General election outcome could hinge on constituency boundary changes

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While many Malaysians are ferociously debating #UndiRosak, Chan Tsu Chong urges us to focus on the redrawing of constituency boundaries in Selangor. Every objection counts.

I will start with an obvious conclusion: if the current redelineation proposal by the Electoral Commission is passed in the coming parliamentary session, it could unfairly swing 10-15 parliamentary seats in favour of Barisan Nasional in the 2018 general election.

The objective of this article is not to provide an in-depth analysis on the impact of the redelineation but rather to highlight the current status of the redelineation process and why it is important for Selangor voters to submit their objections now.

Suffice to say now that the commission continues to gerrymander and sustain malapportionment in the current redelineation exercise, and it is adamant on getting it passed before the general election. This is the common conclusion reached by several researchers and institutes in the past year.

It is thus unsurprising that Malaysia ranked LAST over 161 countries studied in the acclaimed Electoral Integrity Project in the district boundaries sub-category, with a miserable score of 10 index points.

The coming election will be a competitive one – and the redelineation exercise could very well be the difference between winning, losing, or gaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament for both sides of the divide.

What has happened thus far?

Under the Federal Constitution, the Electoral Commission is obliged to publish the new electoral boundaries for public inspection. Voters can then submit objections within 30 days, and the commission must then hold local inquiries for each objection received.

The commission can then make further changes and they must repeat the process once more. In other words, it must conduct at least two rounds of public display and local inquiries.

The commission started the redelineation process for peninsular Malaysia in September 2016. The first and second public displays, objections, and local inquiries have been completed in 2017 for all states, except Selangor.

This is because the state government filed a judicial review during the first display, arguing that it was unconstitutional because of, among others, malapportionment and gerrymandering.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court granted a stay order, which prevented the commission from proceeding with the first local inquiry for Selangor until the case is fully disposed.

The Selangor case was unfortunately dismissed in December 2017. The commission wasted no time in immediately calling for the first local inquiry for Selangor during the festive period.

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With unprecedently efficiency, they then published the second display on 15 January 2018, less than a week after completing the first local inquiry. This means that Selangor voters now have until 14 February 2018 to file objections against the redelineation.

Redelineation Timeline
September 2016Publication of first recommendation for all states
November 2016SPR begins first local inquiries
December 2016Selangor State Government files judicial review and obtains stay order against Selangor’s first local inquiry
March 2017SPR completes first local inquiries and publishes second recommendation for all states except Selangor
August 2017SPR completes second local inquiries for all states except Selangor
December 2017Selangor’s judicial review dismissed by KL High Court

SPR begin first local inquiry for Selangor

January 2017SPR completes first local inquiry and publishes second recommendation for Selangor
14 FebruaryDeadline for Selangor voters to submit objections against second recommendation
?SPR begins and completes second local inquiry for Selangor
March 2018Parliament session (Dewan Rakyat)

Table 1: Redelineation timeline (Peninsular Malaysia)

Selangor voters must still object to the second recommendation

In the first redelineation recommendation, the Electoral Commission proposed immense changes that worsened malapportionment and gerrymandering. In the second recommendation, the commission reversed most of the changes to the status quo ie the existing boundaries.

For example, in the first recommendation, P106 PJ Utara was to be renamed P106 Damansara with an increase in the number of voters from 84,456 voters to 150,439 voters. This proposal was reversed in the second recommendation, and P106 PJ Utara went back to 84,456 voters.

Similar trends were also observed in several states. This means that voters were successful in objecting towards the changes in the first recommendation.

But does this also mean that all is now safe and proper? In particular, does this mean that Selangor voters need not file further objections against the second recommendation?

Far from it.

On the contrary, Selangor voters must still object to the second recommendation for several reasons.

Firstly, the existing boundaries are still marred with malapportionment and gerrymandering.

