Bersih 2.0: Allow East Malaysians to register as absentee voters

PHOTO: The Straits Times

PETALING JAYA - Bersih 2.0 is calling for reforms on absentee voting to allow east Malaysians living in peninsular Malaysia to be registered as absentee voters.

Its chairman Maria Chin Abdullah urged the Election Commission and the federal government to amend existing regulations to not only allow Sabahans and Sarawakians but also West Malaysians living in Sabah and Sarawak to vote where they reside instead of returning to the state of origin to cast their ballot.

"The cost for Sabahans and Sarawakians living here to go back to vote is high and it is much better if an arrangement is made for them to vote in West Malaysia," she told a press conference at the Bersih 2.0 headquarters on Thursday.

Maria said the electoral watchdog had estimated that there were over 150,000 registered Sabahan and Sarawakian voters living in Malaysia.

Maria added that advance voting would allow a voter to vote and votes to be counted on the same day, as such it would create more "transparency and accountability".

"The voting period has to be a day before the polling date, so you don't have a problem of the ballot boxes being moved," she said, adding that advance voting currently was held five days before the polling date.

She said that if the EC could arrange for emergency workers, the police, army and the media to vote earlier, it should be able to do the same for East Malaysians.

Tan Soh Kheng, co-founder of Rise of Sarawak Efforts, said that since the last election, the civil society group has encouraged East Malaysians to go back to vote, but realised that many needed financial support to return.

"There are so many young East Malaysian students and working adults who would like to go back to vote (but they are unable to do so)," she said.

Sarawakian voter Kumbang Samat said he had lived in Malaysia since 1998 and had never gone back to vote during the election as the family prioritised festival periods to return to Sarawak.

"To go back with my wife and children to vote, the cost would be very high," he said, adding that the announcement for the general election would usually be made a month before the polling date and that would increase the cost significantly.

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