PETALING JAYA, July 7 — Low voter turnout may be the new normal for Malaysia if reforms are not carried out by the Election Commission (EC), said the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) today.
The election watchdog’s chairman Thomas Fann said this current trend, which was especially apparent during the Johor state election earlier this year that saw only 55 per cent of eligible voters casting their ballots, could continue.
“Like it or not, low turnout is the new norm if the EC does not improve access to voting.
“The EC needs to implement access to voting. Currently, we have more than half a million Sabahans and Sarawakians working in the peninsula and 1.5 million overseas voters who are unable to vote,” he told a conference organised by Bersih and the Malaysian Bar Council today.
Merdeka Center co-founder and director of programmes Ibrahim Suffian agreed with Fann, saying that data showed a greater proportion of low voter turnout in urban areas that affected seats previously won by Pakatan Harapan (PH).
He said that in urban areas, working adults and those automatically registered weren’t likely to vote or felt a sense of apathy towards the election and political climate.
“The problem was not just overseas voters, but also voters in places like the East Coast who did not want to come back to vote,” he said.
Another panellist, Wisdom Foundation chief operating officer Zila Fawzi, said voters should not only be able to register, but also make their choices without any hindrance, such as geographical distance.
She cited the cost of travel and travel time as among the problems faced by Sabahans and Sarawakian who want to return home to vote, especially those who come from rural areas.
To ensure that all Malaysians had equal access to voting, Zila suggested that the EC implement several steps, including extending absentee voting rights to “all out-of-region voters separated by the South China Sea”.
“Voters should also be accorded advance voting facilities throughout the country where they can cast their votes three days before polling day,” she said.
She said the EC should set up at least one mega voting centre in each state and federal territory, and more than one in areas with vast distances between towns, like in Sabah and Sarawak.
“If the EC can extend postal voting to those who are across the straits of Tebrau, it should not be rocket science for them to devise a mechanism for out-of-region voters,” she said.