Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Experience As An Oversea Voter In Tokyo

"Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. 
If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, 
then they will just have to sit on their blisters"

Abraham Lincoln


Performing on of my responsibility as a citizen of Malaysia in Tokyo, 5317 kilometers away.

Exactly one year ago, on April 28, 2012, together with about 150 Malaysians, mostly living in Tokyo, we joined our fellow Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur and 85 cities in 38 countries around the world, which form the Global Bersih in a Bersih 3.0 rally at Okachimachi Park in Tokyo.

One year down the line, here I am, casting my vote as an oversea voter from Tokyo, Japan.

I woke up to a bright and pleasant Sunday, where I would usually sleep in. In fact, I couldn't get a good sleep due to the excitement the night before. Traveling alone, my mode of transportation was JR train, with a transfer from the light blue Keihin Tohoku Line to the green Yamanote Line at Shinagawa Station. Destination - Shibuya Station. That's where the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo is located, and that's where I am gonna cast my all important vote for the first time in my life. This is my first time ever voting in a General Election and also my first time voting as an oversea voter. And yes, it was indeed a historical moment in my life.

The Embassy is located about fifteen minutes away from the station, by foot. Ten minutes if you know the shortcut route. Along the walk to the Embassy, I walked up the slopes in Sakuragaoka-cho (桜丘町). The cherry blossoms were gone, replaced by a refreshing green leaves. It was like an omen - the transition of pink cherry blossoms to beautiful healthy green leaves was a symbolic of change.

I've made countless of trips to the Embassy down the years, but this surely go down as the most significant trip I've make. A trip that perhaps, I hope, that will change our beloved homeland for the better.


At the main entrance of the Embassy of Malaysia in Tokyo.

The was only a slight opening at the entrance of the Embassy, as a smart Japanese security guard was guarding the main door. The time on my watch showed that it was 9.48 a.m. I was late by almost an hour as I had planned to be there at nine sharp. However, there were nobody else besides the security guard and me. Where is everyone? Am I too early or what? To be honest, the atmosphere was not how I'd expected. I thought it would be much more like a party, a gathering for Malaysians on a Sunday morning.

Party or not, we can do that later. I had some other more important mission to be completed. I presented my passport to the security guard. He turned onto the front page and checked my identity. I removed my sunglasses and he double-checked my face with my not-very handsome photo in my passport. I was given the green light to enter the premise and was told that the voting is done on the basement floor. There were notices put up, prohibiting us from photography and using our mobile phone, in which the latter was ignored by almost everyone there.

I spotted several Malaysians, whom I assume the Embassy staffs with their family, lingering on the first floor. I gave them a nod and walked down the stairs, to the basement. I looked at my watch and the time was almost 10.00 a.m.; one hour has passed since the voting process began. Orange cones and black poles were arranged in zig-zag, in anticipating for more voters later in the day. There were roughly 30 people already in the queue. I glanced through the crowd to see if I see anyone I know. I spotted Abul, and we exchanged smiles and waved at each other. He was a couple of rows away for us to exchange conversations.

The voting process was held in the small hall ahead of us. The door was closed at all times except when the next voter is called in. That's the only time we could take a peek on how it looks like inside there. There were posters from SPR (Election Commissioner) put up outside for us in the waiting line, which explains the voting flow.


How the line looks like outside the voting hall at the Embassy (photo: @syats).

The queue was moving very slow. In fact there were times I felt a little bit fed-up but I remain calm and composed. We have all waited for years for this moment and a few extra hours of waiting should not do any harm. Everyone there were strangers when we arrived. But the long wait prompted us to start making friends with each other. Nothing political was discussed, just casual chats. There was this guy from Penang in front of me, who wasn't sure if he will get to vote because he didn't register as an oversea voter. We helped him checked his status on our iPhone and just like what we'd expected, his record was nowhere to be found. It turned out that he was confused about being a registered voter and an oversea voter. He left after that, without getting to cast his vote. One vote gone.

One of the main discussion point was how the voting process works. Being a first time voter, I did my homework a few days earlier. In fact, I printed out the procedures I downloaded from Facebook and brought it along. It proved to be useful, as I passed it to Tin Tin and his friend who were lining up behind me for them to get a general idea of the voting process.


The voting process which I printed out and brought along, especially for forgetful people like me.

