DESPITE the law providing Malaysian citizens the right to free and fair elections, there are a number of “irregularities” in the electoral process that deprive them of this, according to the latest human rights report from the US government.
Opposition parties are unable to compete on equal terms with the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO)-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition due to “restrictions and outside interference,” the report, released Friday, said.
The US Department of State also expressed concern that “opposition political parties were disadvantaged” in previous elections due to “government control” of traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies.
The report only covers up to the close of 2017, so does not reference the recent redelineation exercise approved just days before the dissolution of parliament in April.
It does, however, say that the “overrepresentation of some constituencies affected national elections in 2013.”
In the 2013 general election, BN was re-elected in the country’s first-past-the-post system after it won 133 of 222 seats, despite the opposition coalition winning 52 percent of the popular vote.
The report accused the Electoral Commission of establishing constituencies with widely varying populations, further to the advantage of rural populations. As an example, it gave the rural district of Igan that had 18,000 registered voters, while the urban district of Kapar had more than 144,000 registered voters.
Critics have said the latest redelineation exercise has further exacerbated this problem.
“The delineation process moves voters from one area to another area, and that gives the advantage to the ruling party to fight marginal seats,” vice-president of opposition party PKR, Xavier Jayakumar, told Asian Correspondent, saying over 30,000 people have been moved out of his constituency of Seri Andalas, Selangor.
“Previously, they lost the majority. By doing this delineation exercise, they have created marginal seats. If they put in the resources and push for it, they might be able to win back those marginal seats.”
Political control over the media was also listed as a point of concern in the State Department’s report. Political parties and individuals linked to the ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all print and broadcast media, many of which were “actively progovernment,” the report found.
Registering a new political party was also highlighted as an unnecessarily difficult hurdle due to government restrictions.
The report points out that authorities generally recorded votes accurately during polling day, however, these “irregularities” and “disadvantages” experienced by the opposition meant that the “fairness of elections” was ultimately affected.
Malaysia goes to the polls on May 9 in what is expected to be a hard-fought battle on both sides. The ruling government coalition has been in power since 1957.