COMMENT The Election Commission (EC) has so far provided only two pieces of information. The first is a state-wide map that shows Sarawak sub-divided into 31 parliamentary constituencies and then 82 state constituencies.
Map 1: The EC’s proposed electoral map for Sarawak (2015)
The second is a list of electorate breakdown by parliamentary constituency, state constituency and polling district.
Image 1 below is a sample of the Polling District List (2015)
These two pieces of basic information were initially displayed only in hard copy at the local authorities and district offices. After the strong protest by Bersih 2.0, they are now available online.
3 No list of effects
They are the recommendations but not “the effects” constitutionally required by Section 4(a), as per the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution.
The EC does not provide an overall list of changes to the constituencies and polling districts. Preliminary investigation into the maps and the polling district lists by Berson 2.0 volunteers in the DART (Delineation Action and Research Team) initiative suggests that the unavailability of such overview may not be innocent.
The EC proposal divides Sarawak into 887 polling districts which are then grouped into 82 state constituencies and 31 parliamentary ones, 26 more than the 861 ones used in the 13th general election (GE13). This means perhaps up to 26 or more of the old existing polling districts have been split up.
Without maps with polling districts and electoral rolls, the public simply cannot know if polling district boundaries have changed and how. They are also not shown the other effects: how many of the polling districts have been moved between state constituencies and how many state constituencies have been moved between parliamentary constituencies. The EC denies the public this information which is at its fingertip.
The EC simply acts as if the phrase “the effects” in Section 4(a) does not exist.
3.1 No 'proposed electoral rolls'
For voters to know whether they are negatively affected, they need to know first, which constituency they are placed within, and second, who are sharing their constituency.
While officially we are told that the redelineation exercise is based on the electoral rolls gazette of April 30, 2014, it is important to note that then, the electoral rolls were organised into 71 and not 82 state constituencies. Hence, the rolls are not readily useful for public scrutiny in the redelineation.
If a voter gets hold of a copy of the electoral rolls which is not available free of charge, he or she would need to single out all the polling districts allocated to him or her new constituency (see Image 1) to have an idea who are the fellow constituents are and to decide whether that suits his or her best interests and if the voter needs to organise 99 others to file an objection.
By not preparing “proposed electoral rolls” corresponding to the “proposed maps”, the EC is simply creating unnecessary obstacles for the voters to know how they are affected and participate in the redelineation process.
In 2003, such an opaque redelineation exercise infamously divided a family and a couple in Kampung Abdullah, Segamat. Up to 1999, the Ong family were registered as voters for P125 Segamat and voted there.
After the redelineation, Mr Ong found himself staying back in the shrunken P140 Segamat while, not only his siblings, but also MrsOng were moved to the newly created P141 Sekijang, despite they all living in and being registered as voters at the same address.
There is no clearer breach of “local ties” – as required by Section 2(d) of the 13th Schedule - than this surreal tale of “one bed, two constituencies”!
The Kampung Abdullah fiasco would not likely have taken place if the “proposed electoral rolls” were also displayed and people could easily search if their constituencies had been changed and filed in their roll-related objection in the redelineation exercise.
3.2 No polling district on maps
The EC proposal map (Map 1, above) only shows Sarawak in 31 parliamentary constituencies and 82 state constituencies but not the 887 polling districts. Polling districts are building blocks of constituencies.
Redelineation mostly involves inclusion or exclusion of polling districts into/from a constituency, like forming a block with jigsaw puzzle pieces.
The Bersih-sponsored DART has have trained citizens to “create” their own “ideal constituencies ”by simply using Microsoft Excel and Google Earth”.
Map 2 (left) shows that voters can easily recreate a new and smaller Pandungan state constituency by recolouring the polling districts (circled by green lines). As they add up the polling districts on Google Earth, they add up the number of voters for these polling districts in an Excel file, to make sure that the new constituency has a reasonable size. (Please visit dart.bersih.org to learn more.)
In the EC’s proposal, N9 Pandungan is 70 percent larger than Sarawak’s average state constituency. Without the polling district boundaries, the voters can only protest its under-representation but not contemplate a better alternative.This greatly disadvantages the voters and undermines their right under Section 5 of the 13th Schedule.
Also in Map 2, the existing N9 Pandungan State Constituency (circled by blue lines in the middle), with the red lines showing the parliamentary constituency boundaries and the light green lines showing the polling district boundaries. The light blue area showed an alternative N9 Pandungan centred around Polling District 1950903 Pandungan.
What is shocking is that only 769 out of the 887 proposed polling districts can be found on the 2013 electoral maps. Of the remaining 118 that cannot be located on the maps, 29 were new names, but remaining 89 have been missing on the map, from 2013 at least.
These 118 “missing” polling districts are scattered in 20 state constituencies and 15 parliamentary constituencies, involving a total of 64,451 voters, which are enough to make up two average parliamentary constituencies in Sarawak. They make up 24.62 percent of the state constituency electorate combined and 12.02 percent of the parliamentary electorate combined (Table 2, below).
The worst case in the table above is P198, Puncak Borneo (previously known as Mambong), where as much as 65.28 percent of its voters are listed under 71 missing polling districts. In one of the state constituencies, N20 Tarat, as many as 11,893 voters (72.63 percent of its total electorate of 16,374) cannot be located on the map.
What does this mean? On Jan 5, the EC published on the Gazette and displayed to the public that, for example, polling district 198/20/10 Beratok (within P198 Puncak Borneo, S20 Tarat) has 1,388 voters (Image 2, below).
We do not know who these 1,388 voters are because the EC does not show the “proposed electoral roll” and not even where “Beratok” is. And this is not a “new” polling district.
In the GE13, this polling district Beratok was coded 198/17/14 and had 1,352 voters but it could not be found on the EC’s electoral map.
Now, how can the Sarawak’s redelineation exercise be constitutional when, at best, 64,451 voters cannot be found on the map?
Tomorrow: Part 3 - The EC is not above the constitution
WONG CHIN HUAT earned his PhD on the electoral system and party system in West Malaysia from the University of Essex. He is a fellow at the Penang Institute, and a resource person for electoral reform lobby, Bersih 2.0.