Nurul Syaheedah Jes Izman, 27, a graduate of New York University, lives in New Jersey and works on Wall Street as a financial analyst. Though she has spent her college years and all of her working life in the United States, she closely follows political developments in her native Malaysia, reading Malaysian news Web sites every day and talking with friends and family back home about the issues. But under current Malaysian law, Ms. Nurul Syaheedah will not be able to vote in the next election, widely expected this year, unless she makes the 23-hour trip home. The only Malaysians living overseas who are allowed to vote by absentee ballot are government workers, military personnel and full-time students and their spouses. “The right to vote is a basic right of all citizens,” Ms. Nurul Syaheedah said in an e-mail. “No one should be disenfranchised in this time and age, even from a different location overseas. We are all rightful stakeholders in our nation.”
An estimated 700,000 of Malaysia’s 28 million citizens live abroad, from neighboring Singapore to New Zealand and the United States, and their calls for a greater say in how their country is run are growing louder.
These appeals come against the backdrop of a larger popular movement to make the election process more fair and transparent. Last summer, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, for electoral changes that they argue would level the playing field for opposition groups to compete against the governing National Front coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organization, which has been in power since independence in 1957. The group that organized last year’s protest, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, announced last week that it would hold another rally on April 28 because a parliamentary committee’s recommendations for electoral reform had failed to satisfy its demands.