There are 4.2 million Malaysians who are eligible to vote but they have not registered. And the number of new voters is rather dismal.
IF you are organising a run, rock concert, football matches, tournaments or festivals – basically anything which draws a crowd – the Election Commission (EC) would like to come in and register new voters there.
EC chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Hashim Abdullah is urging organisers of such events to inform them of the date, venue and number of people expected and “we will do the rest.”
“They don’t have to arrange anything. They just need to let us know and we will send a team over to register new voters. Registered voters can also alert us of their change of address and check voting details there,” he says in an interview.
He points out that during a marathon, football match or even a rock concert, the whole place will be full of people.
“Maybe a number of them are not registered as voters. And we want to tap into the four million unregistered voters. We want to come to the people.
We have never done this before. We want to do it now. ”
As of the end of June 2016 (the second quarter of the year) there are 13,622,143 registered voters on the electoral roll.
In the last general election (2013), the number of registered voters was 13,268,002 –which means that over the last three years, there has been an increase of 354,141 voters.
On average, there were less than 120,000 new voters registered a year.
Since there are 4.2 million Malaysians who are eligible voters but have yet to register, the number of new voters seem rather dismal.
Mohd Hashim attributes this to a lack of awareness.
“We did a survey to find out why they had not registered as voters and we found that these people take things for granted. They feel it is not a problem if they don’t vote.
“But we want everyone who is eligible to be part of the democratic process to cast their vote.”
He calls on families to do their bit by encouraging their members to register once they reach 21 years of age.
“If families don’t tell them to register once they reach the voting age, chances are they won’t,” he says.
In the first and second quarter of the year, about 81% of those who registered were young, between the ages of 21 and 29. A huge chunk of those unregistered are youths.
In the past, political parties were allowed to register new voters.
Being in the ‘business’ of politics, the political parties certainly helped boost the numbers.
“But there were many problems,” says Mohd Hashim, declining to reveal what these were.
So from 2013, EC stopped allowing political parties to register new voters while it “re-looked the whole voter registration process’’.
In September last year, it reaffirmed its decision not to allow political parties to register new voters.
“But we allow NGOs to carry out the registration exercise. For example, the Persatuan Silat has many members and they asked if they could register new voters and we said okay. We will also allow the Persatuan Perahu Layar to register new voters. But not political parties.’’
Mohd Hashim says it is a trend that after an election, the number of people turning up to register as voters is low.
“It starts to pick up about two years before the next general election. At this time, we see the numbers increasing very quickly.
“Sometimes, when a message goes viral that elections are going to called soon, like what happened recently, then all of a sudden, there will be a mad rush to register.
“Waiting till the last minute to register seems to be the culture of our people!’’
If, for example, elections are to be held in April 2017, EC will use the electoral roll of December 2016 (the last quarter of the year) as reference provided there are not many objections involving the names of those registered and the electoral roll has been declared clean and gazetted, he says.
He says it usually takes four to five months for the roll to be gazetted, and this is done quarterly.
During elections, attention on some states are more intense because of the fierce battle for hot seats there.
Interestingly, in the second quarter of this year, the highest number of new voters were from Kelantan (13,021), Terengganu (11,299), Selangor (10,557) and Johor (10,118).
In the first quarter, Johor recorded the highest number of new voters at 12,727, Selangor came in second with 9,744 and Kelantan pulled in 9,365 and Sarawak 8,851.
And the lowest number of new voters registered in the second quarter and first quarter is in Putrajaya (197 for the second quarter and 147 in the first) and Labuan (136 for the second quarter and 56 for the first).
Mohd Hashim says the low number in Putrajaya and Labuan is because of their small population.
Some states recorded the highest number of voters registered due to many factors including a more aggressive push to register voters by the commission, political parties and NGOs, he says.
Of the 4.2 million unregistered voters, 1.8 million or 43% are Malays.
Mohd Hashim says this group has not registered possibly because some felt “comfortable” so there was no need to go out and vote while others just did not want to get involved in the political process.
“For us in the EC, we don’t look at ethnicity when registering voters. We want to pull everyone in so that all can cast their votes regardless of race.”
One of the issues that always crops up during elections are allegations of phantom voters.
EC has always denied its existence, saying these are legitimate registered voters who have gone elsewhere to live and work and during elections, they come home or to their registered voting place to cast their vote.
“Our biggest problem is public perception. People cast their vote but they don’t know what happens before and after, so they tend to believe it when people claim that ballot boxes are getting stuffed, stolen or switched.”
Mohd Hashim says EC will make a video of the election process to enable the people understand what happens behind the scenes; that each political party contesting the seat has a list of registered voters and each voter must produce his MyKad before he is allowed to vote; that each candidate has an agent in the voting and counting centre who keeps a close watch on the ballot papers.
“There is no way we can cheat.”