To gauge the responses of Sarawakian voters with voting addresses in Sarawak but working and studying outside the state to absentee voting reforms, Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat recently ran an online public survey that was shared over social media.
Of the five questions asked, one asked whether they would come back to vote in the coming state election. The number of respondents undecided about coming back to vote outnumbered the ones who plan to return: 40.3% answered “maybe“ and only 36.1% answered “yes“.
This is not a complete surprise. One of the obvious reasons is the prohibitive cost of travel to their home state. It is worth repeating this known fact: the South China Sea separates East Malaysia from Peninsular Malaysia, and air travel is expensive compared to overland travel.
A normal weekend return flight to Miri from Kuala Lumpur costs at least RM800. Many need further overland travel to other towns or kampungs. Those in Bario, Baram require four-wheel drives that cost RM250 per person per trip not to mention the travel time required to and fro. As such, Sarawakians voters will probably save their annual leave for festive season travel.
An overwhelming 91.7% of the respondents hope to see the Electoral Commission implement a policy to allow voters to vote out-of-region. They said they would support such an initiative or procedural changes that would allow them to do so.
Of the 72 respondents who responded to this survey, most are working and living in West Malaysian states followed by Sabah and a few overseas respondents like Hong Kong and Australia.
We are heartened to know that absentee voting reform is on the Electoral Commission’s reform agenda. We are also aware it is looking into the matter including the various options to allow East Malaysians, in particular Sarawakians, to vote out-of-region if they are living, working or studying in West Malaysia or Sabah.
It is the constitutional duty of the Electoral Commission to realise the voting rights of all Malaysians, especially those on this side of the South China Sea who have to seek a livelihood in West Malaysia due to a lack of economic opportunities in our own state.
The upcoming Sarawak state elections (which occurs separately from the general election) is a good time for the Electoral Commission to roll out its reform plan and adopt a strategy to enfranchise Sarawak voters. This can be done by setting up of voting centres in identified cities and towns in West Malaysia and Sabah or through postal voting – preceded of course by changes in the regulations and rules.