Presently, there are 222 seats with Sabah having 25; Sarawak 31; Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya 13; and the 11 states in peninsula Malaysia, 153. On Feb 23, 2014, the Election Commission (EC) has hinted at a possibility of seats increase in several states, where its chairperson has declared a possible increment of between 15 and 20 percent in Selangor, Johor, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, among others. (The Star Online)
But how does the EC decide on the number of seats for each state? What is their basis?
Table 1 shows the total number of seats at the 13th general election as well as the average electorate size for each state.
Comparing Selangor, Perak and Johor, there seems to be unevenness in the number of seats which does not reflect the average size of the electorate.
Johore has an average electorate size of 61,743 for its 26 seats, while Selangor’s electorate amounts to 93,129 but has 22 seats. In Perak, it has an average electorate of 58,614 for its 24 seats.
Selangor should have eight more seats to be at 30 seats while Johor should have two less to be at 22. Then, an average parliamentary constituency in Selangor would have only 68,294 voters while Johor would have 66,888 voters. Perak should have just 21 seats with an average of 66,987 voters.
If certain states are targeted for seats increase, then the EC must convince the public that the addition of new seats will not further worsen the inter-state malapportionment.
Seat increase in 2003 was one of the very reasons why an average parliamentary constituency Selangor now has nearly 150 percent of voters compared to one in Johor (See Table 2). In 2003, the Parliament increased its own size by 21 seats to a total of 222 seats. The red colour in Table 2 represents states which are under-represented and blue as over-represented, in terms of seats allocation.
As per the electoral rolls used in the 2003 redelineation, an average parliamentary constituency in the peninsula had 57,818 voters. Then, an average constituency in Johor was just slightly oversized at 61,777 while the Selangor one was greatly under-represented with one-third more voters, at 80,511 to be precise.
The Parliament increased the total number of seats in the peninsula by 21, and six went to Johor but only five went to Selangor. Worse, the constituencies of Perlis, Pahang and Perak then were already over-represented, yet these states were still given more seats.
Pahang for example only had 50,393 voters per constituency (7,425 less than the Peninsular average) before the seat increase. Yet, the state of Najib Abdul Razak then still had three more seats, resulting in the third lowest average in the peninsula, 39,594, (or 10,865 less than the peninsular average). Only Putrajaya and Perlis had less voters than Pahang.
The recent EC’s promise of more seats will likely be “sugar-coated” poison again. As it is Selangor and Johor are already on EC’s “hit-list” for seats increase.
How should parliamentary size and inter-state apportionment be determined?
From 1957 to 1962, constituencies were allocated to the states based on, largely, their population percentage. In other words, a state with about 10 percent of population might get about 10 percent of parliamentary seats. And the allocation was tasked to the EC as per Article 116 of the federal constitution. Seat allocation was not tied to the total number of seats, which was simply spelled out as a single sum in Article 46.
In 1962 the mathematical method in inter-state apportionment in Article 116 was removed, in a move to reduce the power and independence of the EC.
The power to decide on the electorate size and apportionment was transferred from the EC to the Parliament under Article 46, when Malaysia was formed.
The new federation’s 159 parliament seats were deliberately unevenly allocated in the four territories, as follows:
1. States of Malaya had 104 seats (65.4%) 2. Sabah had 16 seats (10.1%) 3. Sarawak had 24 seats (15.1%) 4. Singapore had 15 seats (9.1%)
The apportionment did not follow the mathematical calculations but based it on ethnic composition where Singapore, being dominated by the Chinese, was under-represented; while Sabah and Sarawak with its native population being expected to be politically closer to Malays were over-represented even though these two states only represented 1/6 of the national electorate.
Notably, Malaya was still treated as a unit, while the constitution became silent on its future inter-state apportionment.
In 1973, another constitutional amendment spelt out the number of seats for every state in Article 46, which was how the numbers in Table 1 and Table 2 came about.
This meant that the power to increase or decrease seats now lies in the hands of the Parliament, but with no guide on the size of electorate or apportionment. However, by virtue of listing the numbers in Article 46, rather than determining only by formula, seat increase has since required a two-third majority in the Parliament.
This is same for some of the states, where the number of legislative seats is stated in the state constitution. Selangor, however, is an anomaly that the number of seats is stated in a state enactment, which can then be amended with a simple majority.
As such, without any objective guidelines on electorate size and inter-state allocation of seats, and no cap on the total size of the Parliament, Article 46 becomes a job-creation clause for BN politicians. Every time when redelineation exercise took place, seat increase followed to add more seats to BN’s stronghold states like Johor and Pahang, but also in general just to create more political jobs.
The peril of seat increase
One immediate negative impact of bloating the Parliament is that, given the same session time, more parliamentarians will mean less time for each of them to speak. In 2012, the Dewan Rakyat met for 68 days or 560 hours and 58 minutes.
This means each of the 222 Parliamentarians (ignoring the senators who served as ministers and deputy ministers) would have only 2 hours 31 minutes 37 seconds to speak and be heard of. More parliamentarians mean they will speak on average less than two and half hours a year!
Lengthening parliament time for more MPs is not even the solution as by default, more members mean less weight for each of them vis-à-vis the Executive. And our Parliament, as it stands now, is already lacking check and balance mechanisms, with the near absolute power of the speaker, the non-existence of parliamentary committees with specialised tasks, the suppression of opposition and government backbenchers’ businesses.
The argument that a nation needs politicians, when population grows, is flawed. It’s just a self-serving excuse for politicians to create more lucrative jobs in the Parliament for their families, friends, cronies and comrades. In the US, the House of Representative had 435 members in 1911 and it still had the same number today, when the population had now nearly tripled from some 94 million to nearly 320 million.
If Parliamentarians find it taxing to deal with more voters asking for their attention on pot holes, clogged drains and other constituency issues, they should realise this is the job of local councils and what we really need is local elections, not bloating the Parliament.
We must stop this scam on seats increase. It is not necessary, and in fact, not possible to address inter-state malapportionment. If your parliamentarian tells you this grandfather story of how important seat increase is, show him or her some hard facts.
Bersih 2.0’s position is to have a re-allocation of seats to mirror changes in the inter-state proportion of electorate, with Sabah and Sarawak remaining as status quo. Ideal but not impossible.
We can at least pressure our parliamentarians not to agree to seat increase. If the number of seats remains the same, we can still greatly reduce malapportionment. Participation in the Delineation Action and Research Team (DART), a joint effort of Bersih-Engage will help ordinary Malaysians like you and me understand the delineation process and stop the EC from stealing our votes.
MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH is the chairperson for the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections 2.0 (Bersih 2.0) and the executive director of Empower. She believes politicians are bad masters if not made good servants through free, fair and competitive elections