OCTOBER 19 — The Malaysian Bar notes that the Election Commission is currently undertaking a delimitation exercise, as provided for under Article 113(2)(i) of the Federal Constitution.
This provision states that the Election Commission “...shall, from time to time, as they deem necessary, review the division of the Federation and the States into constituencies and recommend such changes therein as they may think necessary in order to comply with the provisions contained in the Thirteenth Schedule ”
In determining whether a delimitation exercise is necessary, the relevant principles in the Thirteenth Schedule that must be taken into account are expressly set out in Section 2 of the Schedule, which reads as follows:
(a) while having regard to the desirability of giving all electors reasonably convenient opportunities of going to the polls, constituencies ought to be delimited so that they do not cross State boundaries and regard ought to be had to the inconveniences of State constituencies crossing the boundaries of federal constituencies;
(b) regard ought to be had to the administrative facilities available within the constituencies for the establishment of the necessary registration and polling machines;
(c) the number of electors within each constituency in a State ought to be approximately equal except that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies;
(d) regard ought to be had to the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies, and to the maintenance of local ties.
The Malaysian Bar highlights that providing for approximately equal number of electors in each constituency in a State is not only constitutionally required, but is also a universally accepted practice that underlines the hallowed principle of “one person, one vote, one value.”
The only acceptable departure from this principle is with regard “to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies,” where “a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies.” This is a safeguard against the willy-nilly manipulation of boundaries of constituencies.
Paragraph 2(c) of the Thirteenth Schedule was inserted in 1973 as part of an amendment to the Federal Constitution. It may be understandable that in 1973 — given our state of economic development then — there were large disparities between urban and rural constituencies.
It is certainly much less permissible, today in 2016, for the basis outlined in paragraph 2(c) to be used as a reason for the departure from the “one person, one vote, one value” principle.
The delimitation exercise in 2016 must therefore cure, and not exacerbate, the excessive disparities of electors in constituencies that were evident in the 2013 General Election. There are disparities in, for example:
(1) Sarawak, where there is a differential of 476.80 per cent between Igan (17,771) and Stampin (84,732);
(2) Selangor, where there is a differential of 386.30 per cent between Sabak Bernam (37,318) and Kapar (144,159);
(3) Perak, where there is a differential of 347.38 per cent between Lenggong (27,950) and Gopeng (97,092);
(4) Pahang, where there is a differential of 286.85 per cent between Cameron Highlands (27,980) and Pekan (80,260); and
(5) Johore, where there is a differential of 282.99 per cent between Labis (37,714) and Gelang Patah (106,726).
Such excessive intra-state differentials are clearly unacceptable, and must be rectified. To do otherwise would mean that the Election Commission is suggesting that even after 43 years of development policies by the government, transport infrastructure and communications technologies in Malaysia are such that the level of difficulty “of reaching electors in the country districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies” has actually increased, not decreased.
The Malaysian Bar refers to the recently released proposals by the Election Commission, and notes that there are established enquiry processes that are currently underway for affected parties to respond to them.
We also note that it has been reported that political parties from both sides of the divide have expressed serious concerns regarding the proposals, and that the Election Commission has received an astounding 836 representation objections to the delimitation exercise.
The Malaysian Bar takes the view that legal representation during the enquiry process must be allowed as of right. The enquiry process is an important one, and the public has a constitutional right to be given an opportunity to be heard. It is therefore crucial that the Election Commission permits legal representation.
The Malaysian Bar asserts that central to the principles relating to the delimitation of constituencies set out in the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution is a pivotal need to ensure that every citizen is equally represented in each constituency, be it a Federal or State constituency.
The Federal Constitution guarantees equality and equal protection of the law against discrimination as a fundamental right accorded to all persons. Every citizen must have equal voting power.
* Press release by president of the Malaysian Bar Steven Thiru on October 19, 2016.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.