The Battle For Malaysia's Elections

The Battle For Malaysia's Elections

The Election Commission is breathing a sigh of relief. In spite of the aggressive objections made by opposition MPs, their contentious redelineation report had flown through parliament with relative ease. 129 members of parliament voted in support of the motion, while 80 opposed it - a balance that reflects the political split in Parliament. But in the rush to pass the bill, those observing the proceedings in Parliament were left wondering whether the democratic process was upheld.

“We have to answer to our voters if this goes through without a debate!” an opposition MP angrily demanded in Parliament. Moments of cacophonous dissent followed, before several thuds of the gavel silenced the clamor. And before things could escalate, a break was called, relieving the Parliament of its intense atmosphere.

Outside the gates, over 800 citizens gathered peacefully to protest the tabling of the report. Clad in yellow and holding banners, the protesters handed over a memorandum to a parliamentary officer in hope for a positive outcome. To their disappointment, the report was passed without debate and was executed on the very next day - raising suspicions of collusion.

The hasty proceedings left opposition MPs, lawmakers and citizens in a state of disbelief. The report’s ‘bulldozing’ through Parliament without due diligence and process meant that the last two years of fierce objections against the redelineation report weren’t at all acknowledged. It was still plagued with the very things they fought so hard to remove.

Bersih supporters waiting outside Parliament
Bersih supporters waiting outside Parliament

Under the new electoral boundaries, malapportionment had worsened. Damansara, a DAP seat formerly known as PJ Utara, saw an influx of 60,000 voters - bringing the total number of constituents to 150,439. In contrast, Sabak Bernam, traditionally a BN seat, hadn’t changed since GE13 with the number of voters remaining at 37,126. In essence, a single vote in Sabak Bernam was made 4 times more powerful than one in Damansara.

Furthermore, racial gerrymandering was seen as necessary by the chairman of the Electoral Commission, as he believed ethnic groups should be kept together. Many opposition politicians questioned that sentiment, as one of their seats in Perak saw its voter demographics change from a Chinese-majority to a Malay-majority, which could greatly benefit Barisan Nasional.

Both of these examples of electoral abuse renders the popular vote pointless by manipulating the electoral system to win seats in Parliament. According to Tindak Malaysia (TM), with the newly established electoral boundaries, just 33% of the popular vote is needed to form the Federal Government.

The EC, however, had maintained their innocence with regards to any allegations of bias - stating that all was fair and legal, and objections were accounted for. But according to The Malaysian Insight, the EC has refused almost all (91%, specifically) of the 738 objections filed by Selangor voters, relating to racial gerrymandering and malapportionment. 

The EC might have felt it was appropriate to do so, as the Federal Constitution does not limit the difference in constituency sizes. The absence of this decree meant that malapportionment was legal, but unethical.

But despite the struggles with the redelineation report, for Malaysians, the big picture is what matters. Confidence in the Malaysian democratic and judicial process has eroded in recent times. The EC’s redelineation exercise had been plagued with procedural issues since 2015, where the courts have consistently “denied litigants access to legal remedywhen objecting to the EC’s redelineation reports. 

Reasonable objections were easily quashed, leading George Varughese, president of the Malaysian Bar, to call these judicial pronouncements “appalling” and failing to “protect and uphold the Federal Constitution”.

And, with the passing of the ill-defined Anti-Fake News bill in similar haste and mannerisms, the public is left wondering whether Parliament sessions are merely ceremonial tools for passing inarguable legislations.