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)

 

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.