A puzzle in the census: Are there half a million new citizens?


The Aliran Research Team compares actual 2010 census data with official estimated figures and discovers a couple of surprising differences.

There have been numerous allegations of new citizens being created, allegedly as a means of “fixing” the impending general elections.

The 2010 census should give us the definitive count, allowing for enumeration errors, of the country’s population, specifically its citizen population.
Comparisons of the 2010 and 2000 census provide a way of determining whether there is any substance to these allegations.

One way of doing this is by means of a statistic called the “natural increase” in the population. This natural increase is the excess of births over deaths, the natural way in which a population grows in the absence of immigration and emigration.

Adding the annual natural increase from 2001 to 2010 to the population reported in the 2000 census should give us the estimated population in 2010 in the absence of immigration and emigration.

This is accurate for the citizen population, with the difference between the estimate and the 2010 census enumeration being a measure of net migration of the citizen population. However, it is not a reliable method for estimating the non-citizen population.

Let us do this for the citizen population of the country using the natural increase reported in the Monthly Statistical Bulletin published by the Department of Statistics. The results, for Malay, Other Bumiputera, Chinese and Indian, are shown in Table 1 above, with the 2010 Census count for comparison.

From Table 1, there are more people counted by the census than estimated from natural increase. As there was a re-classification of Malay into Other Bumiputera in Sabah some time between 2000 and 2010, we will use the Total Bumiputera category for further discussion.

A difference between the estimate and the census for citizens can mean one or more of the following:

  1. Errors in the registration of births and deaths and/or enumeration errors in the census
  2. Out-migration of citizens to other countries
  3. Return of citizens from abroad
  4. Acquisition of citizenship by foreigners

It is known that there are errors in the registration of births and deaths. But this is minor and mainly affects the small indigenous communities in Sabah and Sarawak living in remote areas. Moreover, this is likely to be non-registration of deaths more than non-registration of births, since most births now take place in a clinic or hospital. This tends to result in an over- rather than under-estimate of the natural increase. In other words, this is an unlikely source of the excess of the census over the estimate from natural increase.

It is also acknowledged that there are enumeration errors in the census, usually under- rather than over-enumeration. Such under-enumeration usually affects the highly mobile population in their late teens and 20s. For this reason, there is a post-census coverage survey to correct for such enumeration errors, and the correction is applied to the census enumeration to produce the census report. In other words, census enumeration errors are also an unlikely source of the excess of the census over the estimate from natural increase.

Out-migration of citizens to other countries results in a census count that is less than the estimate from natural increase. This is a basic method of estimating the extent of out-migration between censuses. Thus, out-migration of citizens obviously cannot result in an excess of the census over the estimate from natural increase. Indeed, contrary to reports such as the World Bank’s Malaysian Economic Monitor of April 2011, the excess of the census over the estimate from natural increase suggests there has been no net out-migration of citizens.

A net migration of citizens from abroad, that is, returnees, will result in an excess of the census count over the estimate from natural increase. However, the principal source of the return of citizens is of students studying overseas, as persons working overseas trickle back, if at all, and do not return in large numbers. The puzzling thing is that a comparison of the 2000 and 2010 census, taking the age-groups 20-24 and 25-29 in 2000, that is, the age groups in tertiary education in 2000, with the 30-34 and 35-39 age-groups in 2010 indicates either no return migration or a small return migration. It cannot account for the numbers shown in Table 1. This is in contrast to the same comparison between the 1991 and 2000 censuses, which showed a large return migration of those studying abroad in 1991.

Despite these considerations, it is possible to attribute the small excess of the citizen Indian population between the 2010 census and the 2010 estimate from natural increase to just plain errors. The same cannot be said of the citizen Chinese and, even more, of the citizen Bumiputera population – unless we want to just reject the census altogether which, we believe, is unwarranted.

That leaves us with the last option: the acquisition of citizenship by foreigners. If this is indeed the case, then we have a half million or so foreigners acquiring not just citizenship, but Bumiputera status. If the excess Chinese are taken to be real, and not just plain error, then some 700,000 foreigners acquired citizenship between 2000 and 2010. Keeping to the half million figure, equally distributed across the Parliamentary constituencies results in a figure of about 2,000 per constituency, and if they were all registered voters, this would be enough to affect electoral outcomes in many constituencies.

We would be the first to grant that the above is informed speculation. Specifically, it may be the case that non-citizens identified themselves as citizens. However, it is more likely that non-citizens who are “illegals” would have avoided coverage. Moreover, the census for Sabah suggests that non-citizens were quite honest about their status – there are about 900,000 self-identified non-citizens in Sabah, leaving the citizen population of Sabah slightly smaller than Sarawak.

Thus, we think we have made a case that cries out for answers.

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