The Election Commission Chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof was quoted yesterday as saying that “It was quite disappointing after all that we did to provide a convenient registration process for the voters overseas” that only 6,298 out of over 700,000 Malaysians living abroad have registered as postal voters.
It is Malaysians abroad who should feel disappointed that we have such a dishonest and disingenuous Election Commission who has, time and time again, failed to live up to his duty to ensure that the institution he leads enjoys the public confidence that is required in Article 114(2) of the Federal Constitution.
Firstly, the announcement for overseas postal voting was only done on January 21st, 2013, after the gazetting of the Quarter 4, 2012 electoral roll. This meant that those Malaysians overseas who had not yet registered as a voter, which is probably the majority of them, were not eligible to apply to be an overseas postal voter after the announcement of the EC guidelines on overseas voting.
If the EC was really sincere in wanting Malaysians abroad to register in large numbers as overseas postal voters, it should have aggressively reached out to Malaysians overseas to register themselves as regular voters first during the months preceding January 2013. The EC could have done this in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry and other government Ministries by encouraging and inviting the many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Malaysians overseas to register as regular voters at the Malaysian consulates, embassies and high commissions all over the world. As far as I know, the EC did not allocate any budgetary resources, nor did it work with Wisma Putra, to conduct an aggressive voter registration exercise for Malaysians overseas.
In July, 2012, an informal audit conducted by MyOverseasVote, an advocacy group, found that the Malaysian embassies and consulates spread across a number of countries had inconsistent responses in terms of who could register as regular voters via the embassies and consulates. This shows the serious failure on the part of the EC to communicate and implement a standard registration procedure among the Malaysian embassies and consulates.
Given this serious failure on the part of the EC to register Malaysians abroad as regular voters, should its Chairman be that surprised that only a small number of Malaysians applied to be overseas postal voters? I believe it is very much the case that a large majority of Malaysians abroad are not yet registered voters which mean that the act of opening up the overseas voting to Malaysians abroad is merely a symbolic and utterly insincere gesture on the part of the EC.
Secondly, even after announcing the guidelines on how to apply to be an overseas voter, the EC to promote or advertise this option among Malaysia overseas through visits to the various embassies and high commissions and through social media, just to mention the two more prominent channels. Even on the day of the dissolution of parliament, I received many requests and questions via facebook, twitter and email on how to register as an overseas postal voter, where to get the forms to register and the criteria for eligibility. This clearly shows that the EC failed in its outreach to Malaysian voters which resulted in the low number of registrations.
Thirdly, EC’s own restrictive criteria of not allowing Malaysians living in Singapore, Southern Thailand, Kalimantan and Brunei immediately disqualified hundreds of thousands of Malaysians from registering as overseas postal voters.
Fourthly, the EC’s own website (www.spr.gov.my) crashed on Tuesday, the day that parliament was dissolved and also the deadline to apply to be overseas postal voters. This prevented many voters from downloading the necessary forms and instructions on how to register as an overseas postal voter.
Instead of expressing his disappointment, the Election Commission Chairman should instead apologize to Malaysians overseas for not doing his duty as Chairman. One can only hope and pray that he does not make the EC lose even more public confidence in these coming weeks as the EC plans and organizers the historic 13th general election.