We recently attended a Deepavali lunch organized by the Malaysian Association of the Netherlands on Saturday, 14 November 2015, at the Indian Palace in Zoetermeer. Because we were late, there were hardly any empty seats left. Luckily we found a table in the middle of the room. About 15 minutes later, the organizer announced that the guest of honour, the Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands, HE Dato’ Ahmad Nazri Yusof and his family had arrived. They walked in and were ushered to our table!
That was indeed a pleasant surprise and we were relieved that the organizer did not ask us to leave the table. I felt honoured to be in the company of a distinguished guest and took the opportunity to introduce ourselves and get to know the ambassador better. His Excellency graciously answered qustions that were posed. The following are among the items discussed:
- The recent terrorist attacks in Paris where 130 people were killed and many left injured. Should this happen in the Netherlands, the Malaysian Embassy will be responsible for tracking down all Malaysians and ensuring that they are safe. However, according to the ambassador, there are currently about 300 Malaysians registered with the Malaysian Embassy in The Hague. We agreed that this figure is low, and that there would be a number of Malaysians who have not registered with the embassy. The ambassador plans to make available an online registration form for Malaysians in the Netherlands to register themselves without having to make a trip to the Malaysian Embassy in The Hague.
- The Sarawak state election is coming up soon. My question was whether we could cast our vote as postal voters from the Netherlands. The answer is no; we have to go home for the state election. It is only for the General Election that we will be able to cast our vote at the Malaysian Embassy in The Hague.
- Voter registration. I asked if we could register as a voter at the Malaysian Embassy in The Hague. However this can be done only when there is an official voters registration campaign organized by the Election Commission. The most recent campaign was last year. The ambassador did not know when the next one would be. He will keep us informed. Meanwhile, when you are back in Malaysia for holidays, do drop by any post office and present your MyCard (IC) at the counter and they can register you as a voter there. You will need to wait between 3 and 6 months, after which you can check your status on the SPR website (www.spr.gov.my). Sometimes, there are counters at pasar malam or shopping complexes to register voters. Do look out for those too!
- I asked what happens to votes which are mailed to or dropped off at the Malaysian Embassy during a General Election. These votes are sent by secure post to the EC in Kuala Lumpur, and then to the respective constituencies under special police escort. The votes are then counted in front of the candidates in the voting centres. There is currently no arrangement whereby the votes cast by Malaysian citizens overseas are counted at their respective Malaysian embassies. A change in election policy is required. The ambassador advised overseas Malaysians to approach any of their MPs back in Malaysia and request them to bring up this issue in Parliament.
In summary, we should encourage all overseas Malaysians to register themselves at their respective Malaysian embassy so that in the event of an emergency, their embassy can trace and contact Malaysians and provide help if needed. Some families may contact Malaysian embassies overseas for help in tracking their family members if they are unable to contact their loved ones. In the next voters registration campaign, all Malaysians in the Netherlands will be encouraged to go and register at the Malaysian Embassy to exercise their civil right to vote. As many Malaysians are skeptical as to whether votes cast actually reach the respective constituencies, and some are concerned that votes might be tempered with, the safest option is for Malaysians overseas to go back to Malaysia during the General Election or State Election to cast their votes. Therefore, start saving for your air ticket now!