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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Two ideas for the Election Commission – Rama Ramanathan

I would like to offer two ideas on how the Election Commission (EC) can respond to Bersih 2.0/Delineation Action and Research Team (DART) and Tindak Malaysia’s ongoing efforts to show Malaysians the oddities of EC-set electoral boundaries.

Six weeks ago, I wrote about the EC after attending a forum at the Malaysian Bar. In that article I mentioned Tindak Malaysia’s nationwide recruitment of scrutineers.
Two weeks ago, at a Proham-Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) meeting, I watched Dr Wong Chin Huat and Thomas Fann of Bersih 2.0’s DART present strong evidence of gerrymandering and malapportionment.
The DART team displayed the sizes and shapes of several constituencies in West and East Malaysia. They pointed out oddities such as boundaries which divide local councils and communities. They pointed out instances where boundaries run along the middle-lines of roads and even divide homes.
The DART team explained the “Provisions Relating to Delimitation of Constituencies” contained in the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

The DART team showed how they have taken the constitutional provisions, Malaysian historical practices, and insights gleaned from the EC to develop a “Constitutional Compliance Checklist” which can be used as a tool to evaluate whether the boundaries of any constituency show signs of malapportionment or gerrymandering.

Malapportionment means giving some constituencies a greater voice in legislation and policy-making than is warranted by their numbers. Malapportionment is evidenced by the relative sizes of constituencies, for example, 144,159 voters in Kapar have one MP, while 37,318 voters in Sabak Bernam also have one MP. That’s one of many examples of malapportionment.

Gerrymandering means taking account of how voters are likely to vote when drawing the boundary of each constituency. Gerrymandering results from a policy of creating politically like-minded groups of voters rather than the constitutionally prescribed policy of recognising communities who live together due to natural-geographical boundaries. Gerrymandering results in odd-shaped constituencies such as the present constituencies of Tebrau (Johor), Seputeh (Kuala Lumpur) and Alor Setar.

On gerrymandering, one member of the audience said the shape of the Subang Jaya constituency is now like a snake, going up to Sungai Buloh. A dignified and respected community leader, he noted that since 2008, citizens have become more alert to constituency delineation.

Those assembled learned that the EC has begun work to review the boundaries of each constituency. Though many well-informed persons were present, none knew of any timelines released by the EC to indicate when they will publish proposed changes and solicit public comment – as required by the Federal Constitution.

The EC is publicly funded to ensure fair representation, yet appears to have taken no initiatives to engage a willing public in its activities.

Conversely, Bersih 2.0, which receives no public funds, has, through DART, developed a process utilising information gleaned from the EC, Google Maps, and spreadsheets to work on redelineation of constituencies.

DART has developed and deployed a non-partisan training programme to enable ordinary Malaysians to develop and propose constituencies with natural boundaries. Within the next month, DART will be ready to display, in several states, maps of some of the proposed redelineated constituencies.

Those who have created and deployed DART are Wiki-members of the Wiki-minded: they work voluntarily work for the common good, using computers collaboratively.

Attendance at DART training shows the public are eager to participate. Their eagerness indicates a keen sense of responsible citizenship among Malaysians across ages, ethnicities and other associations. Their eagerness indicates inclusiveness and tolerance.

Idea #1: If you pro-actively engages the eager public, you could win public confidence.
Increasing the number of MPs. I was surprised to learn that previously, Parliament did not use criteria for cost (for example, salary, perks, staffing, office) and contribution (for example, number of hours participating in debates in the House or attending committee meetings) of MPs to determine the number of constituencies prior to delineating their boundaries.

It appears Parliament, with the complicity of the EC, put the cart before the horse, for it is effective representation which should come first. The EC should explain why such a decision was made previously, and say whether a similar decision will be made in the next redelineation exercise.

Idea #2: "The reason to retire is to try to avoid embarrassment; you ought to do it before people are dropping big hints. You want to be the first to come up with the idea. You don't want to wait until you trip and fall off the stage.” (Garrison Keillor). – May 31, 2014.

* Rama Ramanathan blogs at


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