MyOverseasVote clarifies Federal Constitution for Najib

Article 119 of the Federal Constitution currently provides that every Malaysian citizen has the right to vote so long as he is at least 21 years old and registered either as a voter resident in a constituency or as an “Absent Voter”.

At the 5th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit on 31 July 2011, the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak was asked how Malaysians studying and working abroad could vote from overseas. In his answer, the Prime Minister said that he would look into the practicalities of allowing overseas voting and whether it was necessary to amend the Constitution in order to allow Malaysians overseas to vote(ref. 1).

We are disappointed that the Prime Minister appears to be in the dark about the whole issue of overseas voting. Article 119 of the Federal Constitution currently provides that every Malaysian citizen has the right to vote so long as he is at least 21 years old and registered either as a voter resident in a constituency or as an “Absent Voter”. Pursuant to the Elections (Postal Voting) Regulations 2003, all absent voters are entitled to receive postal ballots when an election is called.

Unfortunately the regulations governing the registration of absent voters, which are made by the Election Commission and approved by the Government, currently discriminate between citizens on the grounds of their occupation and employment. The Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations 2002 allows only three categories of Malaysian citizens to register as absent voters: a) serving members of a Malaysian, Commonwealth or foreign military and their spouses; b) government servants serving outside Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak and their spouses; and c) full-time students studying outside Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak and their spouses. The 2002 Regulations thereby exclude nearly a million Malaysians stationed overseas who work in the private sector or who are retired. The Prime Minister should explain why it is that a Malaysian who is serving with a foreign military is entitled to vote as an absent voter, yet a Malaysian who works overseas for a Malaysian or multinational company is deprived of the right to vote.

As far as student voters are concerned, we note that the 2002 Regulations entitle all students, whether publicly or privately-sponsored, to register as absent voters, so long as they are engaged in full-time tertiary study outside the boundaries of Peninsular Malaysia or Sabah or Sarawak. This would include students from Sabah or Sarawak who are studying in the Peninsula, and vice versa, as well as those studying overseas. We are unaware of any East Malaysian student who has successfully registered as an absent voter. And despite continued assurances from the Election Commission, MyOverseasVote has recently released a survey of Malaysian embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world that demonstrates that Malaysian students are still being regularly turned away on spurious and false grounds when they try to register to vote.

Passing the bug : Government’s Electoral Reform without ownership

At the Student Leaders Summit, Prime Minister Najib emphasised that “1Malaysia is predicated on the Constitution of Malaysia, it does not depart from it”. To a question pertaining to election reforms, the Prime Minister answered “Yes, the government is committed to electoral reform and Yes, we will undertake electoral reforms”.

We remind the Prime Minister that the Federal Constitution already provides for “Absent voters”, a category under which all overseas Malaysian are subsumed. Sub-laws contrary to the Constitution, such as the EC regulation that discriminates against overseas voters based on their profession, are liable to be struck out.

Upon our clarification of the overseas voting issue, the Prime Minister should take immediate action to rectify the overseas voting issue to demonstrate that he abides by the Constitution of Malaysia and that he is emphatically “committed to electoral reform” as he says he is.

Anifah Aman, Foreign Affairs Minister, met with concerned Malaysian citizens in Melbourne on Monday(1 Aug). While he wholeheartedly agreed that “every Malaysian overseas has the right to vote”, he added “it is not easy to implement”. We would like to remind the Minister that a system already exists to enable students, civil servants and the armed forces who are overseas to vote with a postal vote.

Anifah Aman was handed a memorandum on behalf of SABM and MyOverseasVote. The group also submitted a 24-question FAQ to the Minister about voter registration at Malaysian foreign missions and procedures surrounding postal voting. The FAQ came about after MyOverseasVote found that Malaysian foreign missions are not adequately briefed nor equipped to handle voter registrations(ref. 2).

Concerned Malaysian citizens in Melbourne asked Anifah Aman about the progress of appointing Assistant Registrars at overseas missions. In January 2011, The EC Chairman Aziz Yusof made a statement that from January 2011, there will be an Assistant Registrar appointed in every embassy to assist in registration of voters. Anifah Aman answered “Again, that may be his statement but the system has not been set up yet, so we have to wait for the EC to brief us on how the overseas voting works. Believe me, we are working on it but these things take time.”

When asked about how we can improve our Postal voting system by learning from other countries, Anifah Aman replied “Not everything that works overseas can work in Malaysia. We cannot compare mature democracies to our situation in Malaysia. For those who want to vote, we must put in the effort to allow people to vote. I’ll give you an example of an American missionary in Sabah who had to fly to Kuala Lumpur to vote. Perhaps a solution we can consider is to set up voting centres at the consulates for people to vote, but we can’t set one up in remote areas”.

It seems clear to us that the problem with overseas voting is not the lack of any provision in the Constitution or in any laws passed by Parliament, but rather the nonsensical and discriminatory regulations that have been drawn up by the Election Commission and the Government, coupled with the Government’s failure even to comply with its own existing Regulations.

Overseas Malaysians who want to vote from abroad, please sign the MyOverseasVote petition at :

(1) Video Clip of PM Najib’s response to the Overseas Vote question.

(2) MyOverseasVote report on Malaysian foreign missions’ confusion over voter registration

MyOverseasVote website