Malaysian pilots, volunteers to fly thousands of ballots home

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Thousands of postal ballots are making their way back on passenger flights, thanks to the coordination by various NGOs and Malaysian citizens living abroad.

They include pilots who have volunteered to carry back ballot papers, which arrived to overseas voters too late to be sent to Malaysia, to make it in time to returning officers by the polls closing time at 5pm on Nov 19.

One of the few pilots chipping in is Selvaganesh Nadarajah, 39, who on Tuesday (Nov 15) carried 300 ballot papers with him from Doha in Qatar, although like many others, his own ballot paper has yet to arrive.

The Qatar Airways captain said his teammates set up a collection booth at one of the hotels in Doha, and they had segregated the collected ballot papers by each state when these were collected.

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Not wanting to risk losing the ballot papers, Selvanagesh said the ballots flew with him in his onboard hand luggage.

“I felt a sense of national duty and pride (carrying the ballots home) although a part of me was utterly disappointed that my own postal vote was transiting somewhere in New Delhi, then Dubai, to finally reach Doha on Nov 19,” he said.

“There are many of us overseas who are eagerly expecting to do our bit and exercise our rights through postal votes.

“Unfortunately, through sheer negligence or delays in logistics, we have been denied the chance to exercise our rights as citizens,” he said.

International network of volunteers

Selvaganesh was part of “Plan A” set up by a network of NGOs and Malaysians living overseas, including Global Bersih, to bring ballot papers to Malaysia from Qatar.

Overseas voters have had to set up contingencies because many have yet to receive their ballot papers, three days before polling day.

Plan B and C, Selvaganah said, involved having students, who were returning to vote in person, carry more ballot papers which arrived later.

In Dubai, Malaysian employees of a Dubai-based airline organised to collect 200 ballots, which were carried by pilot Captain Afiq Azahari on his flight to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

Postal ballots from Dubai travelled in the cockpit with Captain Afiq Azahari who volunteered to carry them home to Kuala Lumpur

Coordinator Redza Jamil, also a pilot, said he and his wife Kolin Alias decided to volunteer this time after seeing Malaysians pitch in to bring ballots home in GE14.

“I know there are many Malaysians who will require help to send their ballots back to their respective constituencies and I know my fellow Malaysian pilots, like Afiq, will help if I ask them,” he said.

Another pilot is also en route from Dubai carrying more ballots, he said, when contacted last night.

In London, VoteMalaysia United Kingdom and Eire have set up a collection point at Malaysia Hall, while other points were opened in parts of the UK.

The UK collection points had received more than 5,800 ballot papers – more than five times more than what volunteers had anticipated when they first did surveys to gauge if Malaysians would use such a service, VoteMalaysia coordinator Jonathan Lee.

Lee was among the 18 youths who filed a judicial review against the Muhyiddin Yassin government for delaying the enforcement of amendments to bring down the minimum age of voting.

“Being a student overseas now, I wanted to make sure I could participate in something that I and many others fought for,” he said.

“Knowing the existing flaws in the EC’s postal voting system, we wanted to create a response to these challenges to ensure postal ballots are able to reach Malaysia.”

Some 3,000 ballots will also be carried home by volunteers from Melbourne, with Malaysians in other Australian cities expected to send another 2,000 ballots through the NGO collection network.

NGOs have also prepared to set up a runner network to collect the ballots from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and deliver them to the respective returning officers across the country.

In downtown Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) is pitching in to sort out and deliver postal ballots carried home by Malaysians.

This international network, which hopes to bring home 50,000 postal ballots, was set up after Malaysians were forced to scramble to airports to pass their ballot papers to willing Malaysia-bound strangers when postal ballot papers arrived too late in GE14.

At the time, ad hoc sorting systems were set up at KLIA, where ballots were passed to volunteer runners or waiting friends and family, who rushed them to polling centres.

Sharing the costs

Despite the Election Commission’s (EC) apology over the issues faced by postal voters in 2018, the same problems have cropped up, with many still in a nail-biting wait for the ballots, as at less than 72 hours to polling day.

This time, however, voters can rely on volunteers for a more streamlined way to ensure ballots arrive to the returning officers on time.

Beyond that, the network also defrays the cost of sending individual ballots through express courier services, which conventionally is borne by the postal voter.

In Europe, for example, sending home the ballot papers via the German logistics company DHL could cost up to €120 (RM568) – a cost prohibitive for many, including students who make up a large number of Malaysians overseas.

By collecting the ballot papers and sending them back in bulk on passenger flights, the cost of delivery could go down to as little as RM10 per ballot, the NGOs estimate.

The NGOs have raised close to RM65,000 via crowdfunding to fund the exercise.

Bureaucratic hurdle

Courier costs are not the only problem faced by overseas voters.

All postal ballots must be accompanied by a form signed by another Malaysian, who attests that the voters had marked the ballot themselves.

For voters living far away from the next Malaysian, this poses a logistical challenge.

One such voter is Alaska resident Oh Saw Yean, who received her ballot papers on Nov 16, but is unable to send them back because there are no Malaysians living nearby to attest the form for her.

“Though I can’t vote, there’s always hope in our Lord. I will pray for Malaysia to be led by non-corrupt, non-racist and honest leaders,” Oh shared in a Facebook group set up for Malaysian postal voters.

Still, on social media and through word of mouth, Malaysians overseas are finding one another, to ensure they can deliver their votes in this general election.

On the same Facebook group, many are connecting strangers with long-lost family and friends, while others are driving across countries to collect ballots, which will finally be packed and handed to volunteers like the pilot, Selvaganesh, who will fly them home.

With just a couple of days left until the end of the campaign period, tensions are high among voters still waiting for their ballot papers or whose ballots have just arrived in the mail.

With many ballots still “in limbo”, postal voters hope their story of overcoming hurdles to send their ballots back will push Malaysians at home to go out to vote on Nov 19.

“I humbly ask of you: if you are a voter and currently in Malaysia, please go out and vote. We here (in Australia) go through an emotional roller-coaster and struggle to be able to exercise our right… for your future and for the future of those who couldn’t vote this election, please do your part and please go and vote,” Melbourne-based volunteer, Praveen Nagappan said.

‼️ Three more days to get #GE15 postal ballots home. Tahan sikit lagi! Twitter Aunty sudah mau kena heart attack from all this suspense.

But if Billy Ocean can still keep going since 1985, #GlobalBersih will keep fighting to get your 50k ballots home! https://t.co/2hfsgOWyBq pic.twitter.com/n1ot5FfpMW

— Global Bersih (@GlobalBersih) November 16, 2022

On Twitter, Global Bersih acts as a beacon of hope, rallying overseas voters to never give up.

“Three more days to get the GE15 postal ballot home. Tahan sikit lagi! (Bear with it a little more!)”

As a homage to the volunteers around the world still trying to move ballots across oceans and continents, Global Bersih shared a video clip of singer Billy Ocean singing “When The Going Gets Tough”.

“If Billy Ocean can still keep going since 1985, Global Bersih will keep fighting to get your 50,000 ballots home!” it declared. – Malaysiakini