SEPTEMBER 17 — Voting day is September 26, but Sabah voters may require days of deep analysis and discourse to decide who they pick.
It’s about guessing who reasonably can use your vote or hurt your feelings least if elected, by subjectively gauging sentiments. Complicated? Welcome to strategic voting.
The First Past The Post (FPTP) system is the tragedy of Malaysian elections.
It's high time the single transferable vote (STV) made its debut in our politics. So that representative politics is indeed representative. That the will of the people is not circumvented by the tyranny of simple majorities built on fears of the wasted vote.
More about STV later.
In N.18 Inanam, at least two of the 10 candidates will lose their deposits — politics' way of categorising these unfortunate souls as losers with a capital L. Suffer the ignominy of not having at least one in eight voters pick you, or 3,254 from the 26,035 Inanam voters (if they all showed up).
Statisticians may point to the 2009 Bukit Selambau (Kedah) by-election where 15 names were on the ballot, but 13 of them were independents, or cruelly put, politically irrelevant. Both the Barisan Nasional (S.Ganesan) and winner PKR (S. Manikumar) together received 94.5 per cent of the votes cast, leaving the 13 forgotten candidates sharing 1,326 votes or one ballot from every 20 voters.
The 13 just crowded the ballot paper — they had to use A3 paper — but did not crowd the political space.
Sabah’s massively different.
The 73-seat polls are inundated with six/seven-corner fights involving parties led and filled by characters from the last 50 years of state election history.
In Inanam, one potential deposit loser can be the incumbent Kenny Chua. The PKR man has since been sacked for supporting ex-CM Musa Aman’s failed power bid. He won with 13,633 votes two years ago, but today stands as an independent.
Or former chief minister Chong Kah Kiat, William Majimbun or Mohd Hardy Abdullah, three from previous state giants Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and United Sabah National Organisation (USNO) respectively. Perhaps, it becomes the ultimate humiliation for PKR, and candidate Peto Galim, after being limited to seven races only by Warisan Plus.
Or stark reminders to the new forces, Francis Goh (Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah), Terence Tsen (Parti Kerjasama Anak Negeri) and Dr Regina Lim (Parti Cinta Sabah), when they get trounced.
Only George Ngui and Achmed Noor Asyrul, the independent duo may be dismissed summarily.
Prides will be hurt; enjoy the schadenfreude but it’s secondary.
The greater harm is for a low simple majority.
If the competition’s too even, technically, a person might win with slightly more than 10 per cent of the votes. To lose one’s deposit — everyone loses their deposits — and still be elected member of the legislative assembly. Then enabled to vote the chief minister in.
In context, the winner might be loathed by Inanam’s majority but due to the FPTP’s quirk becomes their assemblyman.
With three-way fights ubiquitous, Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Parti Cinta Sabah contesting Warisan Plus in all seats, joined by Usno’s 47, LDP’s 46, Parti Gagasan Rakyat Sabah’s 28 and Parti Perpaduan Rakyat Sabah’s 23, simple majorities would massively outstrip absolute majorities.
Resulting in most of the seats being won by candidates without majority support of the seat’s voters.
Single Transferable Votes (STV)
In brief, let voters rank the candidates they prefer most.
This way they are not forced to pick their second choice over their first, in order to prevent the worst choice winning.
Votes are transferred to lower choices when their higher choices fail.
In FPTP, voting for the guy “certainly in third, fourth or beyond” becomes worthless, thus the strategic vote part kicks in, where voters are forced to forgo their top choice.
By 2018, Dr Michael Jeyakumar had been Sungai Siput MP for 10 years, entering Parliament by defeating then MIC president Samy Vellu. Few MPs are as well regarded on both sides of the aisle as Dr Jeyakumar.
However, by then his Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) and Pakatan split up.
So, most Pakatan type voters abandoned Dr Jeyakumar and backed PKR’s S.Kesavan, to avoid a win for BN-MIC’s K.Devamany or PAS’ Ishak Ibrahim. With only 1,505 from over 43,000 votes, he lost his deposit.
Though if PKR’s supporters were free to give top two ranking to either Kesavan or Dr Jeyakumar, it might have turned out differently. He’d probably snare more BN-MIC votes. Or maybe not.
But people can choose better if their list of preferences is considered.
The arguments are there, and they have been made over and over. FPTP was adopted for simplicity of the era, and the only advanced democracies sticking by it are Britain and the United States — which copied from its old home country.
There are variants of the STV, and in the past decades it has established itself across Europe and South America. Australia for instance forces voters to rank all candidates, not just those they bother with. Otherwise the ballot is rejected.
Bolder and fairer
FPTP is an anachronism, having served its time. The will of the voters is served by any version of STV as evidenced in advanced democracies worldwide.
The resistance is clearly anti-democratic especially in view of the results about to surface in Sabah.
Simple majorities are counter intuitive to the idea of more voices being heard. More so, when juxtaposed with voters’ dynamic appreciation of the parties and candidates.
Further, our national political spectrum has widened. PAS operates as a strategic partner with BN. Various Borneo parties juggle interests as other new players emerge. Usno, merged with Umno in the 1990s, and now decoupled. Mahathir Mohamad’s Umno has split three ways. Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman waits in the wings for a righteous entry.
Unless Parliament reorganises our vote from FPTP to a form of STV, simple majorities likely increase voter apathy over time.
The burden to choose the most electable so as to avoid the most evil will leave us weary.
The counter arguments?
The established order will rely on voter confusion and election fraud defence.
Though asking people to assume who are the real contenders and then make them choose between them also confuses voters.
People always rank people in their lives, why should politics be different? It's the government's role to educate the use of a different system, not use the complexities as basis to ignore advances.
Second, for election fraud, technology has come to the fore to cope with complicated factors and information. Measuring votes and intentions through rankings are manageable. Electronic voting is inevitable, the challenge to avoid cheating will exist with FPTP and STV.
The real scourge of democracy is the refusal to change, to consider different ways to advance the will of the people, not the least the selection of their elected representatives.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.