Is PM Najib’s notorious self-confidence evaporating?


PM Najib looking more skeptical than normally

Partyforumseasia:  The die is cast“. Prime Minister Najib Razak did not say it nor is he Julius Caesar, and there is no guarantee that he has the latter’s legendary luck. But the Star newspaper is already speculating that the day of the dissolution of parliament, which paves the way for the long expected election (GE 14), on 7/4 adds up to Najib’s lucky number. The 11, they say, is meaningful throughout his life, from the birthdays of his parents, to his official car plates, and only last week 11 measures worth 2.9 billion RM to support Malay (bumiputra) SMEs. So far, the Prime Minister and uncontested leader of Malaysia’s ruling coalition and dominant UMNO party, was seen as not leaving anything to luck in preparation for the upcoming election. His strategy to divide and emasculate the opposition on unprecedented levels culminated last week with a controversial delineation exercise by the Election Commission which is under his department and not really independent. Another blow against the new Malay opposition party PPBM (United Indigenous Party) came from the Registrar of Societies on allegedly missing formalities which have been met from the beginning according to the PPBM leadership.

Is PM Najib getting nervous?
The long list of election-related moves could be an indication that Najib has access to information about a groundswell against UMNO and himself and starts to get nervous, maybe even frightened. Against all the odds, his self-declared nemesis, veteran PM Mahathir Mohamad (92), seems to rally not only the opposition, but making inroads into the classical Malay vote banks of the ruling coalition.

Dr. M laughs
Will he have the last laugh?

The most vulnerable spots in Najib’s flanks are the still unresolved 1MDB-scandal, though he denied any wrongdoing, skillfully following strategy handbooks, and the festering unhappiness of many Malaysians with the ever rising cost of living. Pacifying all grieving subgroups costs many billions and the increasing spending exercises of the Prime Minister start to betray a growing nervousness about what he calls “the father of all elections”.
Partyforumseasia has argued for some years already that Najib and UMNO must win the election at any cost because a defeat would be a catastrophy of Greek drama dimensions for the ruling system and its enormous internal  cash flows. One of the newest indicators are threats by the UMNO leadership against “disappointed” candidates who are not fielded any more. They might “betray” their party and will be dealt with after the election. Najib and UMNO have not left any important stone unturned. But all these unprecedented efforts, obviously very costly for the taxpayers, seem to increasingly damage the nimbus of the ruling party’s invincibility.

Tan Sri Hashim Gerry from the EC Malaysia?


Partyforumseasia: On Wednesday, 28 March, the Malaysian Parliament approved the redrawn electoral maps with 129 to 80 votes, safe enough to reach the simple majority of 112. Ruling coalition and opposition were given only one hour each for debate, while opposition and critics outside parliament accused the motion of gerrymandering in favor of the Malay vote banks in predominantly rural areas. Prime Minister Datuk Seri NajibNajib, in his cold-blooded style, declared the Election Commission (EC), which happens to be under his Prime Minister’s department, as impartial and the changes as only for the benefit of the Malaysian people. The critics, on the other hand, call it gerrymandering and they do have a valid point here. While the redelineation of electoral boundaries is common everywhere when demographic changes like urbanization make it necessary, the malapportionment in Malaysia is exceptional. In the 2013 election, the number of voters per precinct ranged from 15,700 for the smallest rural to 145,000 for the biggest urban one. And, not by chance, the most reliable voters for the ruling Bairsan Nasional (BN) coalition live in the small rural districts. This is why, in 2013, and also due to the first-past-the-post majoritarian election system, a shortfall of 4% in the popular vote was changed into a 20% majority of seats. On average, BN constituencies were won with 48,000 votes, while the opposition needed 79,000.

The original 1812 gerrymander

Elbridge Gerry was the famous governor of Massachusetts who started the delineation trick in 1812 to benefit his Democratic Republican Party. And one of the precincts looked like a dragon or salamander, hence the new notion of gerrymandering.

If demographic change necessitates corrections, the opposition would normally accept fair changes. And in most democracies, these changes are being executed quietly, most voters don’t care. The Malaysian last minute exercise, however, is stirring up protest because it happens so closely before the elections expected in May. This might turn out to be a strategic mistake of PM Najib, who has already procrastinated with the election date due latest in August. So far, he has braved all the pressure created by the 1MDB financial and other scandals and pacified many unhappy former supporters with financial largesse. But the delay has given the opposition more time to rally under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who is all out to topple Najib.
It looks debatable whether the redrawn boundaries are strictly following the demographic changes. If the opposition is right, they do follow ethnic patterns as well, like in Subang close to Kuala Lumpur. The borders, at least, look increasingly complicated and salamander-like as shown in this 2013 – 2018 comparison.
Map: Singapore’s Straits Times (LINK)

 

UK Election: FPTP System the Biggest Loser?


