Elections: France vs Malaysia
APRIL 23 — If all indications are to be believed, it looks like we will be going to the polls soon.
Well, at least, you in Malaysia will. I, meanwhile, and others like me, will be, once again, disenfranchised. Unable to cast our votes not because we live abroad, but because we are the wrong sort of overseas Malaysians. I am neither a student nor a government servant nor military personnel. I will, in all likelihood, be unable to return to Malaysia to vote. So just like that, I cannot vote.
But this is not why I’m writing this piece. No, I wanted to share something else with you.
France has just completed round one of its presidential elections, with the legislative elections coming in June. You may or may not know that the French allow their overseas citizens to vote in elections. Indeed, during the 2008 elections, there was a long queue around the French school nearby as London’s French citizens waited patiently to cast their votes.
In fact, there are so many French people in London that this city has been dubbed “Paris-on-Thames.” An estimated 300,000 Londoners are French, which makes London the equivalent of France’s sixth largest city.
What, you may think, has this to do with our own elections? Nothing, actually.
However, the French election caught my eye, because of an innovation that I can scarcely believe. The French, you see, have decided to create 11 new “world” constituencies to cater for their expats. In other words, French people who live outside France will be able to elect their own MPs: London’s French will be able to vote for an MP for “Northern Europe”, rather than cast their votes for an MP in France.
The MP for Northern Europe will represent French people in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltics; all told, a constituency of roughly 500,000 people spread over four million sq km. France, it seems, has realised that its 2.5 million people abroad need proper representation.
Amazing, isn’t it? If I were French, not only would I be able to choose who I wanted to become President, but I would also be able to choose my very own MP to boot! And all this done without any quibble about cost or logistics.
Interestingly, this also means that French politicians can’t afford to ignore the overseas vote. Attempting to woo London’s French in the 2007 campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy said: “France is still your country even if you’re disappointed by it.”
Contrast this with the attitude taken by the authorities in our country, who have taken to dragging their feet over the whole issue of electoral reforms (and allowing overseas Malaysians to vote), as well as casting aspersions on Malaysians who have the temerity to leave their country and live abroad.
Whilst the French (and in fact most of the advanced democratic nations) have recognised that a citizen is a citizen no matter where they live, the authorities in our country continue to ignore the rights of overseas Malaysians. Not all Malaysians are equal.
There have been deliberations aplenty, with various people commenting on the issue (some comments being more nonsensical than others). Yet in the end I think people like me will be expected to fly back home if we want to vote in the coming elections.
This is particularly galling when even our neighbouring countries allow their overseas citizens to vote in the country that they are residing in. Yes, my dear Malaysians, our Singaporean, Filipino, Indonesian and Thai friends allow their overseas brethren to cast their votes abroad.
I really do honestly think that overseas Malaysians are not asking for much. All we want to do is exercise our right as Malaysian citizens to vote in our country’s elections. I cannot understand why this cannot be implemented in time for our next election, especially when the Election Commission clearly has a procedure to allow overseas Malaysians to vote: why, for the upcoming elections, can we not simply extend the existing voting procedure for overseas students, military personnel and diplomatic staff (and their families!) and open it to all overseas Malaysians who are already registered to vote?
The current system may not be perfect, but better that than nothing at all.
I’m not asking for a Malaysian MP for the UK. Attractive though the idea may be, that is probably a step too far for our country at this point. All I’m asking for is the right to cast my vote at the Malaysian High Commission in London, or via the post, or at wherever the nearest polling station is without having to pay for a flight back home.
Is that really too much to ask for?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.