As an example, the voter size difference between the largest state assembly constituency (N29 Seri Serdang – 74,563 voters) and the smallest (N01 Sungai Air Tawar – 15,033 voters) in Selangor is 5:1.

This is clearly in violation of the Federal Constitution, which states that the number of voters in constituencies must be “approximately equal”. How can the commission argue that 5:1 is “approximately equal”?

Secondly, the purpose of redelineation is for the commission to take into consideration changes in demographics over time – eg new residential areas – and to make changes to electoral boundaries to ensure that they comply with the Constitution.

The last redelineation was done in 2002. Demographics surely must have changed significantly since then. If no corrections are made now, we will have to wait for at least another eight years (possibly two general elections) before another redelineation exercise can begin.

The fact that the commission is not correcting existing malapportionment means that they are either just lazy or have something up their sleeves.

“Noh Omar was my boss”

The third reason why objections must still be filed is that the Electoral Commission can still make further changes after the second recommendation.

The absence of strong counter-objections against malapportionment and gerrymandering therefore will allow the commission a free hand to make further changes as they like.

Worse, Selangor Barisan Nasional chairperson Noh Omar has announced that it will be submitting objections. There is no doubt that these objections from the BN would include unconstitutional recommendations to provide them with unfair political advantages.

The commission could simply adopt Noh Omar’s recommendations. After all, the present commission chairperson, Hashim Abdullah, has had close links with Umno ministers.

In a recent interview, he said: “If I am to declare it, I was with Tan Sri Annuar Musa as his senior private secretary for 10 years, and Datuk Seri Noh Omar was my boss at the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.”

The final leg

The battle against unconstitutional redelineation has been a long and arduous one.

The Dart campaign was launched by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) and Engage four years ago in February 2014.

The nationwide campaign brought together citizens – activists, lawyers, academics, ordinary voters, etc – with a common goal of stopping electoral manipulation via redelineation.

In the past four years, the team has worked hard in researching and strategising on the issue. This includes doing what the Electoral Commission has failed to do – providing digital maps and user-friendly information to voters.

Over 100 trainings and briefings were conducted across Malaysia. This has resulted in over 1,000 objections being filed in the first recommendation itself, compared to the 300-odd objections filed in the 2002 redelineation.

In the courts, at least 18 known cases were filed against the commission on this issue.

The commission has had its way to redelineate as they like in the past five decades. But now for the first time in history, the it is faced with strong resistance from the people.

But the second display for Selangor and local inquiries are all that’s left for the commission to do.

The final proposal – for the whole of Peninsular Malaysia – will then be submitted to the prime minister, who can single-handedly make further changes before tabling it in Parliament.

The next parliamentary session is from 5 March to 5 April 2018, and this is why the commission is fast-tracking everything.

The bottom line – what Selangor voters need to do

Selangor is therefore the last bastion against malapportionment and gerrymandering for the whole of peninsular Malaysia.

As a matter of immediate urgency, voters in Selangor must sign up as objectors to the second redelineation. As mentioned, this is needed to ensure that the Electoral Commission corrects existing malapportionment and gerrymandering – and not worsens it.

Bersih 2.0 has called for 100,000 voters in Selangor to come forward for this purpose. This means that 1,000 sets of objections will be filed with the commission, as one set consists of 100 voters or more in a constituency.

Selangor voters can visit one of the objection collection centres around Selangor to sign their objections. The locations of these centres can be found at dart.bersih.org/pusatbantahan

Objections must be submitted by 10 February 2018 to allow adequate time for us to compile and submit the objections to the commission before the 14 February 2018 deadline.

While many Malaysians are presently debating ferociously on the issue of #UndiRosak or #UndiBaikbaik, perhaps we should all shift our focus for the next 10 days to the other vital issue for the general election, that is, the redelineation.

Every objection counts.

Chan Tsu Chong is the outreach officer for the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0). Feedback, questions on redelineation or suggestions for a witty broilerplate for future articles may be sent to outreach@bersih.org or @tsuchong

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