AS election fever picks up in Malaysia and with polling day set mid-week on May 9, several netizens in the Southeast Asian country have banded together to crowdsource funds and transportation to help their fellow countrymen exercise their right to vote.
The hashtags #PulangMengundi (return to vote) to provide funds for flight and bus fares, and #CarpoolGE14 to arrange shared vehicle rides back to voters’ constituencies, began to emerge on Tuesday within hours of the Election Commission’s announcement that polling date would fall on a Wednesday next month.
Many netizens and activists alike took to Twitter and other social media websites to air their grouses over the set polling day, which has just been declared a public holiday.
Some expressed frustration that they would not be able to return to their faraway hometowns where they are registered to vote simply because they do not have the means to do so, or found it hard to get leave from work, given the timing.
Our differences makes us stronger. #Malaysia
— Anakin (اناكين) and 227 others (@mimierhmn) April 10, 2018
SEE ALSO: Malaysia goes to polls on May 9
A Malay Mail Online digital editor Joe Lee (@klubbkiddkl) had helped create the #PulangMengundi after finding Iggy Amabel’s shared that returning to her hometown was not as easy as thought.
Iggy said a ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Ranau, Sabah, would set her back about RM700 (US$180), which was a high sum for her.
— Marina Mahathir (@netraKL) April 10, 2018
“I can’t afford to do so … no reduction in flight tickets. Unlike 2013 poll, back then I only spent less than RM300 (US$70) for my son and myself,” she said.
Iggy’s outpouring and the #PulangMengundi hashtag helped gather a small army of angel donors to reach out to those who were less fortunate.
Opposition leaders and rights activists said the Wednesday polling date would probably dent voter turnout and benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional, according to Reuters.
The election could prove to be the toughest test of the ruling coalition’s 61-year grip on power, with embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak under pressure to deliver an emphatic win.
And as I sent that tweet, I see #PulangMengundi happening – attempts to link people who need help to go vote with people who can help. Offers of donations, ride sharing etc. Democracy in action! We must ensure democracy lives on!
— Niki Cheong (@nikicheong) April 10, 2018
Some Twitter user set aside funds ranging from 150 ringgit ($39) to 1,000 ringgit ($259) to pay for flights or bus rides home for those needing assistance, and many offered carpool rides.
“I am seeing total strangers offering help to fellow Malaysians to go home and vote. No one shall deny our right to vote!” wrote a user with the handle @Klubbkiddkl, who started a hashtag to connect those in need.
Several companies said they would let staff take time off, and some offered to cover employees’ travel costs.
“We will definitely give the voting day off, and for staff who have to travel, we will allow remote working,” said Mellissa Lee, the head of email marketing platform GetResponse Malaysia.
Google Malaysia will be supportive of any staff seeking time out to vote, spokesman Zeffri Yusof told Reuters.
Shekhinah PR, a sports public relations firm, also offered to defray travel costs. “To lessen the financial burden of the staff, the management will meet the costs of their travel expenses (petrol and toll charges),” Chief Executive Christopher Raj said on Facebook.
The opposition has said it expects the election to be unfair, after parliament approved plans to redraw electoral boundaries and pushed through an anti-fake news bill, changes critics say will favour Najib.
The government and election authorities have rejected these accusations.