Yesterday the Kuala Lumpur High Court heard a judicial review application on behalf of six overseas Malaysians challenging discriminatory practices by the Malaysian Electoral Commission in respect to overseas voting.
This is an issue that has been widely discussed and debated over the last few months amongst the Malaysian community, both at home and abroad.
Although many believe the Electoral Commission's current rules on overseas voting rights based on occupation, are discriminatory and unfair, some have voiced opposition to the call for overseas voting rights for all Malaysians living abroad.
In the run up to the court's verdict on January the 6th I would like to respond to comments made by M Bakri Musa. In his article on 7th Nov 2011 entitled 'Malaysians Abroad Should Not Vote' (), Bakri argues that (sic) 'Malaysians abroad on permanent residency visas should not seek or be given the right to vote in Malaysian elections because they have essentially decided that there is no hope for them in Malaysia. If they were to harbor any sliver of hope for change, then they would have stayed behind and agitated for change from there, where their efforts would have the potential of having the greatest impact.'
I have lived abroad for many years in the UK. However I have chosen to retain my Malaysian citizenship and retain a deep psychological and social connection with the country of my birth.
I take time to keep updated on Malaysian current affairs and continue to hope and pray that Malaysia might be able to one day reach her full potential and be the democratic, just and developed nation she is capable of becoming.
I am allowed to vote in the UK as a citizen of a Commonwealth country but I am discriminated against by the Malaysian Electoral Commission and denied the right to an overseas vote because I am not a civil servant, armed personnel or student.
In the year 2012 we live in a global community where information technology, global travel and migration have made the world a much smaller place than it was 20 years ago.
Why then do we clamour to disenfranchise those who dare to live outside the boundaries of that part of the world where they happen to have been born. Is that not wrong?
A democracy should function by tapping the communal wisdom of its members, rather than as described by Bakri, a method of choosing a tax plan.
In the absence of that, excluding those with the nous to live abroad, is a weakening of that democratic process.
Following his argument, if the timid were unable to seek 'greener pastures', we should expect to have a government with poorly thought out policies cowing the remaining populace, eroding their backbone, much like the example he draws about Malaysian student activity currently being severely curtailed and heavily regulated by the government.
Is that the 1Malaysia we aspire to build? Does it not take courage to demand representation?
One of the slogans associated with the American Revolution was "No taxation without representation". Americans in the thirteen colonies were governed by the British Parliament and paid tax to the Government, but had no representation in that government.
The argument that the Malaysian diaspora living abroad must not have the right to vote because they don't pay tax is unreasonable. It means they must not have a say.
It makes them less Malaysian than those back home, it demeans their personal contribution, if any in terms of remittances, purchases, properties and investments in Malaysia. And in most instances, these are taxed.
If there was no Malaysian diaspora, there would not be a Malaysia in the world. We would continue to be the postcolonial backwater, an afterthought, a faraway place no one goes to or hears of, an idyllic Malaya, a jungly Borneo, a perfunctory footnote in some dusty library book in some distant place, somewhere.
There is nothing wrong in living abroad, and nothing to lose by allowing Malaysians overseas to vote for the representatives they wish to run the government.
Restricting the right to vote is the thin end of the wedge, the catalyst that would drive Malaysians into deeper apathy about the government, and the road to serfdom.
Without the ballot box, we don't have a voice, if we don't speak up now, we will be unable to speak later. And in Bakri's piece, it would seem that those allowed to vote, should be just those who pay tax.
And that may or may not include university students, rural farmers and fishermen, the young, the very old, the infirm, the disabled, and of course, those living and working abroad.
Who is to say that the right to vote could be restricted to far narrower categories? Or even curtailed by lack of papers, application forms, or any process and prejudice that disenfranchises Malaysians?
Who is to say that the right to vote in Malaysia could not be limited further? Today, we can read of instances of immigrants obtaining legal Mykad. What does that mean to genuine Malaysians?
In a nutshell, we vote in representatives to run the government and serve the people. We must aspire to become a liberal democracy with a government that would protect our rights, and uphold the institutions of state to the highest standards.
A democracy that is just and fair and not one limited by a personal tax plan, or residency.