Should voting in general elections be made mandatory?

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File photograph: Malay Mail Online

The proportional representation system should be introduced and voter registration should be made easier, says Benedict Lopez.

Frequently, we hear about elections where people are concerned about a low voter turnout. In many countries, people see voting as optional, and in most elections, a good number of voters choose to abstain from voting.

The apathy among people in many countries in exercising their constitutional right is indeed alarming. Citizens should be morally obligated to cast their votes in any election, be it a federal level general election or even a local council election.

But what if voting was not a choice, but a duty that was legally binding on everyone? It is not bizarre as it may seem from the outset. In fact, many countries have some form of compulsory voting.

Reinforcing the argument for obligatory voting is that it leads to considerably higher voter turnouts.

Let’s take a look at a country not too far away: Australia, where voting is mandatory. Prior to the implementation of compulsory voting in 1924, the voter turnout rate there had slumped considerably to around 47% of all eligible voters. When voting was made mandatory, the turnout rose to more than 80% of eligible voters.

With the Malaysian general election expected in the next few months, it is important for all Malaysians to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

It is the ethical responsibility for every citizen to vote out of concern for the nation. Any citizen who does not vote, apart from those with good reason, should not complain about problems confronting the country – nor should they participate in any political discourse.

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After nomination day and prior to polling day, voters should prudently scrutinise the credentials of the various candidates and decide who will best serve them as their elected representatives.

Voters should also take into account everything that has transpired in the country since the last general election. Taking all factors into account is important as the X placed on the ballot paper should be considered sacrosanct.

Now and then, I hear people complaining about so many things in the country, but when I ask some of them whether they have voted, they say they are not even registered as voters.

Many eligible voters adopt a lackadaisical attitude, and some even espouse a nonsensical view at times – that their one vote will not make a difference!

A past US President, John Quincy Adams, once said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

General elections in all countries should be based on the proportional representation system – only then, will the genuine voices of the people be effectively gauged – and definitely not through simple-majority rule or the first-past-the-post system.

National consensus can only be determined in Parliament under a proportional representation system. Under this system, governments can in no way be implicated in gerrymandering of parliamentary constituencies.

My personal view is that the Election Act should be amended to make voting in a general election a compulsory requirement for all citizens. And the government will have to ensure that citizens living overseas, especially those residing far away from Malaysian embassies, get the opportunity to vote in a general election.

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Domestically, the government should ensure that all necessary arrangements should be made for those living and working far away from their parliamentary constituencies to be able to vote.

The opportunity to vote should also be made for citizens in hospitals, retirement homes and those confined to their homes. Voting for these citizens can be a few days before polling day.

The government should come up with a new mechanism to attract new voters as the present process of registration is cumbersome for many citizens.

To facilitate registration, citizens should be allowed to sign up at more convenient locations like post offices, city halls, district offices, selected government agencies and public locations like shopping malls.

The Electoral Commission should also send its personnel in vans to residential areas, offices, universities, colleges and other strategic locations as a measure to facilitate voter registration. Registration of voters should be an ongoing exercise carried out throughout the year.

Many of the younger generation these days are IT-savvy, and therefore the Electoral Commission should allow online registration. In the US, online registration is allowed in 31 states and the District of Columbia. With the advent of information and communications technology, a citizen should be allowed to vote even one day after registration.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Jayna Valen
9 Feb 2018 12.00pm

Excellent article. What concerns me is the lack of ethics that still goes on when it comes to elections in Malaysia. I had friends who volunteered at various ballot stations to count votes, and they told me of ‘last minute’ mysterious boxes full of votes that (allegedly) came in way past the eleventh hour, accompanied by heavily armoured military personnel, after the ballot counting was complete and it was clear that the opposition had won. The recount (allegedly) skewed the results dramatically. I wish things could be made completely transparent so people have more faith in the system.

PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
9 Feb 2018 9.27pm
Reply to  Jayna Valen

Precisely. Even with a PR voting system, if the if the vote counting and allocation process is not clean now, with it be clean with a PR voting system. In fact it could be more prone to manipulation, given the complexity of the PR vote counting and allocation system.

PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
7 Feb 2018 12.05pm

You can download this pamphlet in PDF which better illustrates how STV PR voting works.

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/What-is-STV.pdf

PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
7 Feb 2018 12.00pm

Here is an example of a proportional representation voting technique called Single Transferable Vote which is advocated by the Electoral Reform Society.

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voting-systems/types-of-voting-system/single-transferable-vote/

PR voting has been used in the UK but not yet in parliamentary elections.

PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss+(a.k.a.+IT.Scheiss)
7 Feb 2018 11.49am

I don’t support making voting mandatory and it will not solve issues such as heavy Gerrymandering.

Besides this, the other ideas here,such as for proportional representation, are good but that requires a government to have a two-thirds majority in parliament and right now the BN government does not and even if Pakatan wins GE14 it may not have a two-thirds majority.

Also, are either BN or Pakatan component parties committed to implement proportional representation?

How many BN or Pakatan politicians support proportional representation.

The Electoral Reform Society in the UK has been advocating for a PR voting system for decades.
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/electoral-reform/

But no success yet.