WHAT a momentous time for Malaysia. As I am currently overseas, I grasped a new meaning of homesickness over the past week.
Let’s recap. With final examinations scheduled for late April and no news of a polling date then, I applied as a postal voter in January.
My e-mail to the Elections Commission was dated Jan 28 and I received an “acknowledgment of receipt” e-mail on the same day.
The next e-mail stating that my application as a postal voter was approved was dated Feb 16.
I had a smoother experience than most, with many fellow students citing that their applications were rejected, necessitating them to reapply.
On Whatsapp, we assured each other that we would not have our rights stolen from us and that we could trust the mechanisms of the electoral system.
Those who had to reapply eventually had their applications approved and we all waited anxiously for nomination day, as we had been informed that our ballots would be posted to us after that date.
April 28 came and went. Every day, I would anxiously peek at my mailbox, knowing that I didn’t have much time to courier my ballot back to meet the deadline of 5pm on May 9, feeling an increasing tinge of panic as the days went by.
On social media, I observed how fellow Malaysians banded together to overcome the challenges of voting on a Wednesday.
Initiatives like #UndiRabu and #PulangMengundi assisted with costs and logistics for those who had to travel to vote.
Friends who owned businesses decided to close shop and lose profit just to allow their workers to return to their hometowns to vote, while overseas voters resorted to “runners” – fellow Malaysians who were strangers turned constitutional rights postmen – flying back with numerous ballot papers to be hand-delivered to our returning officers or posted via PosLaju from back home.
It should not have been this hard. Worse, my mailbox remained empty. I only received an SMS from FedEx on May 5, that my ballot papers were scheduled to arrive on May 8.
I cannot coherently describe my feelings on that day – part of me was so angry that I was naïve enough to have believed in a system I had been sceptical of in the past.
The other part of me was judgmental of every Malaysian I knew, who decided to give up their voting rights by not voting or were one of the 3.5 million eligible Malaysians who had yet to register to vote.
One really does not know the value of something until one has lost it and personally, I lost my rights as a Malaysian that day.
My ballot papers finally arrived on May 10, with the time stamp stating that it was only posted on May 4.
As I exchanged Whatsapp messages with friends back home on the dawn of democracy in Malaysia, I could only sit alone and cry more than 10,000km away.
I could not even be physically present or provide a literal contribution by voting for a country I love with all my heart, my very own tanahair.
While Malaysia seems to have pressed a reset button, there still exists the need to shift entrenched mindsets.
As the postal ballot process showed, Malaysians band together when pressured to overcome all odds, yet we must not let the systematic issues be bygones.
The inefficiencies of the EC must be addressed immediately. We need to set a four-year deadline towards automatic voter registration once a citizen is eligible, table an act in Parliament to reduce voting age to 18 and move towards a digitalised voting system in time for the next election.
We must have a non-partisan, efficient, gender-balanced and inclusive EC.
We must no longer make it hard for our own citizens to exercise their voting rights.
As a Malaysian citizen studying at a School of Government, I have learned that it takes more than politicians and policymakers to uphold good governance.
To paraphrase Rosseau, “(Citizens are) free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as they are elected it is enslaved, it is nothing. The use it makes of its freedom during the brief moments it has it, fully warrants its losing it.”
We learnt that we could change our Government on May 9, but we must never forget that the power to provide checks and balances lies with us.
Critical analysis, constructive criticism and contributions towards a Malaysia we can be proud of should be our mission from now on. This Ramadan, let us reflect on the nation we want to be part of.
We still have a lot of work to do. We can start by celebrating our diversity and finally admitting that no matter our ethnic origins, we are all Malaysians.
The writer looks forward to the inflight announcement by MAS, “for the Malaysians, welcome home”. It will be the sweetest homecoming.