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Malaysians in uproar over Wednesday polling date

KUALA LUMPUR — The midweek polling date for the Malaysian election has been criticised by both Opposition politicians and Malaysians, with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad saying that the move will deprive some overseas citizens their right to vote.

A motorcyclist rides next to flags of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Bangi, Malaysia. The midweek polling date for the Malaysian election has been criticised by both Opposition politicians and Malaysians.

A motorcyclist rides next to flags of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Bangi, Malaysia. The midweek polling date for the Malaysian election has been criticised by both Opposition politicians and Malaysians.

KUALA LUMPUR — The midweek polling date for the Malaysian election has been criticised by both Opposition politicians and Malaysians, with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad saying that the move will deprive some overseas citizens their right to vote.

Dr Mahathir, who is now the chairman of opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact, said the May 9 polling date is also a violation of voters’ right.

“Instead of setting the date on a weekend, they fixed it on Wednesday, in the middle of the week. People who are living and working abroad will find it difficult to come back and this is one way to cheat voters of their rights to vote in the elections,” he said.

Citing some 500,000 Malaysians who are currently working in Singapore as an example, Dr Mahathir said the midweek polling date have “deprived” them of their right to vote and this, he said, is “very undemocratic”.

Malaysia’s Election Commission on Tuesday announced the polling date for the country’s 14th general election, raising concerns about the ability of out-of-state voters returning to their constituencies to cast their votes.

This in turn, heightened worries over low voter turnout, which critics say will benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Although this is not the first time polling has taken place on a weekday, it will however be the first midweek election since the formation of Malaysia.

This is the fifth time an election has been held on a weekday in the South-east Asian country, with the last time being the 1999 general election, which took place on a Monday, November 29.

Dr Mahathir was the prime minister during that time.

Weekday elections also took place twice during Dr Mahathir’s 22 years as prime minister: the 1995 general election ran from a Monday to Tuesday, while the 1982 national polls took place from a Thursday to Monday.

However, Dr Mahathir on Tuesday said: “I believe during my time, there was voting not at the end of the week but that was because it was on a holiday that we fixed the voting.”

According to news portal Malaysiakini, the 1995 general election saw the lowest voter turnout in Malaysia’s electoral history, at 68.3 per cent despite two days of polling.

The portal noted that despite a national holiday being declared during polling for the 1999 polls, voter turnout was the second lowest at Malaysian history, which is 69.3 per cent.

Voter turnout at Malaysian general elections generally hovers around 75 per cent, although it spiked to almost 85 per cent in the last general election, on which polling day was held on a Sunday.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said setting polling to take place in the middle of a workweek made it “almost impossible” for out-of-state voters to travel home and cast their ballots.

“We are disappointed that polling day was not set on a weekend,” he said, conceding that it will make it harder for federal Opposition parties to convince voters to go home and vote.

This is because polling day is not a public holiday in Malaysia.

However, a provision within the Election Offences Act states that Malaysian employers should allow their staff “a reasonable period” to vote and that no action can be taken against the employee who exercise their right to do so.

Any employer who refused to allow their workers to go out and vote on that day are liable to be fined not exceeding RM5,000 (S$1,692.67) or an imprisonment of one year upon conviction.

Hours after the EC’s announcement on Tuesday, several Twitter users said they had set aside funds ranging from RM150 to RM1,000 to pay for flights or bus rides home for those needing assistance, and many offered carpool rides.

"I am seeing total strangers offering help to fellow Malaysians to go home and vote. No one shall deny our right to vote!" wrote a user with the handle @Klubbkiddkl, who started a hashtag to connect those in need.

The hashtag #PulangMengundi, or 'Go home to vote', was trending by late afternoon.

Several companies said they would let staff take time off, and some offered to cover employees' travel costs.

"We will definitely give the voting day off, and for staff who have to travel, we will allow remote working," said Ms Mellissa Lee, the head of email marketing platform GetResponse Malaysia.

Google Malaysia will be supportive of any staff seeking time out to vote, spokesman Zeffri Yusof told Reuters.

Publishing group Karangkraf Sdn Bhd said its staff will get one day off while award-winning public relations form Shekhinah PR not only gave its employees two days off, but will bear the cost of petrol and toll charges for all employees who would have to make return trips to their hometown.

“Due to polling day being on May 9, the management of #ShekhinahPR has decided to close its office for two days — May 8 and 9, so its outstation staff can return to their respective hometown and exercise their individual right to vote as citizens of Malaysia,” chief executive officer Christopher Raj wrote on Facebook.

Social media also had a field day with the May 9 polling day, with Rabu — the Malay word for Wednesday — being coverted into an acronym by both BN and PH supporters.

Within PH, Rabu stands for “Rakyat akan buang Umno” (the people will discard Umno) while in BN, it denotes “Rakyat akan bersama Umno” (The people will be with Umno)” and “Rakyat akui Barisan unggul” (The people acknowledge BN is great). AGENCIES

 

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