Op-ed: Redrawing boundaries won’t impair voting freedom in Malaysia’s election
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Op-ed: Redrawing boundaries won’t impair voting freedom in Malaysia’s election

GE14-alternative  THE redelineation of electoral boundaries is a fundamental process in any democratic nation.

In fact, in Malaysia, the Election Commission (EC) has a constitutional duty every eight years, minimum, under Sections 116 and 117 of the Federal Constitution, to review the division of the Federation and the States into constituencies and recommend changes they may think necessary to ensure a balance in voter populations between all constituencies in the country.

Considering that the last redelineation exercise was carried out in 2003, the time was ripe in 2016 for the EC to embark on another exercise, particularly in view of the changes in geography and topography, level of development, demography, basic amenities and communications infrastructure over the years due to a growing population.

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Chairman of the Election Commission of Malaysia Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (left). Source: Facebook – Henry Ling

It also could be due to the fact that the population has reduced due to migration or natural attrition.

The density of the population is the biggest factor – in major cities, the population is usually very dense and high, in semi-urban, less so, while in rural areas, the density is really low.

We actually planned to do it in 2013, but we had to prepare for GE13 (General Election 13) and had to postpone the exercise.

In practice, the notion of one man, one vote, lone value is not reasonable at all.

In towns, people live in apartments, flats and terrace houses – the density is high. While in the semi-urban or rural areas, the distance between houses is more significant.

A district like Kapit in Sarawak is roughly the size of the state of Pahang, but the population is low and is fully forested.

We cannot use an apple-to-apple comparison. Each vote is secret and the votes are given freely. A redelineation does not make someone change his preference – it is a personal decision. If the people don’t like you, they won’t vote for you. It’s as simple as that.

Allegations that the EC was not transparent and the redelineation proposal was not presented to the people is simply not true.

In Malaysia, the process of redelineation is bound by the rules of law and remain true to the Constitution.

Once the EC informs the prime minister and the Dewan Rakyat Speaker (lower house of Parliament) of its intention to delineate electoral boundaries, the commission will need to publish the notice in major newspapers, have it gazetted and displayed in all affected constituencies so that the public could view and give feedback.

There will then be an inquiry to give the public the opportunity to be heard.

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If any changes are made, the EC would need to re-gazette the amended notice, and display it for another month for further public scrutiny and feedback.

The EC is duty-bound to hold only two public hearings for scrutiny or feedback. If this limit was not put in place, there could be no end to this process.

Once completed, the report will be submitted to the House of Representatives, and finally to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (monarch and head of state) for his royal assent.

The EC will utilise the permanent boundaries such as rivers, hills and mountains as markers as far as possible.

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Malaysia’s opposition coalition prime ministerial candidate Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks against a controversial proposal to redraw electoral boundaries outside near the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 28, 2018. The sign (front R) reads: “Go out and vote, defeat the thief”. Source: Reuters

The entire process is made to be as transparent as possible.

The EC is an independent body and all members of the commission – from chairman and deputy chairman to its five members – are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong following a consultation with the Conference of Rulers.

If we were to compare this with Singapore, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee of the Elections Department of Singapore is appointed directly by the prime minister and chaired by the Secretary to the PM.

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Additionally, the entire electoral system in Singapore with its Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) is designed to create a barrier for smaller opposition parties to participate in elections.

In Malaysia, any single person is free to stand for election, even as an independent candidate.

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(File) Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak casting his ballot during the last general election in 2013. Malaysia is expected to go to polls again for its 14th federal contest by August 2018. Source: AP

Meanwhile in the Philippines, the Congress wields the power to redistrict provinces or cities piecemeal without a public referendum. This has enabled local dynasties to influence the district-making process by carving new districts/provinces from the old ones in their bid to retain power.

Consider this – if the redelineation is perceived to give a negative impact to the opposition, how did they win to form several state governments in 2008 and 2013?

The EC does not make a final decision on the redelineation – it just proposes to Parliament based on the parameters laid down under the Federal Constitution.

Nonetheless, whatever the best way forward may be, all stakeholders should work together towards enhancing dialogue between the public and their representatives on their expectations and needs, in bringing Malaysia’s standing in electoral integrity to the next level.

Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Election Commission of Malaysia. His seven-year tenure ran from December 2008 to January 2016.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent