The first part of this post is written for the benefit of those who may have little or no understanding of the importance of the notion of equal value of votes and the two practices by election authorities that undermine that notion : gerrymandering and malapportionment.
On 26th May, 2013, Canberra Times, reporting on the outcome of our 13th GE outcome, stated thus : ““Najib leads a government that gained power through a gerrymander. The Malaysian government is one which is on par with Sri Lanka, corrupt and short on any notion of human rights. Najib is well aware of what the ruling Umno party has done to hold on to power. It is ruthless, stubborn and acts outside its own laws”.
And at page 59 of the report of the People’s Tribunal on Malaysia’s 13th GE, the tribunal reported its finding that “…It is hard to see how having one constituency nine times the size of another in terms of electorate can be described as ‘approximately equal’. The EC failed to implement the principle of equal representation in apportionment and districting…there is considerable evidence that these anomalies work in one direction only : to the benefit of the ruling coalition”.
To better understand what is in these reports, lets first understand a very basic principle that is core to the notion of representative government.
Citizens who are qualified to vote, each cast a vote to choose their preferred candidate, in their particular constituency. To make this process fair, each constituency should have the same number of voters. So, for example, if there are 50,000 voters in constituency A, there should also be the same number in constituencies B, C and D.
This is the ideal to achieve the desired “1 man, 1 vote, all equal”.
Ideal, but in practical terms, difficult to attain.
So the Constitution places a duty on the Election Commission (EC) to aspire to achieve approximate equality. I read this to mean not quite equal, but not too far off from that point of equality.
In other words, the difference between 2 constituencies in terms of number of voters in each should not be too large.
The Reid Commission report, in making recommendations that led to the writing up of our Constitution, suggested that a variance of 15% between constituencies was acceptable. This is not too far off from generally accepted international standards of a variance of 20%.
This is what you and I are entitled to expect.
To illustrate the failure on the part of the EC to implement the principle of equal representation that the People’s Tribunal spoke of, lets just look at 2 constituencies from the last election.
Putrajaya had 15,791 voters.
About 52km away, in the constituency of Kapar, 144,159 voters would cast their votes to choose one representative in Parliament.
The value of each vote in Kapar is only a tenth of that in Putrajaya.
This cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be seen as adhering to approximate equality.
The Tribunal also concluded that this unsatisfactory state of affairs was deliberately put in place to benefit the BN coalition.
Remember in the last election, the opposition garnered a slight majority of the popular votes cast, yet BN won the majority of the seats?
How did that happen?
BN won Putajaya, whilst the opposition won Kapar.
It required 10 times more voters to deliver Kapar to the opposition than it did voters to deliver Putrajaya to BN.
Now imagine this ratio applying across the country.
Can you now understand how even with a minority of the popular votes cast, BN is still in Putrajaya?
This is the end result of the gerrymandering and malapportionment that EC had thus far inflicted upon our constituencies over the years.
Both these phrases are very simply explained in a news report today by Malaysiakini that I am just going to reproduce them here.
Gerrymandering entails redrawing electoral boundaries to concentrate the supporters of one party in a handful of constituencies, while shifting supporters of an opposing party into many more other constituencies. This can result in some oddly shaped constituency boundaries.
Malapportionment describes the Putrajaya-Kapar situation we just looked at. Malaysiakini describes it as “vast differences between the number of voters from one constituency to another. This is unfair because it dilutes the value of voters in larger constituencies in favour of those voting in smaller ones”.
Now, onto why we have much cause for concern and why we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing.
The Election Commission (EC) has given notice of the commencement of a nationwide redelineation exercise.
Yes, the EC is going to redraw constituency boundaries and start moving voters around.
More gerrymandering and malapportionment to benefit BN in the next elections?
Malaysiakini reports that 128 parliamentary constituencies will be affected.
Including my constituency, PJ Selatan which, under this exercise, is proposed to be re-named Petaling Jaya.
This is a photoshot of the results for PJ Selatan in the 13th GE that appears in the EC website.
You will note that there was then a total of 79,558 registered voters in the constituency.
I am now reliably informed that through this latest redelineation exercise, the number of voters will increase to 129,362 by redrawing the boundary of my parliamentary constituency to now include the state seat of Seri Setia, previously under the parliamentary seat of Kelana Jaya.
Tony Pua’s seat, PJ Utara, slated now to be called Damansara, is similarly affected.
This snapshot shows the number of voters in PJ Utara during the 13th GE : 85,401.
This will now increase to 150,439, making this seat the largest in the nation in terms of number of voters. This will be done by redrawing the boundary of this parliamentary constituency to now include the state seat of Bukit Lanjan, previously within the Parliamentary seat of Subang.
Lets hop over to my home state, Perak.
Many DAP seats are going to be affected.
I am told that in Nizar’s Bukit Gantang, 5,262 voters from Pengkalan Aur, part of Bukit Gantang, will be migrated to Taiping.
Also, 3,329 voters from Ipoh Timur, a DAP seat, will be migrated to Tambun, a BN seat.
In Batu Gajah, 4,067 voters from Farlim and Desa Rishah are to be migrated to Ipoh Barat.
Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, 27,769 voters in Lumut, a PKR seat, will be migrated to Beruas, now to be re-named Ayer Tawar.
Can we try and make sense of all these boundary re-drawing and inter-constituency voter migration?
Imagine constituency A is an opposition stronghold since independence. BN has no chance whatsoever to win the seat. Fringing seat A are constituencies B, C and D. B was won by BN with a slim majority, whilst C and D were won by the opposition, also by slim majorities.
The BN-EC gameplan with regard to A, B, C and D?
Let opposition keep A, fortify their position in B and increase their odds of winning C and D.
First, migrate pro-opposition voters from B, C and D to A. Essentially, make hardcore opposition seats a dumpsite for pro-opposition voters, leading to those constituencies having a very large number of voters, mostly opposition.
Then migrate pro-BN voters from A to B, C and D. Just enough for comfortable majorities. Hence relatively smaller number of voters in these now BN-winnable seats.
This, I am afraid, is what the next redelineation exercise is all about.
If in the last election, 47% of the popular votes was enough to see BN returned to Putrajaya, expect that after this redelineation exercise, an even smaller popular vote will suffice for BN at the 14th GE.
Can we fight this?
Yes we can!!!!
I am checking with the experts on the election laws relating to our rights to raise objections to the proposed redelineation in our constituencies.
Time is of the essence so I will come back to all of you on this very, very soon.
Lets fight this, people