CariReporter Publish time 13-2-2014 05:10 PM

Towards a Fairer Electoral System
Christopher Leong, President, Malaysian Bar

Bar Council Malaysia is currently working with a number of organisations to create a platform to educate Malaysian voters about the importance of their vote as well as their participation in the processes involved in constituency delineation or delimitation.

This is done in recognition of the fact that there appear to be several key flaws in the system currently, and we believe that it is make far-reaching and fundamental changes to the electoral system by the process of delineation to correct these flaws.

In an effort to evaluate and understand the implications of the current apportionment of seats at the different constituencies, there are several glaring points of contention.

It is important to establish a fair and free electoral system in line with democratic principles and international best practices to ensure as far as reasonably possible, the achievement of one person, one vote, one value.

While it is true that Malaysia’s history is scattered with discrepancies with reference to this principle, in some instances it can and has been justified on the grounds of the unique cultural demographics of our nation, and the fundamental urban and rural divide that continues to exist even after 57 years of independence.

It is in taking cognizance of this, and the need to move in the right direction, that Bar Council Malaysia together with several organisations, is keen to conduct this public forum entitled Towards a Fairer Electoral System’.

The focus of this forum is to educate the Malaysian voters that their right to be heard is not only manifest when there is a general election or a by-election, but rather, that they are able to continue to contribute to the growth of a democratic electoral system in Malaysia, at critical times in Malaysia’s history. One such time is when the Election Commission, that is statutorily empowered to review constituency boundaries, may be on the verge of doing so. As I understand it, constituency delineation has two aspects that can affect electoral outcomes:

the distribution of the total electorate among constituencies (apportionment); and the determination of constituency boundaries.

According to Dr Lim Hong Hai, retired professor from USM:


[*]Where delineating constituencies results in unequal electorates, this amounts to mal- apportionment, and may manifest as favouring parties with more supporters in the smaller constituencies; and

[*]Where constituency boundaries are drawn to the advantage of a political party, the practice is called gerrymandering.

While it is recognised that the Election Commission is empowered to conduct the delineation exercise, the concerns are with reference to allegations of unconstitutional mal- apportionment, and gerrymandering.

We believe that the delineation exercise that is due to take place should, where possible,correct the existing flaws in the system and aim to achieve one person, one vote, one value,taking into account the variances that are unique to the Malaysian electoral demographics. This will be a true exercise in democracy for a nation very much in need of such a commitment and a reflection that the current government is cognizant of the needs of its people in the growth of our young nation.

Based on the apportionment of voters for the 2013 election, there was clear vote disproportionality. For example, according to Dr Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute:

[*]while Barisan National had 47.38% of the vote, this resulted in them obtaining 59.91% of the seats;
[*] while Parti Keadilan Rakyat had 20.39% of the vote, this resulted in them obtaining 13.15% of the seats
[*]while DAP had 15.71% of the vote, this resulted in them obtaining 17.12% of the seats
[*] while PAS had 14.77% of the vote, this resulted in them obtaining 9.46% of the seats

There are apparently numerous examples of discrepancies on a more local level. Consider the example the constituency in Segamat. Two voter, husband and wife were, before 2003, voters in the same constituency - P125: Segamat. After the 2003 delineation exercise, the husband was assigned to P140: Segamat – N02:
Jementah; while the wife and other family members living in the same house were assigned to vote at P141: Sekijang – N03 Pemanis. In the case of this husband and wife, it appears that the Election Commission has cut right through their home (and even marital bed) as part of the delineation. This defies logic and
raises questions about the factors that the Election Commission takes into account in their delineation exercise.

The public forum, which will be held at the Civic Centre in Petaling Jaya from 8:30 am on the 15th and 16th of February, will be aimed at educating Malaysians that, even though the general elections are over, the opportunities to make a difference are not.

We are very privileged to be working with Tindak Malaysia as well as organisations such as Bersih, ENGAGE, Projek Beres, and stalwarts on the development of constitutional and electoral law and human rights in Malaysia such as:

[*]Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, SUHAKAM
[*] Dr Bridget Welsh, Singapore Management University
[*] Dr Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute
[*] Professor James Chin, Monash University Malaysia
[*] Dr Lim Hong Hai, formerly from Universiti Sains Malaysia
[*] Dr Shaharuddin Baharudin Kewarganegaraan; from Akademi Pendidikan Demokrasi

[*]Ibrahim Suffian, Merdeka Centre

We hope that this forum will demonstrate to the Election Commission that we want to be engaged and to contribute to this process, and we ask that the Election Commission recognise the role that civil society can play in making a difference.

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