KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — A study showing Malaysia’s electoral demarcations as the worst of 66 countries has prompted polls watchdog Bersih to renew calls for a total revamp of the country’s voting system, starting with the resignation of the entire Election Commission (EC).
The group’s new chairman, Maria Chin Abdullah, said the Electoral Integrity Project’s (EIP) recent findings on the lack of integrity in Malaysia’s electoral boundaries vindicated Bersih, which has been fighting for electoral reforms here for years.
She added that the evidence also requires a new and fully-independent commission to correct flaws in existing constituency lines to give every voter adequate representation and equal weightage, before the EC embarks on its planned redelineation exercise this month.
“We do need an EC that is committed to clean and fair elections. So we need a new one.
“One that is not made up of civil servants… (but one) that is appointed from academicians, professionals, civil society... and it must be an independent body that has legal powers so it could actually take people to task for electoral fraud,” Maria Chin told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.
She was commenting on the EIP’s recent global study, which ranked Malaysia dead last out of 66 countries in terms of fairness and integrity of its electoral boundaries.
The findings of EIP, based in the University of Sydney and Harvard University and released in February, showed that Malaysia’s 13th general election last May scored just 28 out of a maximum of 100 points on the electoral boundary indicator.
“The experts’ perceptions suggest that the voting districts were not impartial and discriminated against some parties, since they strongly favour rural constituencies as opposed to urban ones,” Max Groemping, doctoral researcher with the EIP team, told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview.
“The size of constituencies is unequal, so that rural districts often represent fewer voters than urban one. That means that it takes fewer rural voters to determine one seat. This is called ‘malapportionment’,” he added.
The study was based on expert opinion on the electoral integrity of 73 elections in 66 countries, held between July 1, 2012, to December 31, 2013.
Groemping noted that Barisan Nasional (BN) stands to benefit from the way the electoral boundaries are currently drawn as the ruling coalition appears to enjoy strong support in rural areas.
Maria Chin agreed with the notion, saying it was almost as though the boundaries were deliberately drawn in a way that would keep BN in power.
“This malapportionment and gerrymandering in Malaysia... this is what resulted in the popular vote being won by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) last May but BN won the election. That’s the effect,” she said.
During Election 2013, BN reclaimed its place in Putrajaya with 133 seats to PR’s 89 but lost the popular vote for the first time since 1969, scoring just under 48 per cent of the total votes cast to PR’s 51 per cent.
“If you look at it, there are so many things wrong with how our boundaries are drawn. For one thing, we have things like a voter staying in one constituency but voting in another.
“The EC has been arbitrarily shifting voters and I think the reason is to keep the ruling party in power,” Maria Chin said.
She noted that the EC previously said it plans on tabling a motion on the redelineation exercise when Parliament convenes this month.
Once approved by the House, the EC would then have two years to complete the process.
The EC has mentioned the likelihood of increasing the number of parliamentary seats from 222 but Maria Chin said this would require the approval of two-thirds of the House.
“Whatever for? Justify the need to increase seat numbers. Firstly, we want the current boundaries corrected,” she said.
She said Bersih has also begun training members of the public on how to redraw boundaries fairly and in accordance with the community’s interests.
Once the EC’s proposal for redelineation is completed and put up for public objection, the activist said Bersih will help the public put present feedback to the commission.
“We also demand that the EC extend the period of objection from one to two months. Thirty days is insufficient... by the time we make sense of the new boundaries, there wouldn’t be time to raise an objection,” she said.