LETTER | In an attempt to study and gauge the responses of Sarawakian voters with voting addresses in Sarawak but working and studying outside of the state towards absentee voting reforms, Persatuan Pemangkin Daya Masyarakat recently ran an online public survey via a Google questionnaire shared over social media.
Of the five questions asked, one was to indicate to us whether they would be coming back to vote in the coming Sarawak state election. The number of respondents who said they are undecided about coming back to vote outnumbered the 40.3 percent answering "Maybe" and only 36.1 percent answering "Yes". This is not a complete surprise and one of the obvious reasons is the prohibitive cost of travel to their home state.
It is worth repeating this known fact that East Malaysia is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by the South China Sea and travel by air is expensive, comparative to travel by land. A normal weekend flight to Miri from Kuala Lumpur costs a minimum of RM800 or more for a return ticket - and many need to travel further to other towns or their kampung by road.
Those in Bario, Baram, require a 4WD vehicle that costs RM250 per person per trip, not to mention the time required to travel to the fro. As such, Sarawakians voters will likely save their annual leave for festive season travel.
Additionally, an overwhelming 91.7 percent of the respondents are hoping to see the Election Commission implement a policy to allow voters to vote out-of-region (undi luar kawasan). They answered that they will support such an initiative or changes in the procedures that would allow them to do so.
Of the 72 respondents who responded to this survey, most are working and living in West Malaysian states, followed by Sabah, and a few are overseas respondents, from Hong Kong and Australia.
We are heartened to know that absentee voting reform is on the agenda of the reform plan of the Election Commission. We are also aware that they are looking or studying the matter, including the various options, to allow East Malaysians, in particular, Sarawakians, to vote out-of-region if they are living, working or studying in West Malaysia or Sabah.
It is the constitutional duty of the EC to support the voting rights of all Malaysians, especially for those on this side of the South China Sea who are constrained to seek a livelihood in West Malaysia due to the lack of economic opportunities in our own state.
The upcoming Sarawak state election (which occurs separately from the general election) is a good time for the EC to roll out its reform plan and adopt a strategy to enfranchise Sarawak voters.
This can be done by way of setting up of voting centres in identified cities/towns in West Malaysia/Sabah or by way of postal voting. Preceded, of course, by changes in the regulations and rules.