Partyforumseasia: Whoever has been standing for elections knows how highly emotional this test can be. The British parliamentary election on 7 May has produced quite a few losers, especially Ed Miliband from the Labour Party, Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party who all resigned from their party leadership after the fiasco. UK losersThe media did not hesitate to show their not amused faces, but there were two more losers, namely the polling institutes which had not foreseen the conservative victory at all, and – as commentators were quick to blame as well – the very British electoral system. The first-past-the-post system (or FPTP) , also practiced by former British colonies in Southeast Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore, allows parties with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote to win an absolute majority. In this election the Tories made it with just 36.9 %. From a continental perspective where different systems of proportional election systems reflect the popular vote results, it is difficult to imagine that the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 seats with only 4.8 % of the popular vote, the UKIP only one seat with 12.6%, and the Liberal Democrats eight seats with 7.8%. But this is the majority – winner takes all – system in which all votes not given to the winner are totally lost or wasted. This is why – except within the Conservative and Scottish Party of course – a discussion about electoral reform is intensifying, similar to the situation in Malaysia where the ruling coalition survived the 2013 general election due to the first-past-the-post system and the exaggerated weight of rural constituencies with few voters.
A comparison of the UK results under a different election system is rather interesting. A German university has compared the FPTP system with the German proportional one:
UK fptp vs proportionalThe hollow columns show the theoretical proportional outcome with the surprising difference that the Scottish National Party wouldn’t  have won any seat (because of the 5% minimum threshold), the Liberal Democrats in contrast 54, and UKIP no less than 92 seats instead of one!!!

A completely different  question is whether the proportional system is always more desirable just because it looks fairer and shows the “will of the people”. The more and more diversifying party scene in many countries world wide can produce unforeseen results as well. Take for example the German election 2013 which forced the Christian and Social Democrats into a “grand coalition” after fighting against each other in the campaign and left the federal parliament with a tiny opposition. Or the difficult formation of a government coalition in Israel recently, which forced the incumbent prime minister Netanjahu into a rather humiliating compromise with radical fringe parties. It is probably safe to say that very few voters in both countries, if any, really wanted such an outcome.

Partyforumseasia‘s preliminary and debatable conclusions:
1. Electoral reform is already difficult to implement, but on top of that there is no guarantee that it works as intended.
2. No electoral system guarantees good governance.

Gerrymandering in Malaysia…and Elsewhere


Partyforumseasia: In its August 9th -15th 2014 issue, The Economist, a British weekly, is taking up the gerrymandering issue which a majority of Malaysian voters may have forgotten already after the last election in May 2013. That is the normal all over the world because manipulation of the electoral boundaries happens outside media attention and looks nearly legally correct. GerrymanderingThe ruling Barisan Nasional won 60% of the seats with only 47% of the vote, whereas the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition garnered 51% of the popular vote but was left with only 40% of the seats in Parliament. Malaysia, as a former British colony, adopted the British first-past-the-post electoral system which is designed to create strong majorities, irrespective of the distribution of the popular vote. To make the system even more “efficient”, the commissions in charge of delineating the constituency boundaries may carve them in a partisan way if they are close to one of the competing parties or coalitions. This is called gerrymandering and started in 1812, when the governor Elbridge Garry of Masschusetts created an electoral district which looked like a salamander on the map and was clearly favorable for his Democratic Republican Party. Until today, according to the ACE Project or Electoral Knowledge Network (aceproject.org), the USA is still at the extreme end of the spectrum between independent and partisan election commissions: “At one end of the spectrum is the United States, where the redistricting process is very political and decentralised. The responsibility for drawing districts for the United States Congress rests individually with the fifty states. There are few limitations on the states, and the boundary authorities are almost always political entities, i.e., state legislatures.
At the other end of the spectrum are many of the Commonwealth countries, where politicians have opted out of the redistricting process and granted the authority to redistrict to neutral or independent commissions.GB ConstituenciesLink here

Britain has done and is doing a lot to adjust the electoral boundaries to the demographic changes and create fair chances for the competing parties. The average number of voters per district is around 75,000 with few exceptions like East Ham (London) at 91,531 and Orkney and Shetland at 33,755 (2010).

The crux in Malaysia is that a defined maximum variation (normally 10-15%) has been taken out of the constitution and that it can reach several hundred percent. Sure, the rural constituencies in Sabah and Sarawk are difficult to administer, but Indonesia is geographically even more difficult and has managed the parliamentary and presidential elections this year much better.The Malaysian Election Commission is handpicked by the government anyway, but it does not look good that its former chairman has joined the Barisan National’s right-wing support group Perkasa.