“I was then one of the last to receive my ballot papers, way past the deadline”
Cerita Undi by Lyana Khairuddin.
May 9th, I am 6,592 miles away in the U.K. I returned to my accommodation to yet again an empty post box, my postal ballot papers still nowhere to be seen.
A part of me was angry, I was one of the firsts among my scholarship holders to ask about postal ballots, submitted the right form and received approval for postal ballot from the EC. I was one of the firsts among Malaysian students in the U.K. to have shared the information about postal ballots, having first verified all the necessary details with the EC and cross checked the information with Global Bersih.
I was then one of the last to receive my ballot papers, way past the deadline of 1700, 9th May, 2018.
Over the past week, my social media was filled with news of fellow Malaysians receiving their postal ballot papers. I was filled with jealousy, but all I could do was provide moral support for them to vote and send their ballots back.
I felt so alone in Oxford, with many more Malaysians in London getting together and helping each other to post their ballots back. Social media helps connect us, but have also increased one’s fear of missing out (FOMO) and isolate those who could share the good news from the rest of us who could only hope we could have made history, too.
A few Malaysians received their ballot papers at the eleventh hour, necessitating ‘runners’ to fly back home with their ballots and hand-delivering through husbands, wives, relatives or yet more strangers to the specified returning officers once these reach Malaysia. Stories of such an “Amazing Race” filled my timeline, engulfed me with the bittersweet feeling of determination.
Another part of me was so angry with those who refused to register to vote, those who demanded to #undirosak, and those who simply refused to care.
You really don’t know how it feels like to lose your rights until you have lost it. The EC demanded that postal votes be returned before 1700, 9th of May; and passed on the blame to overseas voters for delaying the return. The straw on the camel’s back broke when Former Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed commented that overseas votes only accounts for 0.1% anyway, discounting the efforts by Malaysian students who set aside our measly stipends for the courier charges, dropping everything when we received our postal ballots at the eleventh hour to meet strangers at airports to ‘run’ our ballots back, all the while cursing the EC for making our lives that much harder.
But we pulled through. Malaysians pulled through.
The fact that there were so many organic, citizen rights movements to help each other – from #pulangmengundi and #undirabu subsidizing travel costs for students and first-time voters, car-pooling apps to balik mengundi, to offers from Malaysians overseas to reimburse courier charges and purchasing flight tickets back for runners – made my heart full, and showed that collectively, it needed us to move mountains before we realize how much we all love the nation and how much we could get together, truly, as One Malaysia.
Ironic, isn’t it? That much chided slogan actually materialized when Malaysians were pushed to shove.
I approached May 9th with disappointment at not having received my ballot paper. But where I can, I find sparks of hope.
I spent the day in agitation. There is nothing I could do in Oxford, I felt completely and absolutely helpless.
I was glued to my phone, my whatsapp exploding with news – not only from my usual ‘political’ groups but also from my running groups, and even Britons who have lived in Malaysia before, all asking for and providing updates.
News came trickling in, of how there were long queues at all polling centres, how ballot papers were not stamped or smudged in ink, how we are not seeing a large voter turn out. All I could do was share information on social media to encourage Malaysians to vote.
To still vote despite the odds, to demand for a right that I myself have been denied.
I received news of EC delaying voters, keeping the queue long. Friends updating that they have stocked up rations over the anticipation of a riot.
When counting of ballots begin, I followed every count closely; with multiple recounts happening all over the country. Former BN ministers were losing seats, then magically winning them again, for a few.
Friends joked that they dare not sleep, hoping against hope that we have indeed created history. If they sleep, they might wake up to a nightmare, they said.
I cried, I danced, I shouted, I cried some more. All the time holding on for dear life to every update over whatsapp.
When the news finally came that we have indeed overcame a 61 years ‘curse’, I could only stare at my phone in disbelief. I cried – joy, disappointment, anger – for I was not home.
I have never felt as homesick as I do right now. As I type this, fellow students on the same scholarship were lamenting why did we took this prestigious scholarship this year when we very well know that this is election year.
Personally, I could only respond that we are here on a scholarship to return home and contribute towards rebuilding a nation. The lyrics from the musical Hamilton came to mind, where George Washington commented to Alexander Hamilton, “winning is easy, young man, governing is harder.”
Sure, a few of us were not able to vote thus literally did not create history. A number of us received our ballot papers past the deadline.
But what I know is all of us are here pursuing a Masters degree because we want to contribute to a nation that have shaped us, empowered us, and believed in us.
We believe in her, too. That was why we took a year off our careers to work towards a degree that would enrich us, and subsequently enrich the nation.
GE14 has proven that Malaysia is all about the people. It takes people to rebuild nations, and it takes people from all walks of life to contribute in our little yet significant ways when one talks of nation building.
The work begins now. We, the people, make Malaysia. Let it be glorious.
Lyana Khairuddin is currently reading for Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. She hopes for a more gender-balanced Malaysian cabinet to be announced in the days to come, #morewomenbetternation.
Cover image credit : Ikubaru, Flickr