Malaysian coalition chases diaspora's votes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2007, 12:00am

Tomorrow's by-election battle for a key rural seat may be decided in Hong Kong, San Francisco and Tokyo, with more than a quarter of the voters in the largely Chinese electorate now living abroad.

Getting Machap's diaspora to return and vote is a difficult task.

'We want to persuade as many of them to return and vote for the government on Thursday,' said Fong Chan Onn, minister of human resources in the ruling National Front coalition government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

About 2,740 voters out of 9,970 registered voters are working abroad, which amounts to 27 per cent of the electorate.

The government is likely to retain its seat in Machap, in southern Johore state bordering Singapore, where ethnic Chinese make up 47 per cent of the voters.

But all parties are keenly watching the first by-election since the 2004 national polls for indications of the level of support the government has among Chinese voters. The Chinese vote is being seen as crucial to the outcome of a general election expected within a year.

Mr Fong has joined government supporters going house to house to collect telephone numbers from the parents of those voters now living abroad.

'We are telephoning and sending e-mails to the voters,' Mr Fong said.

Government candidate Lai Meng Ching, 56, said volunteers were asking voters as far away as San Francisco to return and 'do your duty'.

'We expect a large voter turnout,' he said. 'We have already contacted Machap voters living in Brunei, Singapore and Hong Kong.'

For those who stayed, the government is repairing roads and houses, and building new schools and community halls.

Supporters even organised cooking and dancing classes for local farmers and on Sunday brought in national football and badminton stars to entice voters.

Significant factor

The percentage of overseas Chinese voters in the electorate 27%