MELBOURNE, April 28— Confusion and anger marked the start of the much-anticipated postal voting at the Consulate General of Malaysia in Melbourne today.
Voters who did not have a printout confirming their eligibility from the Election Commission (EC) were initially prevented from entering the building by security guards, who refused to accept Malaysian identity cards or passports.
Those affected who had smartphones/iPads with them went to the EC website to show their status to the guards and only then were they able to get in.
Word quickly spread through the crowd about the unexpected problem, and in admirable community spirit, voters shared their smartphones/iPads with those without to ensure all were able to enter the consulate.
After much protest and effort to contact consulate officials, the guards relented and allowed those with ICs/passports in.
K.C. Goh, a project manager here, said he was shocked by this requirement as neither he nor his friends had received any notification about this from the EC.
“Registering to vote has also been difficult and many missed out on voting. I know at least two people who were turned away by the consulate and told to go home to vote,” said Goh from Subang Jaya.
The early kerfuffle aside, there was palpable excitement in the crowd, many with their children in tow, as they joined their counterparts in other Australian and New Zealand cities to be among the first to cast their votes in the Election 2013.
Melbourne has the largest number of Malaysians in the country and they turned up by the hundreds for this historic event to exercise their constitutional right that has been denied them for far too long. According to the EC, more than 1,000 registered to vote at the Consulate General of Malaysia on St Kilda Road.
Although overseas postal voting is not new, it was made available to only a select few such as civil servants. April 28 thus marks a significant change, giving due recognition to all Malaysians living abroad, now estimated at one million.
There were no party posters, buntings or political tension to greet arrivals at the polling station. Rather this was a Malaysian get-together of sorts — a stall was even set up to sell teh tarik, nasi lemak and paus outside the consulate.
People were just happy to see others fronting up and, hopefully, help make a difference for the folks back home. While their voting percentage may be small, the symbolism is not lost on them.
Muhammad Imran of Cheras was in the queue long before the doors were opened and came all the away from Newcastle in New South Wales, where he is a medical student, to “do his duty.”
It was a “hard decision” on whom to vote for this time but he said he was voting to “make Malaysia better”.
Chee Yew Choy, an electrical engineer from Sungei Petani, told The Malaysian Insider that he was pleased that those abroad were now able to have a say about who should form the next government.
Juliana Osman, a PhD student from Ipoh who arrived early, was visibly excited by the large turnout, with the two-man-deep queue blocking the footpath and spilling onto the main road.
She said she had to make a difficult choice too, taking “into consideration many factors” and hoped the government will give the people “more voice”.
These postal voters for one reason or another could not return to their constituencies to vote, but many have a lingering fear their ballots or the boxes could be tampered with en route to Malaysia, in spite of assurances from the EC.
It is an indication of a lack of confidence with the system, which is not altogether surprising, as the country has gone to the polls with a suspect electoral roll. ‘Phantom’ voters and the shenanigans exposed at the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants raise serious concerns and the issues remain unresolved.
Malaysians abroad through the Internet and other social media have kept themselves up to speed with the latest developments. The instant news updates, online videos, the blow-by-blow account of the election campaign, the robust discussions online, etc. have become a daily diet for many.
Is there anything we’ve missed? Well, there is a not-so-serious lament: back home, people have been showered with cash handouts/vouchers, treated to free dinners, given free helmets (and bicycles?), etc. with Psy thrown in for good measure. And it’s all A-OK. Some of us wished we were there.
There is so much money “floating around, you won’t believe it” to quote a message from KL. Australia may be called the Lucky Country but it seems people in Malaysia are indeed “luckier”.
While we all await the expected nail-biting results on May 5, what is certain is that come the next election, there will be many more Malaysians abroad signing up to vote and they have the potential to be an organised forced that all political parties may invariably have to contend with.
* George Chang is a writer and media researcher in Melbourne.