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Mar. 17th, 2011

I just read a brief, crushing update on the right of Malaysians overseas to vote. More to the point, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department has said no. To quote him as per the article that reported it: "If Malaysians staying abroad love Malaysia, they should return. They are there by choice, and not because of work or study."

Article 119 of the Federal Constitution states that all Malaysians aged 21 and above have the right to vote, either as residents or as absent voters. So making a statement like this is constitutionally incorrect.

Some members of the opposition have also pointed out how out of touch with reality this statement actually is. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how out of touch with reality this statement is. I do live abroad by choice. That choice was made because being in Malaysia, as much as I love my country for a lot of tangible reasons, meant denying significant swathes of my beliefs and personal character. It meant putting the people I love, other Malaysians, at risk, socially and beyond, for being around me. Though I accepted that for a while, growing up in Malaysia, you can live having to be careful about who you talked to on what subject, that you can live running the very real legal risk of potentially being fined, jailed or forcibly counselled as a daily reality, you can also live in an environment that accepts you for who you are. I have found a place in life where I can grow and thrive personally, emotionally and professionally, where I know the things I stand for and the civil society I believe in can be discussed so that everyone can learn new perspectives about ourselves, not buried under the rug.

Yes, you can do that by being Malaysian. Being Malaysian is an essential cornerstone of a citizen's identity. It's a large part of my identity. I strongly believe it adds to what I bring to any dialogue I enter into, either with other Malaysians or with the global community. You don't lose the culture, ideas or impressions you gained, growing up in Malaysia or being among Malaysians, by merely setting foot in a different country. You don't lose your sense of responsibility or care for the culture, places and people who raised you by going abroad.

You can, while I'm on this, be Malaysian and atheist, freethinking, multiracial, gay, bi, transgendered, liberal, socialist, communist or any number of identities that suit you best. You can be Malaysian and live, work and communicate with non-Malaysians. Like matters of faith, what kind of love is it if it can't even survive the rigors of a global environment?

I've linked to this campaign before, but it's worth doing again. My Overseas Vote is fighting for overseas Malaysians' right to vote as absent voters -- this includes all the people who currently can; civil servants, members of the army, students and their spouses -- and the rest of us who can't. If you're a Malaysian abroad, please sign their petition or donate to keep the campaign alive. Even if you're not a Malaysian, they're a great resource on the subject I've just talked about.