GE13: Going Postal: Finally! But Hang On


BY AI LEEN LIM in London

Saturday 6 April

Parliament is finally dissolved. Only hint came from a friend the night before: “PM is cycling with us tomorrow. So maybe bubar first, then kayuh?”


No point flying back to KL now for my usual month-long visit. Had half-hoped to be the first (and only?) person to say: “Saya kena balik London undi BN. MAS ada diskaun tak?”

Time is money, as Petronas employees discovered last week. Can you take the RM1,000 and not vote BN? Is this what we call a win-win situation?

Irony of ironies. A poll card arrives for me … to vote in the Hertfordshire County Council elections on 2 May. I’ve only been in this country two years.

Meanwhile the Malaysian Election Commission struggles to give us nomination and polling dates. It should get some mothers on the job. They’d sort it out the same day, while supervising homework, cooking a kenduri and packing bags for piano class, junior golf and tae kwan do. All the EC’s managed so far is to set a date for a meeting to set the dates.

….To be continued….

For the first time, at the next general election, Malaysians abroad will be able to vote remotely. In the past, you had to be a civil servant, scholarship student or soldier to do so. Here’s one overseas soul who signed up. This is her postal voter diary.

Are you a Malaysian overseas who registered as a postal voter? What was the process like? Write to me at [email protected] and tell me your story. Or leave a comment below.


Saturday 30 March


Will we, won’t we, will we, won’t we

Will we get to vote?*

Husband flies to the tropics while I stay put in cold country, waiting to vote. Hujan emas di negeri orang? Hujan ais, more like.

Someone on FB says his application to vote from Hong Kong was rejected. By extension, does that mean no news is good news? That silence means consent? That if we’re not rejected, we’re approved?

Chance upon a maid from Rawang on the train to St Pancras. We try English, BM, then make do with my patchy Cantonese. We talk about famous fishballs, two-hour queues to the NKVE and Mat Rempits who torment her neighbourhood. Forget to ask about voting after she reveals she’s been working illegally for a year. “Not scared. Work in house won’t get caught one. Work in restaurant, maybe lah.”

* Cribbed from The Lobster-Quadrille by Lewis Carroll


Saturday 23 March


The longer we wait, the worse the news gets.

Watch NGO Global Witness’s video on corruption in Sarawak. Amazed that someone who profits just by being family and magically, getting state land, can say this of the people living on the same land: “… the land doesn’t belong to them, it’s government land. So they’re squatting … and they expect handouts.”

Ask a friend in Kuching what the mood is. She’s disgusted but says it’s old news: “Just stupid to get caught.”

My mother frets that I’m not in KL to file her taxes for her. “All the Public Bank dividends, how?” I explain I can do it online from England. Don’t worry, I joke, income tax waived for election year. She doesn’t laugh. “Sure you don’t need to file from the Damansara house computer?” she asks.

More election videos. One cribs off a HK movie starring hotties Aaron Kwok and Andy Lau. Meant to scare off the Chinese from voting opposition because they may end up in an Islamic state where it’s not okay to fool around with your secretary. Another one, Politik Wang (Editing Terbaik), is a mash-up of Umno politician quotes. Give me Surprised Kitty (Original) any day.

Two people tell me an announcement is expected Monday. Fingers crossed.


Saturday 16 March


All eyes on Sabah, GE13 seemingly forgotten. Are we now less or more likely to vote for the incumbent administration after seeing how it handled the invasion?

Malaysian radio station asks to interview a friend and me about postal voting. Sure, we say. Though all we have so far is we sent in the borang, and it’s sedang diproses. But the party’s still on, because the Election Commission just asked for representatives to observe overseas voting. Wooo.

Attend launch of Di Antara, a book of Malaysian photos by Colin Boyd Shafer, a Canadian who used to teach in Taylor’s College. The first picture he shows is right out of a ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ ad: a close-up of a local beauty in traditional dancer garb. Except that she was the winner of a transgender beauty contest in Kelantan. Still not our culture? Really?


Saturday 2 March


A little birdie tells me elections will be delayed until the rakyat can see the effect of the government’s transformasi policies. But I thought transformation was a long-haul effort. Like Vision 2020. But … er, different. To show results within the next two months would be like pulling rabbits out of a hat, no?

