Saturday, May 4, 2013

Will Malaysians vote for change?


Most voting in Malaysia's election will be on Sunday, but those who have already voted include hundreds of Malaysians living in Australia.

Malaysia's 13th general election on Sunday is expected to be one of the closest in the nation's history.
The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, headed by the United Malays National Organisation. is among the world's longest-serving governments.
But the previous election in 2008 saw the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance deny UMNO of the two-thirds majority that it had held in the federal parliament since independence from Britain in 1957.
And there are predictions that this time, Pakatan Rakyat could come even closer to winning.
Malaysia's Election Commission says the country has about 13-million registered voters.
About 40 per cent of them are young people, many of them eligible to vote for the first time on Sunday.
Voting is not compulsory in Malaysia. 
But observers say there's been a high level of interest in this year's election, and the participation rate could be high.
Some voting has already taken place, with registered voters overseas able to vote at Malaysian diplomatic missions for the first time this year.
SBS Radio caught up with some of the voters who turned up at the Malaysian consulate in Melbourne.
Although they had to wait as long as five hours to vote, many said they felt that this general election is significant.
"I think this is really a very crucial general election. It's shaping how Malaysia will look like in the future to become a more democratic country or become lesser democratic...Me and my wife, we migrated because we didn't feel very optimistic about Malaysia's future so now this is the first time we feel there's a good chance to make any change so that's why I am here to vote...Everyone's hoping for a change for the country so everyone's votes is very important. And with the right vote. Probably we'll have a bright future for our future generation...There's a very tight race. So that's why I think this is so important because we [want] the change so desparately...I think its very exciting. Maybe this one is really a special one, looking at the numbers, the fact that there's actually a very close call between whether the ruling party or the opposition party would win. So that's probably the reason why a lot of people are excited to vote, including myself...I feel relieved because I have [fulfilled] my responsibility as [a] Malaysian citizen. Last time it was different. I think one vote maybe doesn't make a lot of [difference]. But this time, one vote does."
 Voting was available at three locations in Australia - at the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra, as well as the country's consulates in Melbourne and Perth,
 Around 17-hundred Malaysians in Australia took advantage of the opportunity, with Melbourne the most popular.
Some people travelled from Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane to vote in Melbourne.
Law graduate, Vigita Soh, drove 21 hours from Brisbane to cast his vote, feeling there may be a mood for change in Malaysia.
"Definitely means a lot to me because I believe that there will be change. It's possible. It's not impossible. Whereas, last time you don't feel like [it's] possible. This time, there's something. You can feel it. It's in social media, with the people that you talk to, at least in my group circles."
Kwong Djee Chan, who's a lecturer at Griffith University in Brisbane, decided to take an early flight to Melbourne to vote.
At the age of 42, he says this is first time voting, because there is something different about this election.
"I never thought that my vote makes any difference because of how the situation was in Malaysia, but for the past 5 years because of the changes and information on the sociitled to tal media you just feel that there is opportunity. There's this momentum building and that there is possibility that there can be a change. And that's why I decided to take the move and take out the time and all the effort to come and vote because I want to see some changes in our country."
PHD Student at RMIT University in Melbourne, Kevin Hii, was too late to register to vote but showed up to share the historic moment with his friends.
He believes social media has helped raise awareness among young people about the election.
"It's very exciting. Especially in today's climate because you've got social media, you've got the internet. Everbody's in tune. There's a huge discussion. There's a huge forum. I sort of feel like I may have missed out because I see all my friends going in and they've done all their research. They know what's happening. They have a very clear feeling. They say 'Ok, this is the one'.
First-time voter and 22-year-old university student Ken Low also feels that social media has boosted interest in this year's election.
"It feels like a game changer. It feels like everyone thinks differently now due to different exposures that they get from internet and other media. Like internet, internet plays a really important role because from there we can get free information compared to controlled media."
Head of the School of Arts and Social Socience of Monash University in Malaysia, James Chin thinks young voters may make the difference on Sunday.
"For most of the young voters have a very different set of values compared to the older voters or the voters from the rural areas. Things that are important to them are things like transparency, a good governance, corruption issues. So all these issues tend to look very badly for the ruling government, as you know the Barisan Nasional, the ruling party, has been in power since independence. So for many of these young voters what they want to see is a total change. They believe that in order to bring Malaysian democracy to the next level you need a total change of government."
Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia describes itself as a non-partisan group campaigning for a better Malaysia.
It sent monitors to watch the voting process at the Malaysian consulate in Melbourne.
President of the group in Australia, Praveen Nagappan, says the overall turnout at voting places overseas was small, partly because many Malaysians want to be home on Sunday.
"A huge number of Malaysians are returning home to vote just because they want to get a full feel for the atmosphere when they do go to the polling centre to cast their vote. And I think the more realistic one is there might be a trust issue and it's a matter of personal opinion."
A Saya Anak Bangsa volunteer, Kevin Tan, who has lived in Australia for six years, is one of those who's decided to fly home to vote.
He says he doesn't trust the overseas voting process.
"There is a lack of transparency on how the ballots are being transported back and how they are going to be counted so there is a worry about that."
Independent Australian Senator Nick Xenophon says he's also concerned about the credibility of Malaysia's election process.
Senator Xenophon was arrested at Kuala Lumpur airport and deported in February, after arriving for a visit that was to have included talks with opposition representatives.
He says he has doubts that Sunday's election will be fair.
"There are a whole range of issues which indicate that these elections won't be free and fair what the International Observer Mission found last year was the risk of postal vote fraud, phantom voters, of bogus voting and also stand over tactics. There's also case[s] [of] literally hundreds and thousands of people being registered as voters, when clearly they are not entitled to be, who are workers of countries. That is a big issue that could skew the election results."

~ SBS Radio, Australia

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