Dots on ballot papers mar voting in London

Koh Lay Chin

There were plenty of eager, cheerful faces by the time I got to the Malaysian High Commission in Belgrave Square, London. It was 10am, and people had been taking numbers to enter the building to cast their vote since 9am.

Everybody seemed to be in good spirits, even the embassy staff, officers and the folks with their political flags outside. The only testy ones seemed to be the British traffic cops at times, trying to contain over-excited Malaysians from spilling out onto the busy road or running across traffic.

There were people from Bersih educating others about the voting process, and volunteers conducting exit polls. There were those making videos about how happy they were to vote, and there were many catching up over the delicious Malaysian fare being sold at the commission’s little café shop downstairs. Nasi Lemak sold out quickly, with a promised restocking at 2pm.

The queue was moving slowly. They were letting in about 10 people every half an hour or so. I got my number at 10am and finally cast my vote around 1.30pm, but this was a good thing. Others who came later stayed on for around five to seven hours or more, not an easy thing to do in London’s chilly weather. 

Earlier on we had seen a man complaining furiously that there was dot on his ballot form, and that he was not allowed a new one. He was angry that the officials inside told him that there was no extra slip.

To my disappointment, when it came to my turn, I also found the dreaded dot he had spoken of.  My Parliament ballot was clean, but there was a typed and printed full stop after a candidate’s name on my State Assembly ballot. It stuck out like a sore thumb, as all other names were without such stops.

As I had heard of the earlier man’s experience, I knew what was coming – and yes, there was no option of a new ballot. When I asked about the typed, printed dot, the staff said “This is a typo. Don’t worry, it is not a spoilt ballot. It will only be a spoilt ballot if you make other marks.” I told him I would be making a complaint and that I was unhappy about the situation, but I went ahead to vote anyway.

I complained to some observers and exit poll handlers outside, but I will be making full complaints to the relevant authorities. I later heard that there were others from the same area (Petaling Jaya Utara/ Kampung Tunku) who found the same dot, and if that is the case, with no other complaints of ballots from other areas, I am hoping that this could be a genuine typo, and our votes still valid.

However, it is still unnerving that we had no option of a new ballot, which should be readily available to any voter in any election.

All in all, I felt that the process could have been much smoother and less complicated with the different forms and envelopes given out to voters. The Election Commission has plenty to do to improve the process.

However, given that this was the first time overseas polling has been conducted, I had to say that the staff from the EC and Malaysian High Commission were friendly, helpful and polite to people who came. You could say that some were positively excited about the process themselves. Everyone was thrilled to be able to cast their vote.

It was a bittersweet experience for me, but I would still say I was ecstatic I was able to vote. Many people were worried about the safety of their votes, as am I. But we are keeping faith with the process, and hoping this can only be a start to cleaner, better, more informed voting for the future.

There have been people remarking on social media that Malaysians who go overseas should not ‘make so much noise’ - that they have chosen to go, and as such they should just keep their voices down. I would remind such people that the folks voting yesterday were also students and people who see themselves as only temporarily away from their home shores.

Many also still feel heavily invested in their homeland, whether it is through their businesses, properties and interests in Malaysia, or more importantly through their deep connections to loved ones back home.

Yes, some still pay taxes. They watch developments pertaining to economic, educational, services and human rights. Some are waiting to go back.

So please think twice before you ask Malaysians who care about the system to ‘stop making noise’. Whatever your political leaning or opinions, it is noise that will make the processes cleaner, smoother and better for all citizens in the future.

It has been a great start to General Election 2013, may it be a wonderful experience for all Malaysians.

We, the ‘noisy ones’ overseas, have done what we can, so we look forward to our voices joining the rest of our country’s on May 5th. Selamat Hari Mengundi! 

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