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 Najib, 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.
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)