SEPTEMBER 14 — There is a new hybrid discussion.

The purported dangers of an equitable vote.

You have read it right. That somehow if the vote veers closer to the one man, one vote principle via more reasonably apportioned parliamentary seats then the democratic rights of rural communities are threatened.


Confused much?

Since independence, the gradual increase of parliamentary seats and the balance of numbers along with seat delineations has been set by Barisan Nasional (BN), the only government known to Malaysians till 2018.

A voter casts his ballot during the Pulai by state election at the Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Melati, in Johor Baru September 9, 2023. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A voter casts his ballot during the Pulai by state election at the Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Melati, in Johor Baru September 9, 2023. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon


In 1955, at the first Malayan federal polls there were only 52 seats at stake. Today there are 222. It is unlikely that when the 16th general elections roll in it will be still 222.

However, things have changed dramatically since 2018. They have changed even more so for BN since 2020 — this is the second time it is the junior partner in government.

BN does not decide the delineation today, though it can influence it.

Still, all eyes are on the unity government in this regard, although the moves are likelier in 2025. The public discourse goes on for now.

How will it manage the process — the alteration of total numbers and refashioning of seats (numbers and zoning)? To its benefit only or in the best interest of the people?

Every democracy does it, even the most successful, and their methods vary.

There will be many instances to discuss the government’s self-interest but how about the accusation that rural voters are about to be punished?

As mentioned before, BN had a free hand since the years of Rahman to Abdullah Badawi to maximise seats for the coalition. Which is why in 2013, Pakatan won the overall vote count but ended up with considerably fewer number of seats. BN got more seats with less votes.

The BN seats are rural and with a lower number of votes. And the Pakatan seats, especially DAP’s, were in urban seats with high voter count, which does not translate to more seats.

DAP vote total in Bangi and Kajang cumulatively is over 60,000 votes than what Perikatan Nasional (PN) candidates won cumulatively in their six parliamentary victories in Selangor.

BN’s previous sacrifice of the one man, one vote principle disadvantaged urban voters.

Now, Pakatan leads the unity government — which has 147 seats across 19 parties, and one short of a two-third majority.

This is Pakatan’s turn to change seat count and re-delineate.

It is expected to increase seats and rework constituency sizes to serve its interest. To be fair, those corrections are overdue as their seats are indeed over-bloated.

Which is the heart of the discussion.

BN circumvented fairness for so long, the beneficiaries ask if such a thing is already institutionalised, therefore it actually harms rural over-represented communities.

To them, urban populations have gotten used to it and therefore any correction even if more democratic is unfair.

The fallacy of overrepresentation

All over Malaysia, there is no evidence that the actual voters of over-represented seats are better protected. After all, if all previous governments only increased rural seats in the last 60 years, then the welfare of those seats would be protected better.

That if 70 per cent of the seats in parliament were over-represented seats with high Umno-BN MPs, therefore the majority for BN was made of primarily over-represented seats — high percentage rural, why are rural interests not over-cared for?

The bulwark of development for BN in the last 40 years has been in urban locations.

The formula is more ruthless. The seats are means to power and not the purpose of their work.

It is math, not concern that drove BN. They have the machinery to maximise rural votes, so they made sure there were a high number of rural seats.

Urban voters are citizens

The Constitution underlines the equality of citizenship.

If every correction and amendment from Independence till 2008 was heavily weighted for rural areas despite their lower population, how is it in good taste to oppose the first time the pendulum swings back in the other direction?

At over 303,000 voters in Bangi and growing, it is criminal to neglect the bloat when across the state in Sabak Bernam it is only above 52,000.

Detractors counter that rural people need more help. The greater truth is that a large number of Malaysians need help, both in the rural and urban settings. Using rural as a basis to outrank other Malaysians is poor form.

Fairness is a good

The deeply held idea of unfairness through machination of party and government is right because it has gone on for so long is the laziest type of thinking possible.

The fact it is defended by people tells two things, they think manufactured but illogical support for unfairness is substantial, and second, they are impervious to the new reality in Malaysia today, everything is challenged.

What can the rural communities do?

Like how all communities anywhere is the world rise by taking charge of their own destinies. To organise themselves, and to use that collectiveness to take action, and not to be passive and wait for handouts from political leaders.

This is not a lecture, perhaps there are other things those communities can do through politics, through the representative system Malaysia has. But it is self-inflicted injury to assume they can only wait for the MP of their over-represented constituency to hand out help to them.

The MPs in the urban settings are not better than the MPs in rural settings, but they face greater demands from their voters and that is why they have to deliver. They have a larger and bolder agenda because their voters demand that.

But even if all of the suggestions to up engagement fails, it is still not a reason to protect urban voters less on the notion they are more self-sufficient without political cover.

All are citizens. Democratic mechanisms should hold that always ahead of other concerns.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.