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Overseas postal voting needs safeguards to be fair

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Global Bersih thanks the Electoral Commission chairperson Mohd Hashim Abdullah for clarifying the role of Pos Malaysia Bhd in the overseas voting process and informing us that “the EC has been given the assurance by Pos Malaysia on aspects of security and confidentiality, with all handling of shipment classified as registered post procedures using the Pos Laju network”.

While we welcome this assurance, Global Bersih would like to highlight that the responsibility of ensuring that the ballot papers arrive in time to overseas voters and there is adequate time for its return before polls close at 5pm on polling day is still with the commission.

In the 2013 general election, there were about two weeks between dissolution of Parliament and nomination of candidates, and two weeks again between nomination and polling. This implies only two weeks turnaround time for overseas votes which is highly risky. Global Bersih therefore urges Mohd Hashim to give a minimum turnaround period of 28 days to ensure that marked overseas ballots can be received and returned to the respective voters’ constituency presiding officer in time.

We are also disappointed that the cost of the returned marked ballot papers is to be borne by the voters concerned. We urge the commission to send the ballot papers with a prepaid envelope.

Global Bersih also criticised the Electoral Commission for not providing permanent overseas voting procedures. Instead, overseas Malaysians are left in the dark about the overseas voting process every time a general election is called, until the last moment.

Further, in an earlier press statement, the Electoral Commission chairman promised to appoint local and international election observers for the coming general election. Global Bersih welcomes this development and would like assurance that these same observers will scrutinise the issuance, receipt and counting of ballots.

We are also urging the Malaysian government to invite the Commonwealth to send a Commonwealth observer group to independently monitor the conduct of the coming general election. This would be particularly timely intervention given that Malaysia will be taking up the position of chair in 2020.

Moreover, Global Bersih would like assurance from the commission that local and international observers be included in the scrutineering process in East Malaysia as well as West Malaysia.

Since Malaysia has been ranked 125th in the 2018 World Electoral Freedom Index, building confidence in the system will take time and initiative on the commssions’s part. Overseas Malaysians would therefore be comforted by these recommended checks and would be encouraged to participate in the voting process

Global Bersih and Bersih 2.0 also find it problematic and disappointing that Malaysians residing in Singapore, southern Thailand, Brunei and Kalimantan continue to be disenfranchised from the overseas voting process. There are about one million Malaysians – or more than half of Malaysians overseas – residing in these locations, mostly in Singapore.

The commission should consider how overseas voters are credibly and swiftly enfranchised in the electoral process of our neighbours such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which deal with more overseas voters than Malaysia.

The exclusion of these regions from the overseas voting process is arbitrary and unfair, and burdens Malaysians living in these regions by making them bear the cost of returning home to vote, not to mention having to arrange to take leave from work in order to do so.

We therefore strongly urge the commission to give ALL Malaysians living overseas the right to vote.

Global Bersih and Bersih 2.0 steering committee

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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