With postal voting for the general election available to Malaysians living in Singapore for the first time, a group of volunteers in Singapore is assisting the process for those living and working across the causeway.
Since last Friday (Nov. 11), more than 20 volunteers from the 1ThirdMedia Movement, a non-governmental organisation supported by the Malaysian youth democracy movement Undi18, have been stationed throughout Singapore to collect thousands of postal voting slips.
All of these ballots were tallied yesterday and brought back to Malaysia, where they must be delivered to the main sorting facility in Kuala Lumpur before being dispatched to the appropriate returning offices around Malaysia by 5 p.m. on polling day, November 19.
35-year-old volunteer Calvin Ong reported that 8,500 votes have been cast as of Wednesday and anticipate the final count to be closer to 10,000.
For the first time ever, Singaporean residents in Malaysia are permitted to vote in a general election by mail. Postal voting was previously only allowed for nations without land borders with Malaysia. However, eligibility has subsequently been expanded to include Malaysian citizens residing in Thailand, Brunei, and Kalimantan in Indonesia.
Prior to the Melaka State Election last year, the regulation amendment was made.
“What we are is an alternative platform for those who got their votes super late,” said Mr Ong. “We will make sure that every vote that we collect is returned to the returning office on time, safely, and make sure that they are not read,” Today quoted Calvin as saying.
Rachel Lau, a 27-year-old accountant from Malaysia who lives and works in Singapore, decided to use the service after receiving her ballot on Monday, barely five days before election day.
It was too expensive to fly on election weekend, she said, so she ultimately decided against going back to her hometown of Ipoh, Perak, to cast her ballot.
She said that postal voting was her second-best option, but she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to return the ballot in time through a courier service, so she turned to the 1ThirdMedia Movement for assistance.
On Tuesday night, she met a volunteer at a McDonald’s location in the Clementi Mall and observed a group of perhaps 10 to 15 others there casting their votes as well. She said that the entire procedure cost nothing and only took a few minutes.
Chuah Loo Yee, a 23-year-old Malaysian resident of Singapore, claimed to have gotten her postal ballot in the mail on Friday and to have returned it back to Malaysia using an express courier service. She didn’t learn about the proposal until after she had paid S$33 to have her vote returned.
The five-hour bus travel from Singapore to Ms. Chuah’s birthplace of Kota Raja, Selangor, where she works in the food and beverage industry, was too time-consuming, she claimed.
“It’s still worth it, because it’s our duty to vote,” she said in response to a question about how she felt about paying the equivalent of RM110 to cast one vote. “If everyone overseas thinks that voting is too troublesome and that they shouldn’t vote, then the power of the vote will diminish and it won’t help Malaysia.”
Other voters split on whether to return
While postal voting has provided Malaysians with a singular opportunity to cast their votes remotely, other Malaysians living in Singapore who did not select this option were undecided about whether to travel back to Malaysia to vote.
Three of the six Malaysians residing in Singapore who TODAY spoke with said they were either undecided or would not be returning to vote, while the other three indicated they would.
According to Ms. Luckneswary, a sales representative at a yoga studio, she will return to her Selangor constituency to cast her vote after taking two to three days of annual leave.
She said that she is excited to vote, as the competition between parties is more heated than ever.
“It’s my right and I want to go vote for the party which deserves my vote,” said the 28-year-old.
Agreeing, 29-year-old Fan Kar Jon, who works in Singapore as a public policy manager in a consultancy, said that he will be taking Friday off to travel back to Johor Bahru to vote.
“It is a civic duty and every vote will help to signal what Malaysians want for the future of the country – the chance does not come around often,” he said.
Others were still undecided and would decide based on external factors on polling day.
Mr. Jerry Ng, a sales assistant at a mobile phone repair store, said that whether the Causeway is congested on election day and whether he can get a bus ticket back to Johor Bahru will determine whether he returns to vote.
“If I can buy a bus ticket then I’ll go back, if not, then never mind,” said the 27-year-old.
Malaysians living overseas more divided on whether to vote than in previous elections, say experts
According to experts, the desire to vote during these elections may have diminished compared to the previous elections, when many Malaysians residing abroad felt obliged to do so.
It is statistically proven, according to Dr. Francis Hutchinson, senior fellow and coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, that when more Malaysians who have lived abroad return to cast ballots, the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, will experience a swing in support (PH).
In the 2018 elections, he continued, there were a lot of votes cast from across the border because people felt that it was a “fundamental election” that was significant for the nation.
“Now, while there are certain groups of voters who think still that (the elections are important), there has been so much transition between different administrations, it’s hard to pick out who has done what, and then the Sheraton Move has made voters feel disenfranchised,” he said.
The Sheraton Move was a political ploy in early 2020 that resulted in numerous important figures leaving the incumbent PH, leading to the PH government’s collapse.
He added that increasing transportation costs and the ever-present concern of getting Covid-19 may further deter overseas voters who are still undecided from casting their ballots.
Although there are no official statistics on the number of Malaysians who live and work in Singapore, a June article in Malaysia’s The Sun claimed that 900,000 Malaysians are employed there, with roughly 300,000 of them making the daily commute.
Indeed, due to the political turmoil over the past two years, Mohammad Saifuldin, who works as a barber at Queensway Shopping Centre, said that he is not sure if he wants to return Johor Bahru to vote.
While he travelled home to vote in the 2018 elections, he is now unsure of which party to cast his vote for and as such is not sure if he will bother to travel home this time round.
“I also don’t know who to vote for. Now it’s very hard to trust the parties,” said the 41-year-old.
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