If M’sians abroad want to vote why block them?


If citizens don’t lose their citizenship when they leave their country, why should they lose their voting rights that is part and parcel of their birthright?

Steve Oh (CPI)

Democratic countries want all their citizens to vote not abstain, be disqualified or exempted, and often when exempted it is at the behest of the voters, not imposed by the government.

The most advanced nations and even some surprisingly more backward ones respect their citizens’ right to vote regardless of their place of residence abroad.

When any government decides who is eligible to vote instead of respecting the intrinsic rights of all citizens, it opens the system to abuse and political manipulation, as we see in Malaysia.

In some countries voting is compulsory. There are penalties for not voting. Voting is seen as a citizen’s national duty and those who do not vote are often criticized for failing to exercise their moral obligation and civic duty.

Even if they are floating in space, like the country’s celebrated astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor – for whom Jakim decreed that instead of facing Mecca, facing the Earth or any direction would suffice for his five daily prayers – Malaysians should be eligible to vote.

After all many Malaysians can still vote after they have died and many did in the last elections and possibly in many previous ones because their skeletons keep falling out of the dark electoral closet into public view.

These phantom voters have more rights it seems than the absentee voters who are overseas.

Then you have the ‘instant voters’ who obtained Malaysian citizenship by ‘fast track’ but have not lived in the country as long as those Malaysians abroad who were raised and lived in the country for longer than these suspiciously new Malaysians.

Many Malaysians living abroad repatriate money to their relatives at home. Over the years with increased emigration the figure must now run into the billions of ringgit of needy foreign exchange for a country with huge illegal outflows.

There are those who still own properties and other assets in the country; the intangible economic contributions of the Malaysian diaspora have incalculable benefits for the country. Surely they deserve some respect and recognition and giving them the right to vote while abroad is but a step forward for electoral and democratic reform.

Malaysia’s fraught relations with its diaspora

Unlike some countries, Malaysia has an abysmal record of managing its diaspora. They are demonized by some politicians for leaving and then enticed to return by others but never seen in their true light as citizens on the move for various legitimate reasons.

One could safely see more Malaysians abroad return to their country when there is good governance and when corruption and unfair practices are but a faint memory and not what stare in your face as they do today. After all, the history of Malaysia is the history of human migration.

But their emotional and familial bonds with their country of birth are natural and something no politician can control. Many have burned bridges but many still stay in touch with the country and want to see change and are prepared to work for change, perhaps more so than many Malaysians at home who are still in deep political coma.

What were those Chinese thinking when they willingly accepted the white angpows? Surely pragmatism must have its limits and dignity is not a lost national virtue. Surely even an ‘ugly Chinaman’ must know when he or she is being insulted, superstition aside.

Malaysia’s approach to absentee voting is out of touch with contemporary global values and the international consensus toward the granting of non-resident citizens of countries voting rights.

Recently we saw Egypt and Tunisia, fledgling democracies, allow their expatriate citizens to vote at their foreign embassies and consuls. The list of countries far less developed than Malaysia with absentee voting rights for its citizens abroad should embarrass Malaysia, the ‘world’s best democracy’ wannabe.

The Malaysian situation sees the breach of another fundamental human right.

India has also joined the more than 120 nations or so that allow their non-resident citizens to vote in absentia and more advanced countries like the United States even practise proxy voting.

Every nation has the right to insist on specific provisions and procedures but none should deny its citizens the right to vote simply because they do not reside in the country.

Those countries that fought for the right to vote abroad eventually achieve success and it is unlikely Malaysia can hold off much longer when it already allows postal voting for certain citizens and not others, and such discrimination has yet to be challenged in court on constitutional grounds. Otherwise the law has to change.

Citizens abroad knowledgeable on M’sian current affairs

Arbitrary postal voting as it stands is cave-man politics and a politically-contrived policy. Like the other electoral anomalies it needs urgent reform.

While the United Kingdom has a 15-year sunset clause on its expatriate voters, there is talk of reform to give voters lifelong voting rights like in France and the United States. That makes sense if the intention is to improve democracy.

If citizens of a country want to vote they should be allowed to vote.

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