The Borneo Post column below reflect another ignorance on automatic voter registration: The EC -despite its many weaknesses, had at least brought up the proposal twice before. Both shot down by UMNO leaders-who are fearful of the 5 mil new voters who may not support them! But can that be a good reason for stopping the voting rights of 5 mil citizens? Claiming that they don’t want to `force’ voting rights on the citizens is not convincing: the Constitution laready give voting rights to all citizens-only the administrative requirement of registering as voters is holding them back from enjoying that important right. UMNO must answer the question or face backlash from the registered voters over the issue.
Automatic registration and compulsory voting — an effort to put democracy on firm footing in Malaysia
August 15, 2010, Sunday(Borneo Post’s column-no author)
FROM the Election Commission has come the latest revelation that nearly 500,000 Sarawakians are not yet on the electoral roll and will not be able to cast their votes during the next state election. If I may add, should there be simultaneous elections, state and federal, a distinct possibility, this year or early next year, these citizens will miss the chance to choose their representatives to the state and federal legislative bodies.For the next four or five years, issues of importance relating to the economy, education, security, corruption and a host of other problems will continue to dominate daily discussions. It is a pity that those who cannot be bothered to register, let alone vote, have not thought of the importance of finding ways and means together through the ballot box by either voting in a new government or returning to power the incumbent.
It would be too late for them to complain after the event if the government is being dictatorial once it is elected; it will be futile for them to go out in the hot sun to protest against all manner of ills in the country.
Won’t it be better to protest with a ballot paper in your hand in the comfort of a room surrounded by smiling policemen, so different from those of the FRU and those handling the water cannons?
Within the four corners of that room, you are the only person to decide what is good for yourself, or family, or the country; you are the person to choose among the candidates whom you trust will deliver your protests. You are the one to pull the governing parties down if you have not been happy with their performance, or to put them back again if they have done a good job of governing and serving your interests.
Unfortunately for you, being outside that room, you miss the first opportunity to express your protests through the ballot box, and if the new government does something not to your liking, you can sulk until you are blue in the face, but nobody would give two hoots.
We are tempted to dismiss this apparent ‘tidakapathy’ as part of democracy too — the right not to make a choice — but that right should be used wisely, to one’s advantage.
Reasons for not enrolling as voters
The Election Commission has made a discovery of several causes why these Sarawakians have not enrolled as voters: they lack interest in political affairs, they do not know how to go about getting registered; they have no time to spare, or in the Commission’s words, are simply lazy.
Past appeals by the Commission through various media for eligible voters to get on the register have been largely ignored. The latest exercise at the Kuching Waterfront was one of many attempts at drawing the attention of the public to the importance of voter registration. Why not try similar exercises in the longhouses and villages and see the response?
Again back to square one, everything is left to the voters.
Why not try this?
Make registration of voters automatic — my humble suggestion, for what it is worth.
At one stroke, all those four million Malaysians, including those Sarawakians, who have attained the voting age of 21 years will be brought onto the roll as a matter of right.
Of course, there must be legislation to legitimise all this; leave the details to the appropriate authorities such as the Election Commission to propose the idea to the politicians in power and people who will draft the bill for Parliament to pass into law.
I don’t think the Opposition will not vote for such a bill. Even if they do, it will be passed by the current parliament easily because it is not a piece of legislation about any amendment to the Federal Constitution, hence does not require the two thirds majority of votes of parliamentarians.
For good measure, make voting at elections compulsory as well.
Malaysia would not be the only country to do so; one example is on the other end of the Causeway, Singapore, and another, four to eight hours away by the fastest plane, Australia. From these two countries, fellow members of the Commonwealth of Nations, we can learn the mechanics of compulsory voting as well as its advantages and pitfalls.
Of course, like many things we do in Malaysia, we must employ consultants or experts to write feasibility papers for discussion at seminars before the relevant ministers are overwhelmed with voluminous recommendations for them to digest and convert into practicable policies, if at all.
Here, I’m assuming that this idea of mandatory voting has not been thought of before this. If the Election Commission has done it, fine. Then why not introduce it soon, before the next election, if at all possible? Or do we want it to be an election issue?
In Australia, I was told by a housewife — whom I asked last week if she would be voting for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott — that while she had not made up her mind whom to vote for, she must cast her vote, failing which she would be fined for A$250 (about RM750). I had no time to verify this fact, taking her for her word for it, absolutely.
Compulsory voting might just work here; give it a try lah!
As we have been using the laboratories for almost every project undertaken, so would it not be possible also with the reform to the electoral system? Isn’t it necessary for us to monitor or measure our political progress so that we can maintain and sustain our democratic government for a long time to come before we decide to move out to another planet as suggested by Professor Stephen Hawkings this week.
A message to those half a million eligible voters in Sarawak is that the next state election is crucial in terms of how the state will benefit from all the great plans outlined and underlined by the present government. They should ask if there is anything they can do to help in implementing those plans. Also ask, “What’s there in it for me?”
The other Sarawakians are hoping they will do justice to their own state by exercising their rights to choose the people to run it. Stakes are high and it would be a shame if they preferred to remain non-voting citizens out of choice.
Sarawakians are, by and large, law abiding. There’s just a wee bit of inconvenience of finding time to register as voters to begin with. I’m suggesting they will vote at the next state election if required by law, assuming that the above suggestions — automatic registration and compulsory voting — become a reality in the not too distant future.
Local government elections
Talking about elections, it is high time we had local council elections in Sarawak, even though the rest of the country, except Penang, does not want them. Sarawak can revisit this democratic practice by which we became independent before Malaysia and elected our first post-colonial government and produced a chief minister, Kalong Ningkan.
Do you think that Sarawak would have a ministerial system without that brief independence we enjoyed just before Malaysia? All our ministers would only have been called excos.
Though backtracking for some 30 years, it is worth revisiting for the good of the state in the long run and for democracy here to be on firm footing.
I wrote something about this subject on March 28 and as a result of some useful feedback, the suggestion is repeated here. Hopefully someone may take note of it and ponder on the electoral scenario in Sarawak in the years to come.