Najib’s opening remarks at the indigO2 arena in London last night were interrupted by repeated chants of “Bersih! Bersih!”

“Bersih! Bersih!…”

“I want to vote. I am a Malaysian; I want to vote,” a man in the crowd heckled.

“Dear Malaysians…” Najib began.

“Bersih! Bersih!…” the chanting persisted.

“… tuan-tuan dan puan-puan yang saya hormati sekalian,” Najib continued. “Pertamanya, saya ingin mengucap ribuan terimakasih…”

“Bersih! Bersih!…”

As the chanting persisted, Najib was forced to ask the crowd, “Can you please stop it? Can you stop it, please?”

“Bersih! Bersih!…” Someone in the crowd yelled, “We are also Malaysians here…”

At present, only diplomatic staff, military personnel and full-time students based abroad are the only overseas Malaysians allowed to vote. Malaysian citizens overseas who are working in the private sector or retired or unemployed are required to return to Malaysia to vote in person while other Malaysians abroad are not eligible to vote.

“I know, I know, but can you stop it?” Najib pleaded. The “Evening with the PM” in London was not going according to script.

“Bersih! Bersih!…”

“You can meet with me later, okay? Please can you … stop it.”

“I want Bersih…,” the heckling persisted. After all, no tear gas and water cannons were around in the arena. No goons around to kick or club protesters either.

“No, no …” the PM tried gamely.

“I want to vote…”

“All right, all right…”

“Why won’t you allow me to vote?” the man in a black suit in the audience demanded.

Full-time students overseas theoretically have the right to vote, but those who have tried to register find hurdles placed in their path. Some embassies/consulates are said to have refused to register students not sponsored by the government or those who had previously registered as ordinary voters at home – even though the Election Commission has clarified that all students are eligible to register as absent voters.

“No, no, you wait for me,” Najib responded.

“I want to vote!”

“No, no, you can talk with me later, okay?” Najib replied, trying to sound conciliatory.

“Have some respect-lah wei,” someone else shouted.

The heckling then subsided and Najib began his speech.

The protesters had made their point: all Malaysians overseas must be granted the right to vote in clean and fair elections and none of them should continue to be disenfranchised.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal has fixed 31 May 2012 at 11.00am for an appeal by six overseas Malaysians. Their challenge against the Election Commission’s refusal to register them as absent voters was dismissed by the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on 6 January 2012.