Apparently not. Ta da! We’re planning to build a high-speed rail link with Singapore. Again. And conveniently … drumroll please … the National Education Blueprint will be completed soon. Now all we need for the grand finale are crime figures as low as Singapore’s and we can finally go undi. Couldn’t we have done all this maybe five, three, or two years ago?

Muhibbah moment at Wing Yip, the Chinese supermarket in Cricklewood, north London. A Chinese cashier chatting in BM to a Malay lady in headscarf and her young son. Thought I was in TMC. 1Malaysia? The rakyat have long been living the slogan the politicians have only now dreamt up.


Saturday 23 Feb


Malaysia is so with it. Barack has Beyoncé?* Yo, Najib has Psy. In da (open) house. Barack croons Al Green? Najib could have gangnam-styled. If he wanted to. Maybe. Or hired those lion dancers who do.

Find 15 missed calls on my Malaysian mobile. Could it be UPUP checking I am who I say I am? Before approving my postal vote? No such luck. Google says it’s TM sales and marketing, trying to sell me Unifi. Wonder if my slow Streamyx has anything to do with this.

Election Commission says it will inform Borang 1B-ers whether they can vote from abroad only after nomination day. I do the math, using GE08 dates. This means I may only discover my voter status 11 whole days after Parliament is dissolved, and a mere 13 days before polling day. Pretty short notice if the answer is ‘no postal vote for you’. Especially if you are 10,000 km away.

* Sadly, we can’t have Beyoncé. In 2007, we had to catch her show in Jakarta, Indonesia—the country with the largest Muslim population in the world—after protests in KL.


Saturday 16 Feb


No yee sang at Royal China so we dim sum instead.

H hasn’t sent in Borang 1B because he can’t work out exactly when he was in Malaysia over the last five years. “No chop on passport. Now all machine-read,” he shrugs. Thank goodness for Gmail and online booking. I searched ‘Singapore Airlines’ and found a list of emails with my travel dates on them. What’s that? No, not Malaysian Airlines.

Watch No, the film starring hottie Gael Garcia Bernal. He plays a creative ad exec who runs the successful ‘No’ campaign against Chile’s Pinochet in the late 80s. Wonder if Malaysian ad agencies would lose GLC accounts if they worked on opposition ads. Wonder if producing political ads—professionally, like that other hottie Don Draper—would be considered being involved in politics and could get you sacked. Even if, ironically, that work made your agency rich and famous.

If you’re paid to make a Coke ad, does that mean you have to drink the stuff too? Do you have to like it? Believe in it even?


Saturday 9 Feb


Kong Hei Fatt Choy! Watch Teresa Kok’s (MP for Seputeh) CNY video.

She plays a hairdresser persuading a guy with an OTT toupe to move on with the times and try a new haircut. He dithers. He puts his head in her hands. Hey presto! He emerges looking hip and handsome. A strong message delivered simply and effectively.

Though, I’m reminded of my few futile attempts to find a cheaper hairdresser in KL. How I’d return, time and time again to my usual pricey stylist, sheepishly mumbling some excuse for my long absence and bad hair. How he’d sigh and say: “So Irene. How you want cut?”

Hear from a couple of NYU students who’d trekked to the consulate in New York to sign up as postal voters. Mission accomplished, they marched back to campus armed not just with their borangs, but with precious bundles of nasi kandar too. In their words: “… being very Malaysian in more ways than one.”

Facebook tells me Najib’s snail-mailed personal CNY letters containing (empty) ang pow packets with his face on them. So if you get one of those with money in it, you’ll know it came from him. He too has a CNY vid, in which he’s dressed like David Tang, pretends to bang a drum and says Gong Xi Fa Cai at the end. Don’t see an election message in there. Don’t see Rosmah either.


Saturday 2 Feb


It’s been a week since I sent off Borang 1B. So far no news of whether I can vote at the Malaysian High Commission in London. Shout out on Facebook if anyone or their friends has progressed beyond Borang 1B. Silence. No likes, no LOLs, no cute cat videos. Just that H&M ad with David Beckham running round Beverly Hills in his undies. Nice.

A little birdie in Singapore tells me “the latest rumour is 23 March”. Being Malaysian, I take the rumour as fact and book a yoga retreat in the Chiltern Hills for the weekend after. Which is Easter weekend. Which is also a public holiday for those crucial voters in Sabah and Sarawak. So yoga deposit should be safe.

