Global outreach begins to get votes in

Thorough check: Election Commission officials cross-checking and updating the postal votes at Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan in this file photo.

PETALING JAYA: Several NGOs are working hard to ensure that everyone who can vote does so in the upcoming 15th General Election (GE15).

This includes getting Malaysians living abroad to help bring back postal votes and provide car-pooling locally on polling day for voters.

There are said to be almost two million eligible Malaysian voters living abroad. The NGOs want to convince them that their votes are important by collecting postal ballots through the Global Bersih initiative.

Several NGOs have announced initiatives to help bring back postal ballots from around the world.

Among them is Vote Malaysia, a coalition of youth organisations around the world, said Thomas Fann, chairman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih).

“They are coordinating efforts to ensure that postal ballots handed to them by overseas Malaysian voters will reach the respective returning officers by polling day,” he said.

However, while there are allowances for overseas Malaysians to cast their postal votes, no such facilities are provided for the estimated half a million Sarawakians and Sabahans living and working in Peninsular Malaysia, Fann said.

He said he has yet to hear of any initiatives to help not only overseas Malaysians to return home but also to get Sarawakians and Sabahans in the peninsula back home.

“We are certain people will announce plans once the election dates are set,” he added.

He also said he hopes that airlines will keep their fares low and not try to exploit the high demand for flights to Malaysia and from the peninsula to Sabah and Sarawak by increasing fares.

On Oct 10, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the dissolution of Parliament, paving the way for GE15 to be held within 60 days.

The Election Commission announced, also on Oct 10, that applications for domestic and international postal voting would be open immediately, while the closing date for applications would be announced after the polling date has been set on Thursday.

Global Bersih secretary-general Nirmala Devi Windgaetter said the group is facing bigger challenges now in getting overseas ballots back to Malaysia compared with GE14 in 2018.Among them, she said, is the higher cost of airlines tickets now compared with 2018, as the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed prices up drastically.

According to Windgaetter, a flight from Germany to Malaysia booked for Nov 11 costs about €1,200 (RM5,520). In October 2018, a flight from Frankfurt to Kuala Lumpur cost €341 (RM1,567), less than half today’s price.

Another issue is uncertainty over the length of the campaign period.

“The problem is that we still don’t have the polling date yet. Malaysians living abroad will only make a decision on flying back after the date is announced,” she said when contacted in Germany yesterday.

Nevertheless, she said Global Bersih is working with its networks in several major cities around the world to get overseas ballots back to Malaysia on time by reaching out to individuals travelling back to Malaysia to help carry the votes.

“We are also considering bulk express mail as a way of sending the ballots back home,” she said, adding that Bersih Global will be submitting a petition to the EC tomorrow for a longer campaigning period of between 21 and 25 days.

CarpoolGE15, an NGO set up just prior to GE14 in 2018 (when it was CarpoolGE14) to help ferry out-of-state voters home to vote, is currently working with several other groups with a similar objective.

“We know there are many voters who leave their hometowns to work in cities and in other states.

“Carpooling for voters is the only way for us to reduce traffic while saving travel costs,” a spokesperson said when contacted yesterday.

The group said that it will be working closely with #Pulang Mengundi and #KitaJagaKita teams, especially if it floods on polling day. To help with that, the group will be redirecting 4WD owners and other flood relief aid to other teams while maintaining its carpool initiative across Malaysia, the spokesperson said.

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