Automatic voter registration of citizens will help

ALL responsible Malaysians, will welcome Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak's clear call to Malaysians to register to vote. Malaysians, especially the eligible youth, who have not registered as yet, will hopefully feel encouraged to hasten to register to vote, before it's too late, for the GE14.

After all, the prime minister himself says that it only takes five minutes to register to vote at post offices and the Election Commission offices.

Why then have 3.7 million Malaysians still not registered to vote?

Some reasons for poor voter registration:

» Many Malaysians feel that it's a hassle to register. There are not as many registration offices as necessary, to make it more convenient for the voter. And there are too few registration officers. They have been reduced considerably and thus slowed down the whole registration process.

» The registration officers are not as warm and encouraging as they should be and applicants are thus discouraged. The warmth and good sense of service is often lacking.

» Many registered voters find that their addresses have been changed arbitrarily. When they check at the post offices or the Election Commission offices, they are given unclear answers. They therefore lose interest in the registration process.

As Azalina Othman Said admitted in Parliament on July 31 , there have been 1,454 voter registration objections between January and March this year.

Many objections are thought to be frivolous and politically motivated. Can you then imagine the hassle the potential voters have to face? This kind of news travels fast on internet and this put off citizens from registering.

» Many youths feel disenchanted with the voter delineation and the voting process. And thus they often protest against the electoral system by not registering.

» Some also believe that their one vote does not really count, as it cannot make a difference to the outcome. But they are wrong and they need to be made aware of the importance of every vote. But is the Election Commission doing enough to educate our potential voters? I have doubts.

I wonder if the Election Commission officers fully brief the prime minister about the above problems that the 3.7 million unregistered voters face?

Then the prime minister could provide more funds for the Election Commission to carry out its sacred duty to register more voters and reduce this staggering 3.7 million unregistered voters.

Unless the Election Commission does more positive and promotional work, the public may get the impression, that the Election Commission is not keen to get more Malaysians to register and vote.

So how can the call to register voters be properly implemented?

1. First, why can't the government introduce automatic voter registration? All those above the age of 21 should be registered naturally and automatically.

2. Second, why can't we have compulsory voting? After all, the prime minister has rightly stated publicly that "Voting is the responsibility of every Malaysian, who has the right to determine his future".

These proposals for electoral changes, will surely enhance the standards of the election process and its efficiency.

These easy electoral changes will also raise the turnout in the GE14 from 84.84% or 11.2 million voters in GE13, to a much higher percentage at the forthcoming GE14, which can be held at anytime from October to July next year.

We need to also express our appreciation to opposition MP Kasthuriraani for raising important questions at this Parliament session.

This has highlighted the immense challenges to solve the serious problems of the poor voter registration.

Indeed, these voter challenges must be addressed urgently in the national interest for us to raise the credibility of the electoral process and the Election Commission itself.

The prime minister has openly urged the 3.7 million eligible Malaysians to register to vote. But his welcome call will be of no avail, unless it is properly followed through and effectively implemented.

We hope that his clear call is fully supported by the Election Commission and that the election and voter registration process is properly streamlined and made much more efficient and voter friendly.

This is essential for the public to "feel good" about the fast approaching election. Then the rakyat will show their sincere appreciation and vote with enthusiasm.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
Chairman
Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies