Granting of citizenship and the electoral rolls

There seems to be a sudden move by the National Registration Department to register foreigners as citizens, notes Angeline Loh.

Civil servants, defence ministry officials and MCMC staff were present during the sitting of the Parliamentary Select Committee at Dewan Sri Pinang

Many complaints have arisen in connection with voter registration. Some of these touch upon the issue of foreign nationals being fast-tracked for citizenship in this country with a right to vote in the anticipated 13th General Elections. Granting citizenship to foreign nationals permanently resident in the country is legally acceptable and normal in most countries, including Malaysia.

But there seems to be a sudden move by the National Registration Department to register permanent residents holding red ICs (identity cards) and allegedly foreign nationals who may be resident in Malaysia for a short time or who are ineligible for citizenship or permanent residence as citizens. Opposition party members also claim that the granting of blue ICs to red IC holders was done within a few hours in one day.

There are also allegations that the 6P registration exercise of ‘undocumented’ migrants in this country has been abused, with some foreign nationals requested to sign an oath to vote for the ruling party in exchange for citizenship of this country.

Adding to this controversy was an announcement allegedly by the Bangladeshi Government that Malaysia agreed to grant citizenship to Bangladeshi citizens currently in Malaysia. In 1937, a similar deal was made between the Government in India and the Malayan Colonial Administration. Migration is also a known strategy to combat poverty in less developed countries.

Governments can legitimately take the above measures in regulating migration into the country, but any fast-tracked grant of citizenship is inappropriate at a time close to holding a general election. The sudden jump in the number of eligible voters in the country without a properly scrutinised and monitored electoral roll throws suspicion on the motives of the government in granting citizenship to PRs in Malaysia and possibly newer migrants in the country.

The electoral roll is still plagued with serious errors and there seems to be no sensible method to distinguish the authenticity of the current supplementary electoral rolls by any citizen or political party.

The fundamental cause of this confusion and allegations of malpractice still under investigation by various parties, including the government, is the lack of a comprehensive and proper immigration system. Laws need to be updated to cater for some of the current categories of migrants i.e. migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees.

Despite the on-going registration for biometric data collection, it is still too early to identify specific groups of migrants or permanent residents eligible for Malaysian citizenship. No proper transparent system of identification and processing of citizenship applications exists yet.

Recommendations

Granting citizenship should be immediately terminated in the run-up to the general election.

The ‘new citizens’ should not be permitted an immediate right to vote in the pending general elections. They can be eligible to vote in subsequent general elections.

A proper and transparent Immigration and Citizenship application processing system be set up.

Police and Armed Forces personnel with non-civilian IC numbers should use only this identification number for their voter registration unless they have left the armed forces or police service. However, the NRD should maintain a record of their civilian IC numbers.

Angeline Loh is an Aliran executive committee member

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Angeline Loh
Angeline Loh, a former long-serving Aliran executive committee member, writes regularly for Aliran. WIth a background in international human rights law, she champions the rights of those who are often forgotten or marginalised in society.

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