Postal voting was previously restricted to military personnel, civil servants, and full-time students studying abroad and their spouses.
But under new guidelines, Malaysians living overseas will have to chance to cast their vote in what some are calling the closest election in the nation's history.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, deputy chairman, Malaysia's Election Commission
OMAR: All Malaysians overseas who are registered voters and they have come back to Malaysia, and be in Malaysia, stay in Malaysia at least 30 days, from the date, the last five years [will be eligible for postal voting].
COCHRANE: Is that 30 days continuously or a total of 30 days over those five years?
OMAR: No, it's not continuously over the last five years, just add together to make it 30 days.
COCHRANE: What about those living in Asia, in southern Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Kalimantan. Are they eligible?
OMAR: No, they are not eligible, they are excluded in this category, because they're close to the country, they can come back easily. People like, people in Singapore, for example, they just cross the causeway and come back, to where they are registered to vote, so are those in Brunei. So most Malaysians who are in Brunei, they are mostly from either from Sarawak or from the state of Sabah, and those who are in Kalimantan, they are mostly Malaysians from Sarawak.
COCHRANE: Now how will Malaysians who are living overseas be able to vote. Is it a postal system, advanced voting? What's the procedure?
OMAR: The EC will send the Malaysian High Commission, we are talking Australia here, so the postal voting what you call ballot papers, plus the envelope, we will send these documents to the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra and the Malaysian High Commission will inform Malaysia and in Australia the dates, the specific date where they can come to the High Commission and to collect themselves their ballot papers, plus the envelopes. And then, these people can, these voters can right away cast their vote at the embassy, and then put in the envelopes, seal the envelope and then put in the special bag. They call it overseas postal voting bag. It is a very strong bag, heavy duty. Then they can, after casting their vote, they put themselves the envelopes into the bags or they can take the ballot papers to their place and then they can cast their vote anywhere, because it is their right, now, it is their ballot papers. And they can vote anywhere, even at home and then they...but if they bring home the ballot papers, then they have to send back the ballot papers to the address return to the ballot papers that is the address of the returning officer of their respective constituencies and they have to send it back themselves.
But if they cast the vote at the High Commission and they place the envelope containing the ballot papers in the bag, what you call, prepared, or that are ready at the High Commission, then the High Commission on the next day will send back the special bags to the diplomatic (inaudible).
COCHRANE: And when will the - obviously, it will take sometime for that postal bag to travel from whatever country is, let's say Australia back to Malaysia to be secured back in KL. How far in advance will people need to vote? What will the cut off point be before the election?
OMAR: No, we are working, we are working to ensure that what we have planned with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Malaysian Missions Overseas to ensure that these ballot papers from overseas must come back to KL or in Putrajaya headquarters of the EC as soon as possible, because the EC will have to transport these ballot papers from overseas to their respective returning officers around the country. So that is the work of the EC, the work of the EC that we have already planned.
So what is happening, what is going to happen is that immediately after we printed the ballot papers, the first group of papers is to be sent overseas. And then, and between the printing of the ballot papers that is usually after the nomination day to the day of the ordinary polling day in Malaysia indicates at least two weeks. So I think we have enough time to send the ballot papers to the various countries around the world.
COCHRANE: That's sending, but what about coming back, what about once people have voted and the ballots are sent back. How late can they, how close to the election can they leave it before they vote overseas?
OMAR: Uh well, it depends from which countries. Suppose the bags containing the ballot papers coming from Australia arrive in Kuala Lumpur one week after we send the ballot papers there, then we still have enough time. Because within that one week, the final one week, you have time to send these ballot papers to sort out and send these ballot papers, to the respective constituencies, where the returning officer will count the ballot papers what are called after, after pm the closing time of the polling, of the ordinary polling in Malaysia.
COCHRANE: And if people living in various countries overseas want to find out what is the closing date for them voting overseas, where is the best place to find out? Is it the Election Commission web site?
OMAR: Yes, that's right, most of the information will be in the website and then, this week we will, what I call, we will launch a portal general election 13 where it can be accessed throughout the world. But again, as I said, the information pertaining to this voting by Malaysians abroad, they can see it from the, they can check from the web site.
COCHRANE: One other question regarding the procedures. Will overseas votes be counted no matter what or will they only be counted if the election is close?
OMAR: No, all ballots will be counted after the election is closed in Malaysia. We cannot count, we cannot count any time earlier than that. All ballot papers, no matter coming from overseas or ballot papers voting in Malaysia. The ballot papers will have to be counted, will only be counted after 5pm Malaysian time on the polling day in Malaysia. Then the respective returning officer will count all the ballot papers in their respective constituencies.
So it is not a problem. Ballot papers coming in from overseas will have time to reach the office of the returning officer, because that is the responsibility of the EC, and we have planned that, we have already scheduled all our programs and from the EC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, you can send these ballot papers, no matter coming from where, we can send to the prospective returning officers office around the country within one day, within 24 hours. We have all the means, we have the plans, we have scheduled programs relating to this. It's not a problem
COCHRANE: OK. Now the other big question that, of course, all Malaysians are wanting to know the answer to is when will this election be, when do we find that out?
OMAR: The election in Malaysia under the law is first the parliament has got to be dissolved by the ruling party, so after the dissolution of parliament, then under the law, the EC has 60 days to call for an election. So it is not a problem. Everyone now is waiting when parliament is going to be dissolved and once the parliament is dissolved, we have 60 days to call for election. So it's going to be within that 60 days and so I think the expiry date of parliament, the mandate of parliament. This parliament is going to, is going to finish on April 28th, 2013. So if the Prime Minister, the head of the ruling party, is not dissolving parliament anytime soon or anytime earlier than that date, then the parliament will be dissolved automatically on April 28th, 2013.
COCHRANE: But as of today, is Malaysia's Election Commission ready to go, prepared for the election?
OMAR: Yes, we are ready, we have done the preparations for the last one year and it's just a matter of fine tuning here and there. It's just returning to the votes from overseas. Now we are having meetings, discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and they're going to do some kind of training on the regional basis. Probably we'll send one officer to Australia to do the training. It's not the training, a kind of to see to it that people in Australia, our people at the Malaysian embassy or rather Malaysian High Commission in Australia really understand how to handle this thing.
COCHRANE: Certainly, how many, you must, in your planning for this, you must have had some idea of how many people to expect. How many overseas votes are you thinking you'll get?
OMAR: Nobody knows exactly, because it depends how many of these application forms, Forms 1B coming from overseas, that we're going to receive. Because a lot of people are talking about big numbers of Malaysians are studying overseas, but we do not know. Until and unless the closing date of this form that is on the date of the dissolution of parliament, that is the final date. Then only we know exactly how many Malaysians overseas have submitted their application to receive their ballot papers overseas.