When the date of the general election was revealed, the outcry was swift. Tradition in Malaysia is for elections to be held over the weekend, giving the many people who have migrated to the big cities time to return to their towns and villages to vote. But on the morning of April 10, Malaysia’s Election Commission announced voting would take place on May 9 ― a weekday. The last time it was scheduled midweek was the country’s first election in 1959. For a population that has grown frustrated by high-level corruption scandals, the rising cost of living, and what many see as a lack of accountability from the world’s longest-ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, the announcement was a tipping point.
Shortly afterward, Joe Lee, an internet personality with a big social media following, put out a call. “Ok…. You know what. I’m starting the hashtag #PulangMengundi. If you have problems taking time off to vote, or can’t afford to – please use the hashtag, and maybe someone can help” he tweeted from his @klubbkiddkl handle.
The hashtag, which translates as “return to vote,” took off. Students began tweeting about how they couldn’t afford to go home. Workers wrote about how they couldn’t get the day off. Complaints mounted about airlines whose ticket prices had skyrocketed as much as eight times their normal rate.
And, one by one, ordinary Malaysians began stepping in with offers to cover the costs of returning to vote in the middle of a workweek. By the night of April 10, #PulandMengundi was the top trending hashtag in Malaysia.