Malaysians living overseas sue for right to vote

AP News
Posted: Oct 31, 2011 4:13 AM
Malaysians living overseas sue for right to vote

A group of Malaysians have sued election authorities in what they described Monday as an attempt to extend voting rights to nearly 1 million citizens living abroad.

In a separate case linked to public demands for wider political transparency, a court ruled that Malaysian university students should be allowed greater freedom to participate in politics.

Rights activists have long criticized restrictions that prevent most Malaysians abroad from casting ballots. Exceptions include government workers, military personnel and full-time students.

Another law has prevented university students from publicly voicing support for political parties since the 1970s.

A group of Malaysians called "My Overseas Vote" said in a statement that six citizens working in the United Kingdom have asked the Kuala Lumpur High Court to force the Election Commission to register them as voters before the next general elections, widely expected by mid-2012.

"To say that only certain groups of citizens are allowed the postal ballot is nonsense that amounts to outright discrimination," Teo Hoon Seong, one of the litigants, said in the statement.

The court is scheduled to hear preliminary arguments Nov. 14 on whether to allow a full hearing for the lawsuit.

Commission officials had no immediate comment. The commission recently announced plans to extend voting rights at an unspecified time.

Separately Monday, Malaysia's Court of Appeals ruled that a nearly 30-year-old law that bars undergraduates from expressing support for political parties was an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

The verdict was in favor of four political science students who challenged their university for trying to penalize them for participating in an election campaign.

The university is expected to appeal the verdict in Malaysia's top court.

Demands for fairer political rules have spiked over the past year, prompting tens of thousands of Malaysians to stage a rare march for electoral transparency in Kuala Lumpur in July.

Many activists accuse Prime Minister Najib Razak's National Front ruling coalition of manipulating the law to remain in power. The coalition has governed since 1957, but complaints about corruption and racial discrimination caused it to win 2008 elections with less than a two-thirds parliamentary majority for only the second time in history.