Sarawak constituency boundary review proposals deeply flawed, violate international conventions

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It is the constitutional responsibility of the Election Commission to ensure that it carries out its constitutional duties to serve the democratic interests of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia, says Rise of Sarawak Efforts.

Sarawak-constituency-redelineation

The end of the month-long ‘objection’ period of the recent Constituency Boundary Review in Sarawak has shown that the Election Commission’s current method and process of delimiting and delineating constituencies is deeply flawed.

The record number of objections (56) this time round, as opposed to only 26 in 2005, to the EC’s proposals and one judicial review of the whole delimitation/delineation process (along with the possibility of lawsuits to come) indicate deep voter dissatisfaction with the Commission’s current manner of undertaking constituency boundary reviews. The process – and indeed the Commission – requires serious and substantive reforms.

Principally, the month-long experience of Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) in studying and engaging with the proposals highlighted the following serious flaws in the Election Commission’s proposals:

  • non-compliance of constitutional requirements by the Commission in using the electoral roll of 30 April 2014 when it should have used the latest gazetted electoral roll of 31 October 2014;
  • major discrepancies in the number of voters shown in the Commission’s Buku Syor-Syor SPR in many constituencies as opposed to the actual electoral roll of 30 April 2014;
  • the wholesale transfer of Voting Districts (Daerah Mengundi – DM) which altered the federal parliamentary constituency boundaries e.g. that of P195 (Bandar Kuching) and P196 (Stampin), P220 Baram and P222 Lawas despite the EC’s own proposals to the contrary (Clause 2(a) of the Gazette Notification);
  • a lack of detailed information in the new constituency map for Sarawak (and specifically the lack of any detailed Voting District maps in each state and parliamentary constituency);
  • a lack of detailed information in the Buku Syor-Syor SPR identifying the exact geographic coverage of each Voting District in each state and parliamentary constituency which allows voters to identify their specific voting locations; and
  • a serious violation of Section 2 (c), 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution which requires the Commission to ensure that “the number of electors within each constituency in a State ought to be approximately equal except that having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the rural districts and other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies”. Instead of alleviating current levels of malapportionment, the current proposals has worsen it.
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Overall, Rose is of the informed opinion that the current EC proposals for constituency review are fatally flawed because they fail to inform voters of the effects of its recommendations (as per Clause 4 of the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution). In addition, there seems to be no coherent basis or rationale that underpins the Election Commission’s proposals nor does it suggests that the Commission is keeping to constitutional requirements.

In accordance with human rights conventions as enshrined under international law, Rose is of the view that all voters have the right to receive full and correct information about this constituency boundary review process. Clearly, the lack of information in the Commission’s proposals shows that it has failed to live up to these internationally recognised obligations.

Rose therefore urges the Election Commission to consider these objections fairly and to make all necessary revisions that would give substantive meaning to the process of voter participation and the principle of equality in voter weightage. This is essential since Rose believes that international human rights conventions recognise the rights of all voters to participate fully without hindrance or discrimination in this review process. It is thus incumbent upon the Commission to facilitate this process instead of debilitating the ability of voters to do so.

In the interests of creating awareness and encouraging voters participation in the process of delimitation by voters in Sarawak, Rose volunteers had mobilised 114 voters of P196 Stampin to submit representations/objections to the Commission.

Amongst the objections or representations based on the above findings, we urge the Election Commission to republish a notice of its proposed recommendations to review the division of the State of Sarawak into constituencies in full compliance with the provisions contained in the Thirteenth Schedule.

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We also submitted an alternative proposal based on equalisation principles for consideration by the Commission and to assist it in coming up with a fairer set of constituency boundaries for Sarawak. As it is not possible to implement ‘equalisation” principles in isolated constituencies, this alternative proposal is intended to be an alternative proposal for all parliamentary and state constituencies in the entire state.

In this alternative proposal all seats are kept within a +/-20 per cent band about the Electoral Quotient (EQ) for parliamentary and +/- 25 per cent for state constituencies. In the current Election Commission’s proposals, the smallest state seat is -53.13 per cent and largest is +132 per cent from the Electoral Quotient (EQ) for state seats. (Note: 100% = EQ. Electoral Quotient (EQ) refers to the value arrived at when the total number of voters in a state is divided by the number of constituencies for the state)

In the end, what Malaysian and Sarawak voters want are genuinely free and fair elections; a desire that is in accord with internationally recognised norms and principles. It is therefore the constitutional responsibility of the Election Commission to ensure that it carries out its constitutional duties to serve the democratic interests of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia.

5 February 2015

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