The public and opposition parties should be very concerned with the latest round of electoral boundary changes in the country’s parliamentary constituencies.
This seems yet another effort to rig the electoral system to ensure Umno and BN dominance and political hegemony.
Scholarly studies by local and foreign academicians of similar exercises in the past have shown a clear pattern of the manipulation of electoral boundaries at both national and state levels.
This together with the great disparity of voter numbers among the constituencies, use of the governmental machinery in support of Umno and BN candidates; the incidence of phantom, postal and absentee voters; and various other irregularities and unethical practices have debased the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process.
That these handicaps against the opposition have strengthened Umno’s and BN’s standing in parliament and state assemblies by distorting electoral outcomes is beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In the last election, the BN polled 5,237,699 votes, or 47.4% of the vote. The opposition PR polled 5,623,984 votes, or 50.9% of the vote. However, the BN won the election with 133 seats against the opposition’s 89. The PR increased their vote by 2.9%, while the BN vote fell by 3.9%, yet the PR made a net gain of only seven seats.
This outcome did not happen by accident but by deliberate design and manipulation. If the proposed changes go unchallenged, we can expect more skewed outcomes in the coming GE that will make a greater mockery of the “one person, one vote” principle.
Electoral Commission: Handmaiden of BN hegemony
Malaysians are well aware that the Electoral Commission is the key stake player in ensuring free and fair elections. However, the EC has become another of the vital institutions established to safeguard and support our system of parliamentary democracy which have been co-opted by the ruling establishment to maintain its monopoly of the government.
The framers of our original Constitution must be turning in their graves to see what has happened to the EC.
The beginning of the end of the Electoral Commission’s independence took place in 1962 with the Constitution (Amendment) Act.
According to Profesor H. E. Groves, who edited the first major commentary on the Malayan Constitution, and was also dean, and president of various academic institutions, cited by Lim Hong Hai in his article, Electoral Politics in Malaysia: ‘Managing’ Elections in a Plural Society:
It is apparent that the new amendments as to elections converted a formerly independent Election Commission, whose decisions became law and whose members enjoyed permanent tenure, into an advisory body of men of no certain tenure whose terms of office, except for remuneration, are subject to the whims of parliament.
The vital power of determining the size of constituencies as well as their boundaries is now taken from a Commission, which the constitution-makers had apparently wished, by tenure and status, to make independent and disinterested, and has been made completely political by giving this power to a transient majority of parliament, whose temptations to gerrymander districts and manipulate the varying numerical possibilities between “rural” and “urban” constituencies for political advantage is manifest.
Professor Groves wrote this critique in 1962. But even he must shocked at how the system of elections in Malaysia has been manipulated during the last 50 years to keep BN in power.
He would also probably agree with this latest critique by Adam Carr in an article on How they stole the Malaysian Elections, explaining of how Umno/BN has been able to win the last GE:
The key fact about the Malaysian electoral system is that it is designed to preserve the power of the Malay Muslim population over all other racial and religious groups, and within that population, to ensure the dominance of the main Malay party, Umno.
Since only 54% of the population are Malay Muslims, and since not all of them vote for Umno, this requires rigging the electoral system to ensure Umno’s continued dominance. Umno supremacy is also safeguarded by an alliance with small parties representing the Chinese and Indian communities (MCA and MIC respectively) in the National Front (BN) coalition.
Preventing another stolen GE
There are several short term recourses that Malaysians have to check the EC’s latest attempt at gerrymandering.
The first is that a group of no less than 100 registered voters of an affected constituency can protest. This, however, is on an individual and ad hoc basis when in fact the entire system of redelineation needs to be put under scrutiny and reformed.
The second is for the public and civil society organisations to insist that the Commission provides a full explanation of the rationale for each change and also why changes have not been made in other constituencies. “No changes unless it is on a full, transparent, justifiable and accountable basis” should be the demand.
Meanwhile, leading members of the new party, PPBM, under whose watch similar electoral manipulation has taken place in the past, and who presumably harbour many secrets of previous electoral fiddling – especially Dr. Mahathir, Muhyiddin and Mukhriz – need to speak out and rally the opposition on this important development.
The final nail was knocked in the coffin of a fair, independent and non-partisan commission a long time ago. But that does not mean the Malaysian electorate should be made perennial pall bearers of that coffin.
Lim Teck Ghee