malaysia’s general election;
– To ensure that the government will accede to the eight demands of Bersih 2.0 for free, clean and fair elections; and
– To protest against Najib’s Peaceful Assembly Bill which denies ordinary Malaysians their constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
Law abiding, respectable Malaysians who came to protest were dressed in yellow and comprised mostly professionals and students. The theme of the rally was ‘Make every vote count’.
No one minded giving up their Saturday afternoon and felt it was a small price to pay for upholding their constitutional rights. They were angry that the government had flogged various excuses to explain why they could not vote, instead of addressing their demands for voting rights.
Three police personnel broke off from guarding an anti-Assad protest at the Syrian embassy around the corner, and came over to the Malaysia demonstration.
The newcomers in the Malaysian group were alarmed. They expected baton-charges, tear gas rounds and water-cannon. They were shocked when the policemen started chatting with the Malaysians and wished them good luck before moving off. Najib’s idea of “the best democracy in the world” has much to learn from England.
An irate theology student from Oxford said: “Najib claims that he is not opposed to overseas Malaysians casting their votes but says that the logistics are difficult. Actually, he has been caught with his pants down because of Bersih 2.0.”
A fortnight ago, MCA central committee member Ei Kim Hock had said that the conclusion of a party study into overseas Malaysians was that they should not be allowed to vote. He opined that Malaysians residing abroad were “out of touch”, and received information from sources that were “biased and wrong”.
MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek had tried to limit the damage caused by Ei’s contentious statements by alluding to “logistical nightmares” which prevented overseas Malaysians from voting. But Chua was unable to stem the vilification from overseas Malaysians, who found MCA and Najib’s comments demeaning and insulting.
MCA’s ‘flawed research’
Asked to respond to Najib’s and Chua’s statements, an undergraduate reading accountancy at a London university said: “Najib enlisted 2000 cybertroopers to counter the supposed lies about BN. How did he find money for that pointless exercise but has no provision for us?
“Sudan, Philippines, Indonesia can do it, why not us? Aren’t these nations more backward than us? If he is desperate, get back the RM250 million from Shahrizat.”
Her colleague interjected, “Does he honestly think we are that stupid to believe that his ‘1Malaysia Social Media Volunteers’ is voluntary and free?
“Anything to do with Umno always involves money. Not theirs. The taxpayers’ I can attend a Kelab Umno makan in the UK and receive £100 for turning up. It is just like at the BN ceramah back home. Buses are laid on from the kampongs to the stadium, and each person receives between RM30 and RM300. So don’t tell us about logistics and the lack of funding.”
The MCA was severely criticised for its flawed research which Ei claimed resulted in overseas Malaysians being ignorant and unaware of the true situation in Malaysia.
Damien, a civil engineering undergraduate from Imperial College said: “We are more in tune with things happening at home. Has MCA heard of the Internet? Do they think us incapable of reaching our own conclusions based on the mainstream media, the alternative papers and various blogs?”
Lee, a post-graduate student from Brunel University and who comes from Kuantan said: “MCA cannot be trusted to conduct studies. Their conclusions are always flawed.
“Two MCA members went on an all-expenses paid trip in 2009, to check if the Lynas project was viable or not. The government gave Lynas the go-ahead based on the MCA study. Now that there are many safety issues with the Lynas project, MCA has done a U-turn.”
Most of the participants felt that the credibility of Najib’s government has been severely dented. The various statements issued with regard to voting rights for the overseas Malaysians, have been littered with inconsistencies. Most do not believe that the Election Commission will make good its promise to enable them to vote in the general election.
Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan said: “The government, instead of arguing why it cannot be done, has a duty to ensure that it is done. It is their duty to enfranchise Malaysians, not to stop them from voting but to make sure that they can vote.”
A researcher who was present at the London rally said: “I am doing this for my children and their children. I am in UK because there is no field of study in my line of work in Malaysia. Eventually, I will return home.
“Now, the only way to participate in an election is to fly home. It is not always possible with my job. Why does Umno/BN law discriminate against people like me? We need a change of government.”
It is estimated that there are around 1.5 million Malaysian citizens living abroad, but only those in a select band can be classified as “absent voters”.
A student who declined to be named said: “I am here to represent my mother who until she died, was denied the right to vote. She was not here, in England, by choice.
“She married my English father but he was denied the right of abode in Malaysia. It is hardly surprising that the Malaysian partner, in mixed marriages eventually lose heart; but not my mother. She would have wanted to have a say in what happens in Malaysia.
“They would have made a valuable contribution to the community, had they lived in Malaysia. Instead, our extended family has been torn apart by Malaysia’s discriminatory practices.
“When I am old enough, I too will exercise my right to vote in the Malaysian election, even if it means I have to fly back.”
(Names and courses have been changed to protect the innocent.)
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.