While Malaysia gears up for its most intense general elections yet, a small portion of voters are left in electoral limbo – overseas Malaysians.

According to news reports and social media, a number of postal voters – Malaysians abroad – have not yet received their ballots with just two days to the polling date. Still others received their ballots with just a few days to spare, meaning that they have to pay exorbitant international express courier fees to make sure their votes are counted.

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First-time voter Kuhan Raj, a student who is based in Wales but votes in Selangor, received an alert from a courier service that he would receive his ballot paper on May 9 – election day itself.

“I can’t help but feel that I have been robbed of my right to decide the future of my country,” he said.

Chin Yi Vun, who is based in Dubai but votes in Sabah, has not received her ballot, either, but her husband who votes in Kuala Lumpur, has. And unlike the constituencies in the capital, her district, Sandakan, is widely considered a crucial seat.

“We were considering flying back {to vote} but have already registered as postal voters,” she said.

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Others, like Dubai-based consultant Andrew Loh Zhu An, received their ballots on Sunday and had to scramble to send them back – as well as comply with a new requirement that an adult Malaysian needs to witness the ballot and sign a separate form.

“You think I got so many Malaysians here for me to simply call them up to be witness? No warning, no nothing. EC just simply happy happy decided that they’re gonna add this criteria,” he said, adding that the EC is effectively “disenfranchising overseas Malaysians”.

Loh is so unhappy that he and a group of friends have set up an online platform (pulangmengundi.com), created in April, that empowers Malaysians to help others vote via carpooling and travel subsidies so that they can vote in time.

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EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah, however, assured the public at a press conference on Sunday that there were “no technical problems” and, despite being aware of concerns from overseas Malaysians, expressed his confidence that the ballots would return in time, chalking up the complaints to an “excitement” to vote.

The EC said the postal ballots were sent out after Nomination Day on April 28.

The delays have resulted in grassroots movements offering hand-carry services for ballot papers from countries of residence back to Malaysia. Some are helmed by established movements such as Malaysian electoral watchdog Global Bersih.

Meanwhile, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed earned the ire of Malaysians by Tweeting “Number of Malaysians voting overseas is abt 8,000 and not even 0.1% of the population as i thought earlier. Dont get excited abt it.”

The EC received 7,979 overseas postal vote applications, but the Malaysian community abroad is much larger. Although postal voters make up just a tiny fraction of the electorate, every vote counts in tight constituencies. And in a country where perception plays an exceptionally important role in politics, any perceived mismanagement could add fuel to the fire and risk disillusioning voters at home, observers are warning.

Co-chairperson of the Malaysian Bar Constitutional Law Committee Surendra Ananth said those who were disenfranchised voters could initiate a civil suit against the EC; or later file petition to contest the results of the election.