Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fine Tune Criteria for Overseas Voters

This post was published in The Sun Daily, Feb 3rd 2012 (link)

With reference to ‘’No Tax, No Vote’’ (front page of The Sun Daily, Feb 1), I would like to comment on the Election Commission (EC)’s proposal to exclude overseas Malaysians who are not taxpayers from voting in parliamentary or state elections. The news, not surprisingly, has been received with mixed reactions. The main concern, as iterated by the DAP Socialist Youth chief Anthony Loke and Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) steering committee member Maria Chin is about the students studying overseas. So far, The EC has only mentioned that the mechanisms of exclusion include the number of years a person does not pay tax to Malaysia. As far as I am sure that the EC will further discuss with the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and include more criteria for the exclusion (such as excusing those who are not eligible to pay taxes in the first place), I do hope that its further details be disclosed as soon as possible to avoid more commotion and spreading of rumours which will ultimately stain the credibility of the EC which has just started to gain back the confidence of citizens. 
The mechanism that has been disclosed would not suffice. Malaysians stay overseas for a number of different reasons. We cannot judge the intentions of their stay or whether they are loyal or not to the country based on the number of years they have been away. This is especially true for students taking a course in medicine, which of all courses take the lengthiest time to graduate. Medical students studying overseas spend an average of 5 years as undergraduate students, and an average of further 4 years as postgraduate students. They might be ineligible to pay taxes in the first place when they first flew overseas, and would continue to be so as they continue with post graduate studies. Without considering this fact, the EC might dismiss these students as those who overstayed and ousted as non-patriotic, hence not allowed to vote. Some medical students have no choice to stay longer overseas because there is limited space to further their studies in Malaysia, and our country really needs more medical students to return as specialists in the health care field in order to realize our vision of becoming a high-income nation by 2020. Excluding students would make them feel side lined and discriminated against, and would eventually further perpetuate the brain drain that we are having.

I personally think that as a proposal, it is still open to suggestions and revisions and people should not over react to the disclosure by the EC Chairman. There is still time to go into the details of the proposal and give feedbacks that would hopefully be taken into considerations by the EC. Ultimately, we want all Malaysians to contribute to the country, and excluding students from voting is surely not one of the ways. 

Lutfi Fadil Lokman
Society of Medical Students, MMA

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