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Mar 8, 2008

Fired up, many in S'pore go home to vote

Eager voters working here fill up buses as they rush home in time for the polls
By Zackaria Abdul Rahim & Chai Hung Yin

MR ONG JIIN JOO spent five long hours on the bus to get home to Petaling Jaya last night just to vote in the polls today, and has to rush back to Singapore tomorrow morning to be in time for a concert practice session at 2pm.

The 28-year-old broadband development manager could not vote in 2004 as he was studying in the United States at the time.

'This is the first time. It is close enough for me...I decided to make the trip so that I can participate in the democratic process,' he said.

Mr Ong could well have been speaking for many other Malaysians in Singapore who are making similar plans.

The Straits Times spoke to 30, and found among them a strong interest in politics back home - strong enough to take the long ride home to the ballot box - even though voting is not compulsory.

The Malaysian High Commission here said it has received 'many phone calls' from its citizens asking whether they could vote from here. Only diplomats, overseas students and police and army personnel can vote through the post.

Leading bus operators such as Grassland Express and Alisan Express reported fully booked coaches to Malaysia this week, thanks to the elections and school holidays, with Alisan's general manager citing a 20 per cent increase in ticket demand this weekend.

There is first-time voter Tan Lit Han, 24, who has been waiting to vote since his university days.

There is retiree Susan Goh, 57, who has lived in Singapore since the 1970s, but goes home every GE to vote.

And there is engineer Wong Beng Soon, 30, who sees it as an obligation. 'It is my responsibility as a rakyat (citizen) to vote for a government that I think will make a better Malaysia,' he said.

It helps that this year, new contenders, a stronger opposition, a slowing economy and racial and religious tensions are making for what is likely to be a closer fight than in 2004, when ruling coalition Barisan Nasional swept to a landslide victory with apparent ease.

'I thought it will be great to vote this year with the current political situation,' said operations specialist Lee Fong de Guzman, 31, who did not vote in 2004.

Many also make it a point to keep up with news back home via websites of newspapers such as The Star, online mailing lists and even blogs of opposition parties.

'Though I am residing abroad, I still follow the political developments in Malaysia closely through online publications and coffee shop chats with my Malaysian friends both here and abroad,' said Mr Mohan Rasa, 37, a finance manager.

For some, coffee-shop talk and armchair criticism is not enough.

Said software engineer Teo Sze Lee, 28: 'There is no point complaining about the government every day with friends on blogs if I cannot even fulfil my responsibility to vote for the government I choose.'

There are also those who are held back from voting by work commitments.

'Both my mum and my brother are going back to vote, but I cannot join them because I knock off at 11am on Saturday,' said Mr Raikal Mustafa, 32, a fitness instructor.

But for some others, it is just not worth the trouble.

Said research assistant in finance Y.T. Lee, 27, who professed to be 'indifferent' to it all: 'There is no party that seems to be aligned with my values.' - STRAITS TIMES


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