Hornbill Unleashed

August 22, 2016

The rape of redelineation

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:01 PM

First the Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron threatened to have the Election Commission (EC) redelineate certain constituencies in Malacca to win them back for the Barisan Nasional (BN). A few days later, the Lembah Pantai Umno division chief Datuk Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin echoed a similar threat to win back Lembah Pantai for the BN the same way.

Actually there is no need to issue such threats. It wasn’t very long ago that a former Chairman of the EC Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman coolly and proudly admitted publicly that while he helmed the EC, he had made sure the BN would always win (with a two-thirds majority?). Abdul Rashid had led the EC in managing six of the 13 general elections (until his retirement), as well as four redelineation exercises.

Redelineation designed to keep certain parties in power started when the popularity of those parties started eroding little by little. An “independent” EC would never have got into cahoots with the ruling regime to keep it in power by manipulating election processes.

“Loyalty” of the EC to the regime was obtained by appointing people who were members, ex-members, or loyalists of the ruling party and bringing the EC under the direct control of the Prime Minister who must approve the new boundaries before taking the “proposed” redelineation to Parliament for rubber stamping.

Redelineation is actually necessary from time to time as the population increases and people move from one place to another. It is meant to re-balance the number of voters in constituencies and is therefore a very important factor in determining the fairness of an election, i.e. whether it is conducted on an even field where no party has the advantage of the numbers of known sympathisers, over the other.

Gerrymandering is the rape of this process. It is not done to maintain a fair balance of voters between urban/rural constituencies (originally the constitution said it should not be more than 15 per cent, now it says “the number of electors within each constituency in a state ought to be approximately equal”, with flexibility for rural areas due to transport problems, etc.).

Rivers and roads determined the electoral boundaries in the beginning. Today, voters’ loyalties determine the boundaries. How does the EC know who votes for whom in order to group them together or break their groups up? Aren’t votes supposed to be secret?

Well, since gerrymandering started, votes are no longer secret.

For the first few elections, ballots from all polling stations in each parliamentary constituency used to be taken to its one counting centre. Boxes would be opened and the ballots mixed raffle style, then counted. No one could pinpoint which small group of voters had voted strongly for or against whom.

To facilitate gerrymandering with precision, the rules for counting votes were changed. Now votes are counted in the very room they are cast in. Each room, or stream, has between 200 to 800 voters who may be from one kampong, one block of flats, one housing estate.

If any of these have voted strongly for a particular party, the EC knows how to deal with them – to break them up to dilute opposition votes, or bring them into another area to strengthen the ruling party’s votes, or to create new constituencies with strong support for the ruling party. Thus electoral boundaries now zig-zag through roads and rivers and make contorted patterns.

In Sarawak’s redelineation last year, 11 ruling-party-friendly seats were created. A few days ago, Sabah passed a constitutional amendment bill to increase its legislative assembly size from 60 to 73. More state seats also mean more parliamentary seats. So the EC is buying insurance for the ruling party.

The EC, by the admission of its former chairman, is thus a tool of the BN and it has perfected the art of gerrymandering to keep its master afloat by changing the goal-posts for each match. It does not have an iota of independence to serve the public interest without fear or favour.

No wonder we so often hear loud proclamations that the government should be changed through the “democratic election process” because that process is merely a drama to get legitimacy from the outside world, but designed and executed at home to ensure no change of government.

Ravinder Singh

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