One hour had passed and there were still about five to six persons in front of me. From my rough calculations, the pace is like twenty person per hour. As we were waiting, Mr Wan Aznainizam Yusri Wan Abdul Rashid, the Head of Chancery of the Embassy walked out. Initially, I thought he was gonna ask us to tone down our volume because I admit the atmosphere was identical to a fish market. But no, he came out to explained briefly to us about the voting process, what documents we should expect to receive, etc. I find that very helpful, because he took the initiative to clear the uncertainly among most of us on the procedure. Although not everyone there were first time voters, but we were all first-time oversea voters and everyone didn't know exactly what to expect once they walked into the hall.

So basically, each voter will get a ballot package which contains the following:
  • A brown envelope, called the Sampul Keutamaan.
  • Inside the Sampul Keutamaan, there are two envelopes (only one envelope, if you are from the Federal Territory or Sarawak), both called the Sampul B (one for Parliament and one for State). 
  • Inside each of the Sampul B, there is a form called Borang 2, an envelope called Sampul A and your ballot paper.
The procedure is as below. Please bear in mind that this only applies to oversea voters, and for my case, Japan.
  1. You will first go to the Kaunter Semakan. The first officer will request for your identical card (IC) or passport. You tell him/her your state and he/she will check you name on the electoral roll, which contains your name, IC number, serial number of your Sampul Keutamaan, and Parliment you are voting. The officer will then cross your name and put down his/her signature on the electoral roll.
  2. At the same time, the SPR officer sitting next to the first officer will look for your Sampul Keutamaan, which is separated according to the States. The important thing is NOT to open the Sampul Keutamaan immediately, but to open it in front of the saksi.
  3. You then take the Sampul Keutamaan with you and proceed to the next counter - Kaunter Saksi. Here, you open the envelope in front of the saksi and check the your name, IC number and the serial number on the Borang 2, Sampul A and ballot paper. Make sure all three of them match with each other.
  4. Another important point to remember is to make sure the ballot papers have no markings on them. Even a dot will make it a spoilt vote. If there are any markings, you can reject it. Unfortunately, you cannot get a replacement. Approach a PACAPOS (polling agent) immediately, and with his/her assistance you should discuss options with the officials present there, e.g., take a picture of the Ballot Paper before you mark it and you can get an official to certify that it already has markings. This procedure has not been tested before so results are not guaranteed. (Source : Tindak Malaysia).
  5. Once you are satisfied, sign the Borang 2 and pass it to the saksi to sign the Borang 2. 
  6. After that, proceed to the voting booth and cast your vote. Remember, it is a cross (×) and not a circle, a triangle or any other shapes or marks. Make sure the ink is dry before folding it into half to avoid mirror markings on the ballot paper.
  7. Once it's done, put the ballot paper into the respective Sampul A. Glue the Sampul A but make sure the glue do not leave any markings on the ballot paper.
  8. Then place the Sampul A and the respective Borang 2 into the respective Sampul B. Glue the Sampul B as well.
  9. Finally, put the Sampul B into the Karung Undi (voting pouch).

The Sampul Keutamaan, which is unique to every oversea voter.
Then, my turn finally came. Only three people are allowed in at one time. I walked into the hall in full of anticipation. The first officer was Ms. Noor Hidayu Hashim, Counsellor of the Human Resource Development Department. I passed her my passport, and she browse through the electoral roll looking for my name. Once my name was found, she crossed my name and left her initial next to it. The SPR officer sitting next to her then looked for my Sampul Keutamaan placed in a cardboard container. I estimated there were around 250 Sampul Keutamaan there, a figure which is so much lesser than approximately 8,000 of Malaysians in Japan. Maybe some had decided to fly home and cast their vote on May 5th, while some, well, they just can't be bothered.

How about indelible ink, some may ask. Indelible ink does not apply for oversea voters. It is only used for voters back home. This left me wondering, wouldn't this be subjected to fraud? How if I decided to fly back to vote for the second time? My name still appears in the registered electoral list. Does SPR has any method to make sure this doesn't happen?

I then proceeded to the next counter - Kaunter Saksi. Mr Wan Yusri was the saksi for the day. While I was waiting for my turn. I spotted two polling agents (pemerhati politik) - Sara Rashka Rashid and Chen Siew Fong, who monitored the voting process through the day. My turn then came and I opened the Sampul Keutamaan in front of Mr Wan Yusri. Once again, Mr Wan Yusri patiently went through the procedure with me, explaining which forms goes into which envelopes and all. Very carefully, I retrieved the ballots. I checked the serial numbers on all the forms, envelopes and ballot papers, and scrutinised every inch for any suspicious marks on the ballot paper. Fortunately, everything was fine. The names of the candidates for P60 Taiping and N18 Aulong were printed on the ballot paper as how it should be. 

Mistake #1: I immediately put down my signature on the two Borang 2, without even reading the form, except checking my name, IC number and serial number. Perhaps my excitement to be voting for the first time clouded my sense so much at that moment.


