With just six days remaining until Malaysians across six states head over to the polls on August 12, politicians from various parties have been whipping up supporters and fence-sitters in hopes that they would get their votes.
But amidst the loud chanting of slogans and heated discussions over pressing matters, there is a group of voters that is often left out of the conversation — postal voters.
Seeing that there was a need to further empower Malaysians livings overseas to exercise their democratic right to vote, a coalition called VoteMalaysia was created to ensure that Malaysians living outside of the country would have the chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
Empowering the masses
Speaking to WeirdKaya about the initiative, VoteMalaysia UK and Ireland director Evan Ng said the initiative was founded in October 2022 with the the endorsement of student organisations, youth groups, and civil society organisations globally when the 15th General Election (GE15) was announced to be held.
The idea was simple: we would all press and push for better postal voting services. We wanted our ballots to get back to Malaysia in time. When it was clear that it would be difficult to receive our ballots and post it back, we decided that we would try to bring them back ourselves.
“There was also a renewed sense of interest and curiosity when Undi18 was introduced and gazetted into law on September 10, 2019, which made many Malaysian undergraduate students eligible voters. While we were nervous about casting our votes, there was an air of excitement and we had this desire to see our peers vote as well,” he said.
Bringing the ballots home
Unlike what most people may assume to be a fairly simple task, bringing the ballots back to Malaysia involved a lot of time and energy on the part of VoteMalaysia’s volunteers.
“We packed the ballots and sent our own volunteers to fly them back to Malaysia. When we reached there, we sorted those ballots again and handed it on to more volunteers, who then drove/flew back to each constituency to pass the ballots to the Returning Officers (RO) on election day.
With strong support from communities all across, as well as a lot of luck, things went well. In GE15, VoteMalaysia delivered more than 35,000 ballots back to each constituency. In comparison, only 9,000 voters registered in GE14 and not all managed to vote.
However, Evan noted that the initiative’s success wouldn’t be possible had it not been for the efforts of NGOs that came before them.
“In previous elections, Bersih and many other groups coordinated informal volunteer networks to bring ballots back home. With that inspiration, VoteMalaysia expanded the initiative and continues to build on past successes. It is truly a civil society movement built from the ground up.”
Evan also praised VoteMalaysia’s UK and Ireland team consisting of 11 core committee members, six youth organisations, and over 30 volunteers in collect, deliver, and sort votes from through more than 23 cities.
“The determination exhibited by these exceptional Malaysians, balancing full-time work or academic commitments, is truly inspiring as they wholeheartedly embrace the added workload and fuel the drive towards our shared vision of a more inclusive and participatory democracy.”
Educating the public about postal voting
Aside from bringing thousands of ballots back to Malaysia, VoteMalaysia has also been educating the public about postal voting works, which is a rather complicated process.
“When registering for postal voting on the SPR website, two separate forms need to be submitted (which is not always intuitive) for your application to be valid.
“When the ballots do arrive, one would also need to get a witness to sign a form to confirm the ballot, as well as to seal it in the right envelopes. Otherwise, the vote can be invalidated.
“As such, VoteMalaysia has hosted many workshops, pop-up booths, info sessions and infographics in more than 20 cities in the UK leading up to the elections. We hope that by enabling Malaysians residing abroad an avenue to cast their ballot and make their voices heard, we will be able to foster a great sense of ownership and belonging among Malaysians abroad while enhancing the civic engagements in Malaysia,” he said.
‘Every vote matters’
As the state election draws closer, Evan urged Malaysians living within and outside of the country to exercise their right as citizens.
Voting is essential in preserving and strengthening the democratic fabric of Malaysia, enabling us to uphold the principle of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’, ensuring that the voices of the citizens remain at the heart of the nation’s decision-making.
“We hope that by enabling Malaysians residing overseas an avenue to cast their ballot abroad, we will be able to encourage our friends and family in Malaysia to take part in greater civic engagement and come out to vote for the upcoming six state elections. Together, let’s get our voices heard.”
If you wish to contribute financially to VoteMalaysia’s efforts, you can do so by donating to their GoFundMe account via this link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/votemalaysiauke