Fighting for the rights of overseas voters
Writer: Lord Bobo
Published: Fri, 06 Jan 2012
Dear Lord Bobo, what is #MOV that @PusatRakyatLB has been tweeting about? Something about an overseas voters’ case? Is it important? (Exiled Malaysian, via email)
#MOV is the hashtag (as you referred to tweets, presumably you know what a hashtag is) for MyOverseasVote, a test case challenging the Election Commission’s (EC) refusal to allow certain Malaysians living abroad to register as “absent voters” and therefore be eligible to vote as “postal voters”.
Elections to Parliament and state assemblies must take place at least once every five years. Every Malaysian over 21 of sound mind and not in prison can vote in person, but only if he or she has registered to vote. However, if a voter is away from his or her constituency, then the voter must travel all the way back on polling day to vote. More than 700,000 Malaysians residing overseas are affected.
Certain classes of voters are entitled to cast their votes by post – those serving in the military, civil servants working abroad, and those studying abroad (and their respective spouses). However, the Applicants in the #MOV case did not fall within those categories but still want to vote from overseas by post. They argue that they were being discriminated against by the EC, since there was no rational basis on which to discriminate between them and other classes of voters who are allowed to vote by post.
The EC say they are just following the law. But the Applicants say that in this case, it was the EC themselves who made the law! It is like a club fixing a rule stating that no one with white hair can enter the club, and when people with white hair say that this rule is discriminatory, the club replies, “But I’m following the rule, so it is not discriminatory!”
The Federal Constitution and Elections Act allow the EC to make regulations as to registration of absent voters, and the EC selectively defined who would constitute absent voters while excluding others. In other words, if you are serving in the armed forces, not a civil servant and not a student but are residing overseas, you are unable to vote by post. You must buy an airline ticket, hop on a plane, take the bus to you constituency and on election day, vote in person. The EC contends that they are not excluding people, just not including them, and anyway people who work overseas are doing so by choice – as opposed to those in the civil service who have no choice.
The case was heard before the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Jan 3 this year, and the decision is expected to be announced on Jan 6. Counsel K. Shanmuga (for MyOverseasVote UK), Syahredzan Johan (for the Bar Council), James Khong (for the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism & Human Rights) and Nizam Bashir (for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia) as friends of the court supported the case against the EC. They all also happen to be LoyarBurokkers. Lord Bobo’s minions are everywhere. Because it’s fun, as we keep telling you.