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.”
Just over a month after a large rally in Kuala Lumpur to demand clean and fair elections rattled Malaysia’s ruling elite, Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced that a bipartisan parliamentary select committee will be set up to review the electoral system. The move comes as Najib’s government faces rising pressures on several political fronts, including a speculated challenge to his leadership from inside his own party.
Najib’s announcement has been interpreted as an attempt to placate disquiet about the integrity of the electoral process before the next general election, which must be held before mid-2013, and to prevent any repeat protest rally to press home the demands. The political opposition has claimed elections are structurally set up to favor the long-ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.