The recent Electoral Commission exercise in redelineation has not only raised eyebrows. It has also sparked an unprecedented uproar from all quarters including from BN parties. The only visibly quiet exception has been Umno.
Umno Vice President, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has argued that “How is this a strategy by Barisan Nasional if even I as Umno’s vice-president don’t know what the EC is doing?”.
Judging from the comments of some low level BN leaders, we probably can give the benefit of the doubt to BN parties and Hisham that they have been kept in the dark on the proposed boundary changes affecting 12 parliamentary and 34 state seats. But can other Umno leaders – especially the top two – publicly make a similar declaration as Hishammuddin has done to dispel fears that the EC is not acting as Umno’s handmaiden in stealing the next election for the party in various key states if not nationally?
The case of the village heroes
The latest political imbroglio makes for rich irony just viewing the comments from some of the BN parties. According to MCA central committee member Datuk Ti Lian Ker, the exercise would not only send Malaysia on a path to racism but the redelineation appeared designed to “pit Umno’s political tendency of Malay supremacy against DAP’s politics of Chinese chauvinism.”
Now, where have the MCA, Gerakan and other BN parties’ leadership been when similar exercises in gerrymandering and other forms of electoral manipulation have taken place repeatedly since Merdeka more than 50 years ago?
They have been beneficiaries of that, and other practices again and again. But it seems that even the MCA and Gerakan leadership has its limits on Umno’s appetite for hegemonic power.
In an earlier statement, Ti argued that it is because Umno has played the kampung champion, that has caused the MCA and BN to lose out in urban areas.
He also said that it was of no use if BN remains village heroes and has to keep on losing urban seats in return.
“It is upon this realisation that we need to change, to return BN to the shining standard of the past before Umno leaders started infighting and Umno’s survival was prioritised and not the survival of BN as a whole”.
He also called on BN to align the party with changes in the attitudes of the Malay, Chinese, Indian in the multiracial areas.
“This failure is BN’s failure, not that of the component parties chosen to contest under BN’s ticket,” said Ti.
Gerakan’s Penang chief and head of the state BN, Teng Chang Yeow, has also gone on record to say the BN lost Penang during the last two elections “not because of machinery or unity but because of Umno”. In the past two polls, Umno won 11 and 10 seats respectively but Gerakan, MCA and MIC won zero seats.
According to him, “This is a well-known fact. If we still fail to understand this fact, we will continue to fail!” he added.
Just above Zimbabwe in electoral integrity
These born-again defenders of the one man-one vote principle and perhaps also supporters of the clean election demand also need to be reminded that during the last election in 2013, the research team of the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) comprised of researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney concluded that Barisan Nasional’s victory in the 13th General Election (GE13) last May was due to gerrymandering or the malapportionment of electoral boundaries.
The EIP found that GE13 was perceived as having a low level of integrity due to problematic electoral boundaries and election laws
According to its report, the ruling BN coalition had a distinct advantage in constituency size in rural Malay constituencies while the urban Chinese-majority opposition strongholds had much larger electorates. For example, the Putrajaya federal constituency had just 15,791 eligible voters, compared with the Kapar constituency with 144,159 eligible voters.
The EIP questioned the legitimacy of the government and emphasised BN’s advantage through the control and influence of state radio and television, with many newspapers having close ties to the ruling coalition while the opposition only had space in online media.
The EIP also noted BN’s advantage in “access to political finance”, with experts mostly concerned about the lack of a level playing field in campaign media and financing. This was before the recent expose on the massive donation into the Prime Minister’s personal bank account and of various Umno politicians receiving large cash payments for their election campaigns.
At that time, the EIP ranked Malaysia’s electoral integrity at 66th out of 73 nations polled across the globe, just above Zimbabwe.
The findings at that time were released in a 20-page executive report and a 112-page full report as The Year in Elections, 2013.
The latest release Year in Elections, mid-2016 report is just out. It compares 213 national elections in 153 countries from mid-2012 to mid-June 2016, based on the views of 2,417 experts. In it, Malaysia stands third from the bottom of Asia Pacific countries and well below Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.
The question now is: will the BN parties push for electoral reforms and the independence of the Electoral Commission?
Or will they continue to let the country reap its bitter harvest while they speak from both sides of the mouth about respecting the “democratic will” while defending a flawed and dishonest parliamentary system for which they are responsible.
Lim Teck Ghee