LONDON, 30 Apr 2013: While voting in London went relatively smoothly on 28 April, some voters discovered a printed full-stop after the name of a candidate in their ballot papers.
Koh Lay Chin found one such dot on her ballot for the Kampung Tunku state assembly seat, although her parliamentary ballot for Petaling Jaya Utara was clean.
“We weren’t allowed to have new ballots,” Koh said. “The observers and polling agents told us later the EC (Election Commission) and embassy staff there couldn’t do anything about it.
“I’m going to write official complaint letters to all concerned.”
Koh was informed by an official that the dot was a typo and was told to ignore it.
According to exit pollsters, there were five or six such complaints from Petaling Jaya Utara voters. The exit polls were conducted by volunteers affiliated with Bersih and MyOverseasVote. They recorded voters’ parliamentary choices by constituency, in an effort to monitor potential fraud.
Besides the marked ballots, the main blemish on the day’s voting was the waiting time, which took up to six hours for some voters. At around 5.30pm, when fewer than 500 out of the almost 900 voters present had cast their ballots, another channel was opened for voters who wished to collect their ballot papers without completing and submitting them on the spot, thus expediting the process.
Queue numbers were no longer distributed after 8 pm as scheduled, and those with the latest queue numbers cast their ballots at around 11 pm. Commendably, consular staff remained attentive and good-natured throughout. They had provided a waiting room and a stall selling Malaysian food.
Despite the long waits in progressively chilly weather, as well as uncertainties expressed by some about the voting paperwork and the security of postal ballots, the overall mood outside the High Commission was upbeat. Many appeared excited, especially those voting for the first time.
Overseas voting on 28 April took place exactly one year after the 85 Bersih 3.0 rallies held in 35 countries. It was also three years to the day since a group of London-based Malaysians commissioned a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the restrictions on voting for Malaysians living abroad. This led to the establishment of MyOverseasVote, which joined forces with Global Bersih and other civil-society groups in campaigning for the right to vote from abroad.
On Sunday morning, UK-based Malaysians exercising this newly affirmed right began to gather at the High Commission roughly an hour before balloting was set to begin. Voters came from all over the UK from as far as Edinburgh, and from nearby countries such as Norway. A group from Cardiff and a number of students in Nottingham had chartered buses for the day.
Volunteers were on hand to explain the voting process. Three minivans parked across the street from the High Commission bore Barisan Nasional flags, while a lorry carried a Parti Keadilan Rakyat flag. A noticeable portion of those present were wearing yellow Bersih T-shirts or other yellow garments.
Overseas postal voters in London represented a small fraction of the 41,495 Malaysian passport holders enumerated in the 2011 UK census. This mirrors the 6,360 registered overseas postal voters among an estimated one million diasporic Malaysians worldwide.
Some have attributed the low numbers to shortcomings in the registration process. Moreover, a number of full-time students who had previously applied for absent-voter status had been rejected without explanation.
Any Malaysians who have registered for overseas postal votes are still entitled to collect their ballot papers from the respective diplomatic missions up to the date of the general election, although they are individually responsible for ensuring that their ballots reach their constituencies’ returning officers by 5pm on 5 May, whether by post or through family or friends.
Many other Malaysian voters living and working abroad are planning to return to vote on 5 May, due in part to the advocacy of civil society movement Jom Balik Undi.