Malaysian students living in Australia were among the 200,000 or so diaspora voters who made extraordinary efforts including taking flights homes to get their votes counted in the recent general election.
Students used social media to find ‘runners’ who boarded flights back to Malaysia with dozens of legitimately filled out votes to get them back to the ballot boxes in time, after official delays.
The vote resulted in a historic win for former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was sworn in as the oldest prime minister in the world at 92 years old. The veteran politician came out of retirement to stand against Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was facing allegations of corruption.
Official results by the Election Commission showed that Dr Mahathir’s party, secured 113 of the 222 seats in parliament.
Around 212,384 diaspora voters were expected to participate the election via post with 3,653 of absentee voters that included university students studying abroad. But just days before the election, a number of overseas Malaysians were notified by the Election Commission about delays in receiving their postal ballots while some reportedly failed to receive theirs at all. Many of those who did receive their postal ballot were unable to get their votes back to in time Malaysia by mail.
The hunger for change and fears of repeated manipulation in votes to favour Mr Najib’s coalition in the 2013 general election prompted volunteer “runners” to collect and deliver ballot papers of fellow voters by travelling back to Malaysia.
Sheena Lim was one volunteer who collected 24 postal votes from Melbourne and took them back to Malaysia with her to be distributed onto various constituencies. It was a taxing but heartwarming journey back home.
“The ladies hugged and thanked me for helping out. We didn’t really discuss about which party we are supporting but I felt that we knew that we all wanted the same thing – change of government – we knew it without having to say it aloud.”
Facebook group “GE14: Postal Voters Discussions” was the key facilitator for postal voters. The group with over 3,000 members to date was an online hub initially created to ease the voting process. As the election date drew closer, the group was coordinating voters with runners heading back home to ensure postal votes were delivered to their respective returning officers.
The attempt was also motivated by a dismissive tweet from the Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed in response to EC’s inefficiency claims by overseas voters.
Sorry. My mistake. Number of Malaysians voting overseas is abt 8,000 and not even 0.1% of the population as i thought earlier. Dont get excited abt it pic.twitter.com/wh8211tN8U
— Nur Jazlan Mohamed (@NurJazlan) May 6, 2018
In the past, overseas voters could cast their vote at respective Malaysian embassies but the procedure was abandoned in this general election.
University of Sydney student Emily Lau only received her ballot late Monday afternoon and the cost for express shipping with DHL was a hefty $150. She found a runner travelling back to Kuala Lumpur but then had to find another runner to get her vote from KL to her electoral district in Penang. “My domestic runner drove from KL to Penang where she was going to vote. She had votes that she dropped off at Taiping, Ipoh, mainland and the island,” she said.
“My parents were at their own polling centre so she went personally to them. She even waited 10 minutes for them to finish voting before passing them my vote.”
Ms. Lau wasn’t the only one, 10 other voters entrusted Chee Wai Liew who made a 32-hour round trip from Melbourne to KL to Johor Bahru just to cast a vote in person.
It was a family affair for Mr. Liew as both his siblings returned to Malaysia just in time for the vote as well. He expressed that it was personally important to him to take part in the national affair despite costly flight tickets and a tight schedule.
The movement, almost entirely orchestrated through social media united strangers with the same enthusiasm for a change. Other than defying all odds with a successful reformation in government, the movement has galvanised the ability of trust and determination amongst Malaysians.
Ms. Lim was impressed with the complete faith handed to her by strangers eager to vote and without the simple trust, the cohesive movement would not have worked.
“It feels really good to be part of this movement, and also to know that Malaysians overseas still care about what’s going on back home,” she said.
“This system would not have worked out without trust. Trust, kindness, determination, unity – all of these virtues are displayed because of one cause. As a Malaysian, I am so proud!”
Former prime minister Najib Razak promised to respect the people’s verdict as he made his first public appearance since the defeat.
“I accept the verdict of the people, and BN is committed to respect the principles of parliamentary democracy.”
Mr Mahathir has announced a two-day public holiday following his win. However, the transition of his swearing in was just a starting point in many challenges to face. In the midst of PH’s victory, there are still promises to be fulfilled to fellow Malaysians and Mr Mahathir is well aware of that.
“There will be no holidays for the winners.”