Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) is very disappointed but not entirely surprised with the Federal Court’s decision yesterday on the Sarawak delineation challenge brought by Batu Lintang Adun See Chee How and Pauls Baya, a voter in the Baram constituency.
Reportedly, the Federal Court ruled that since the Election Commission’s delineation final report on Sarawak delimitation had been submitted to the Prime Minister, it was now an ‘academic’ issue and thus no longer fell within the jurisdiction of the courts.
In ruling thus, the highest court of the land abdicated and divested itself of its most important function: that of upholding the principle of separation of powers between the three institutions in a parliamentary democracy (ie. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary).
The Federal Court’s decision not to grant leave to appeal the case on constitutional grounds is reflective of the current poor health of democratic institutions in Malaysia. The decision slammed shut whatever democratic space hitherto available that enabled voters’/citizens’ to participate in a democratic process of redelineation of the electoral boundaries of our constituencies. Such participation is an internationally recognised practice but it seems not in Malaysia.
How can a voter or a group of 100 voters even begin to have a say in the process of how electoral boundaries are redrawn when the notice and map published and issued by the Election Commission lacked many details.
Indeed, the level of information and detail given by the Election Commission in the recent 2015 Delimitation Recommendations is a far cry from the level of detail published in the Election Commission’s 2005 exercise. One just needs to read Election Commission’s 2005 Final Report to realise the vast difference.
In 2005, the Election Commission already employed a computerised geographical system to come up with its proposals called the ‘Election Geographical Information System’ (EGIS). We believe that the Election Commission has the improved systems that can provide far better information and details to the public in its 2015 Recommendations but for reasons of their own chose to reduce (compared to 2005) the information to the public. This can only increase public mistrust of the Election Commission.
Frankly put, the Election Commission’s 2015 Constituency Redelineation Recommendations do not meet international standards or practice and thus do not inspire confidence.
Ironically, the Election Commission’s stated vision is “to be an excellent electoral institution that conducts democratic elections and which enjoys the trust of the people” (Menjadi Sebuah Institusi Pengurusan Pilihan Raya Demokratik yang Cemerlang dan Mendapat Kepercayaan Rakyat).
Its stated mission is to uphold parliamentary democracy and to guarantee the rights of the people to elect their representatives by managing, supervising and conducting free and fair elections (Mendukung sistem demokrasi berparlimen dan menjamin hak rakyat untuk memilih wakil mereka dengan mengurus, mengawal selia Dan mengendalikan pilihan raya secara bebas dan adil).
The actions of the Election Commission in its conduct of the Sarawak delimitation as well as its actions in the conduct of this court case have exposed for all to see that it has fallen far short of its vision and mission.
The Election Commission got what it wanted; a highly malapportioned electoral system not reflective of democracy and the principle of ‘one vote, one value’.
They also designed, presented and got away with a redelineation proposal that makes public participation difficult and onerous.
However, electoral redelineation reviews are also due for Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia. Should the Election Commission decide to continue riding roughshod over voters the way that it has done for Sarawak when redelineating Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, then the Election Commission can only expect more objections and court cases filed in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia by informed voters! The Election Commission must take heed of this.
Hence civil societies working on the issues of malapportionment and gerrymandering of electoral boundaries need to act now; educate voters, mobilise and prepare to submit objections including the filing of possible court cases.
Rose team leader Ann Teo said, “This regressive and undemocratic decision has not put a damper on the work and activities of Rose. We shall continue to empower voters and work towards building a society where voters substantively engage and participate in the democratic process.
“The recent Federal Court decision has only given greater meaning to our work and emboldened our resolve to increase and enlarge democratic space and voters’ rights.”