Zaleha, a post-graduate research assistant in a UK teaching hospital was furious, "I have no choice but to work overseas. This place has the best research facilities in my field of study. I still pay tax for my properties in Kuala Lumpur and I remit money home to support my parents and siblings.
"The EC does more harm to take away my vote. How about making it ineligible for those immigrants with questionable citizenship, to vote in Malaysia? "
Zaleha was reacting to the statement by the chairman of the Election Commission (EC) Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof who said, "Do we want to take in Malaysians (as voters) who do not come back to Malaysia? Do we take these people as voters?"
Last August, there were high expectations when the EC announced the possibility of allowing Malaysians abroad to vote in Malaysian elections. Support was boosted when the nine-man Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) led by Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili recommended that overseas Malaysians could vote.
In a surprise move last month, the hopes of Malaysian expatriates were dashed. The EC ruled that overseas Malaysians were not taxpayers in Malaysia and should not be eligible to vote in parliamentary or state elections.
Abdul Aziz said that this proposal was among several to be submitted to the PSC on electoral reforms and using the United States as an example, said that only American taxpayers were allowed to vote.
Swift condemnations by Malaysian students and workers overseas followed and they denounced the move claiming they were stripped of their constitutional rights and were unable to discharge their duties, as Malaysian citizens, to vote and choose the government of their choice.
In a press statement issued by MyOverseasVote, Abdul Aziz was criticised for misleading the Malaysian public about the connection between taxation and the US system of overseas voting.
It stressed that the USA did not operate a "No Tax, No Vote" system and said, "The USA taxes the overseas income of her citizens, but that taxation and the right to vote are two completely separate issues. Moreover, it is illegal to link the payment of taxes to the right to vote."
After consultation with the American Embassy, the MyOverseasVote movement said that the only prerequisites for a U.S. absentee ballot are American citizenship and voting age. It quoted the Director of American Citizens Abroad (ACA), Roland Crim, who specialises in US Expat Tax issues: "Since the 1964 ratification by the States of the 24th Amendment, Americans cannot be denied the right to vote on the grounds that they do not pay taxes….."
One Penangite, Adele said, "First, it is ridiculous to say that Malaysian citizens who don't pay Malaysian taxes cannot vote. We might as well let foreign citizens living in Malaysia vote because they pay taxes in Malaysia.
"I am married to a Brit and have no intention of settling permanently in England. When my son is older and at university, I will return permanently to Malaysia. I own a home in Malaysia and visit Malaysia yearly. I pay quit rent on this property, so technically speaking, I pay Malaysian taxes. I should have the right to vote in Malaysia although I live in the UK."
Her sentiments were echoed by Baharuddin, a Malaysian working in the oil and gas sector in Scotland. In a direct challenge to the EC chairman, Baharuddin said, "Malaysians living abroad may not pay tax directly to the Malaysian treasury, but they send money home, to their families. This must be in the millions, if not more. Doesn't this favour the balance of payments and helps the finances of the country? Doesn't their contribution count?"
Support for the EC chairman was evident, albeit small in number.
One Malaysian on temporary assignment abroad said: "We don't want these overseas Malaysians to dictate policies back home. They could be reckless and irresponsible. They will not face the consequences of their vote unlike the people back home. There should be no representation without taxation. You want to vote, you pay Malaysian tax. Simple as that."
Meanwhile, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) condemned the EC proposal calling it a major step backwards for the nation's democracy.
Its Central Leadership Council member, Elizabeth Wong, said that denying the constitutional right of Malaysian citizens to vote "reflects the EC's attitude towards voting - that it is a privilege, not a right."
Calling it a "dangerous trend in Malaysian politics" she said, "Instead of strengthening our democracy by engaging more citizens to be part of the process and expanding the voter base, the EC seeks to go in reverse and take us back to the day when the right to vote is only limited to an elite few".
A Malaysian heart specialist working in Bristol said, "The EC is wrong to tell us that we cannot vote because we do not pay Malaysian taxes. How about those earning less than RM2,500 in Malaysia? They do not pay tax, so are they exempt from having a say in Malaysia? And what about retirees?
"The right to vote does not boil down to who pays taxes or not. It is our right as a Malaysian citizen."
Despite condemnations from civil society groups like Bersih 2.0 and Suhakam, the MCA has come out in support of the EC's latest proposal. But Gerakan deputy president, Chang Ko Youn, disagrees, saying that the EC move "would stifle democracy" and discourage overseas Malaysians from returning home.
Chang said that overseas Malaysians should be allowed to vote regardless of their tax status. He wanted their participation in elections for their continual "attachment and involvement in the affairs of the state".
The move to allow overseas Malaysians to vote has not found favour with all expatriate Malaysians.
One said, "Malaysians abroad on permanent residency visas should not be given the right to vote in Malaysian elections.
"They left Malaysia after deciding that Malaysia had little to offer them. If they were concerned about the nation, they should have stayed behind and striven for change. It is only by being in Malaysia that their efforts for change will have the greatest impact."
A Malaysian living in Sweden disagrees, "My family background did not fit the government mould. So despite my consistent track record in studies and on the sports field, I was not eligible to receive a government scholarship, or loan to further my studies. I did not reject my country. It was Malaysia which abandoned people like me."