A SPR stamp with the word "LUAR NEGARA" to indicate that we are oversea voters.

I proceeded to the voting booth. There were three voting booths provided in the hall. There were stains of dried glue on the surface of the table. I make sure the table was dry before I put down the ballot paper on the table. I held the pen, took a deep breath and told myself - this is it. I actually hesitated for a moment just the moment before I was gonna put down my mark on the ballot paper. The anxiety of a first-time voter, perhaps?

I drew two big pangkahs, one for each ballot using the ball pen. That was perhaps the most significant pangkahs I have ever made. I attentively checked the serial numbers on the ballot and the envelope, to make sure they match with each other. I then returned the ballot into the envelope and use the glue stick provided to glue the envelope. Not wanting to mix-up between the two ballots and their respective envelopes, I completed the Parliament ballot, before proceeding to the state ballot. Mistake #2: I didn't make sure if the ink was already dry when I folded the ballot before inserting it into the envelope. There is a probability that the wet ink might stain the other parts of the ballot when folded.

Then I drop both of my Sampul B into the the brown voting bag. The whole process took me like 8 to 10 minutes, from the time I handed my passport to the first officer, to the time I drop the Sampul B into the bag. I walked out of the voting hall with a sense of accomplishment. My first vote - done!


I have done my part, from Shibuya crossing, Tokyo. People back in Malaysia, it's your turn now!

I thought the voting process went smoothly, although honestly, it was a little bit slow. As a first-time voter, I found hat the process was pretty straight-forward. However, with so much to do during the voting, I urge you guys to practise at home how it's done with mock up so that the process will be smoother hen the actual day comes. Just in case you are wondering if the vote is confidential, since there are serial numbers on the ballots, envelopes and forms, please refer to this link (#8) from Global Bersih.

During my walk from the Embassy to Shibuya Station, I took a jog down memory lane. I remember getting myself registered at Taiping Post Office during my summer break in 2010, when I had officially reached the voting age of 21. I remember how I follow the minute-by-minute developments back home on 9 July 2011 during the Bersih 2.0 rally. I remember how I joined more than 150 Malaysians in the Bersih 3.0 rally here in Tokyo on April 28, 2012. I remember prying for our family, friends, brothers and sisters who were at the Bersih 3.0 rally back home, for the violence inflicted by the security forces.


Bersih 3.0 rally from Okachimachi Park, Tokyo on April 28, 2012.

I remember keeping abreast with news regarding voting for Malaysians overseas. I remember understanding and ensuring my eligibility to be a postal voter, downloading, filling and e-mailing the application form to SPR to register as a postal voter. I remember taking out my passport, counting the days I was back to Malaysia in the past 5 years, as part of the requirements to be eligible to be a postal voter.

I remember how every other week I keyed in my IC number into that SPR link to confirm, double confirm, triple confirm that I am a registered voter. I remember the anxious wait for my application to be a postal voter to be accepted. I remember keying in my IC number for more than 50 times on April 19, 2013, the day the status for postal voter was to be announced. I remember the elated feeling when this flashed before my eyes:

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 8.57.15 

Finally, after waiting for more than four months, my status as a postal voter was confirmed!

From that Bersih 2.0 rally two years ago, look at where we have arrived. In true Malaysia Boleh fashion, we made oversea voting possible. Although the eight demands from the Bersih has not totally being implemented, I am glad to say that at least two of them is coming into place in the Malaysia's 13th General Election (GE13). First is reforming the postal ballot, where not only the government servants and students, but all Malaysians living in oversea are now able to cast their vote, as an oversea voter. For the record, there are 6,298 registered postal voters this time. Secondly, is the use of indelible ink to prevent voter fraud.

Perhaps, we are now at the very last hurdle of a better tomorrow. As I was leaving the Embassy, Yew Keong with a group of six other friends arrived. I was told that most arrived after lunch time. It was a moving sight to see that there were more Malaysians than I thought who are still deeply concerned in executing their Malaysian civil duties.

Some may argue, one vote will not make much changes to the result. Do not underestimate the power of one vote, foe we do not know what the future holds for us from the ripple effect of one small, seemingly innocent action. My respect, prayers and well-wishes go out to all who are heading home for the real deal this Sunday. Stay calm, stay safe and stay strong.

To all back home, we have done their part. It's over to you guys back home. For a better Malaysia, let's have out voices heard and votes counted. Come 505, go out in full force. We will keep close watch from all over the world, anticipating for a good news at midnight of 505!

Good luck, Malaysia!

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