Get a friend to take a photo of me next to a red post box in Hampstead. Postal vote from London!, the picture’s meant to say. Look natural, my friend says. It’s windy and my hair’s in my face, I say. Bloody tourists, mutter the locals who pass by and try to mail their letters.

Brief my brother, who’s been living abroad for nearly thirty years, on the postal vote. He wants to check online if he’s registered as a voter. What’s the point, since he knows he’s never registered? “I just want to make sure I didn’t vote in Parit Buntar or Simpang Pulai,” he says. “But you’ve never even been to these places,” I say. “Exactly!” he says.


Saturday 26 January


Commit to stay put in England until the elections are over. Send off Borang 1B and receive a prompt response in BM, another test of authenticity no doubt: ‘Permohonan anda telah diterima dan sedang diproses. Terima kasih.’ Which Google instantaneously and impressively translates into: ‘Your application has been received and is being processed. Thank you.’

And yet why do so many still get their English so wrong? This old cracker from the Defence Ministry’s website—now deleted—for instance: ‘Public officials are not in uniform must wear long-sleeve batik shirt with collar/mongoose fight made in Malaysia on every Thursday and also when attending official functions that do not require the use of certain types of clothing.’

Were they using translation software from the Multimedia Super Corridor?


Wednesday 23 January


In a dilemma. It’s not as easy as downloading Borang 1B, filling it out and emailing it to UPUP, the perky, smiley-face acronym of Unit Pengurusan Undi Pos. That’s the Postal Vote Management Unit in English, or PVMU, which sounds like a plastic polymer or yet another transformasi spawn of Idris Jala’s.

What’s tricky is, where do I plan to be on election day, which could fall anytime between March and June. KL or London? I have to decide soon because I can’t apply for a postal vote once Parliament is dissolved, which could happen any day from now to April. And I won’t be able to vote in SRK Bukit Damansara if I’ve applied to vote from Belgrave Square, Knightsbridge.

Surely the Multimedia Super Corridor—that relic from the 90s, like the dotcom bubble and Palm V—has some software that works out if I’ve voted twice in the same election? Or died? Or just jumped off my pirate ship in the Sulu Sea?


Tuesday 22 January


I’m swiftly reminded of another characteristic of an authentic Malaysian: their (totally understandable) cynical attitude to any good news announced by the incumbent administration. Especially when it kind of, sort of, gives us what we asked for.

“Really? You trust this?” came one retort. As someone who used to constantly receive mail addressed to a completely different street in Medan Damansara, I can see why she fears our votes might go missing, or be fiddled with, as they travel 10,000 kilometres across the Indian Ocean. Another friend took the lawyerly approach: “Really? Don’t you need some kind of parliamentary instrument rather than just posting forms on a website? Or did I miss something?”

My view? Send in the form and see what happens. If the system worked in pre-Bersih GE08, I have to trust it to work again in GE13. The alternative is to not trust and not vote. Which, in my book, is a non-starter dead end.


Monday 21 January 2013


Facebook tells me Malaysians overseas can now vote by post. Just the week before, five of us, all Malaysians in London had discussed postal voting—could we, couldn’t we?—over roast Sunday lunch at the Grazing Goat in London. All agreed we would if we could. Not least because we could also, conveniently, tuck into some makcik nasi lemak bungkus while we visited the Malaysian High Commission. What better proof of one’s nativeness and patriotism? Not only were we discussing what to eat months into the future, we were doing it while still ingesting the meal before us. We eat therefore we are … Malaysian.

My mother smses from KL to ask why the KLCI dropped 40 points today. I go online and the Star tells me it’s foreign funds cashing out ahead of elections. I joke that it’s cronies cashing out to fund the elections. She doesn’t laugh. She just wants to know when Public Bank will be affordable again.

….To be continued….

For the first time, at the next general election, Malaysians abroad will be able to vote remotely. In the past, you had to be a civil servant, scholarship student or soldier to do so. Here’s one overseas soul who signed up. This is her postal voter diary.

Are you a Malaysian overseas who registered as a postal voter? What was the process like? Write to me at [email protected] and tell me your story. Or leave a comment below.

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One comment on “GE13: Going Postal: Finally! But Hang On

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