Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Gerrymandering at its best in redelineation of Sarawak seats, says political analyst

Published: 7 January 2015

The Sarawak assembly gazetted the creation of 11 new seats but not the renaming of parliamentary constituencies. – flickr pic, January 7, 2015.

The Sarawak assembly gazetted the creation of 11 new seats but not the renaming of parliamentary constituencies. – flickr pic, January 7, 2015.
The Election Commission's proposed redelineation of political boundaries in Sarawak to create 11 new state constituencies is an example of gerrymandering at its best, says a political analyst.
“I was dumbfounded when I saw the new electoral map,” Dr Mohd Faisal Syam Abdol Hazis of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said of the proposed redelineation on public display in Kuching and 16 district offices.
“The drawing of the new political boundaries is systematic and very organised.
“It must have been drawn up by someone who is meticulous, with an eye for detail and an intimate knowledge of the state's political landscape,” the social science lecturer said.
Faisal said the redelineation was definitely not worked out in the last couple of months, referring to the time the bill to increase the number of seats in the state legislative assembly from 71 to 82 was passed in November and the EC announcement on Monday.
“This would have been two to three years of work done without the knowledge of the public,” he said.
“A lot of input was needed to draw up what they did.”
He said past election results and political trends, for example, had to be analysed so they could “draw the boundaries to shift voters to negate the inroads the opposition had made into a particular constituency or dilute the opposition voters' strength”.
“These are all meticulous work not done in a couple of months.”
Faisal also said the new boundaries that were drawn were “very weird”.
“It does not follow convention, the normal wisdom nor what is stipulated in the constitution.
“In some constituencies, the boundaries were zigzagging.
“On what basis is the EC doing this, I wouldn't know unless if it’s to meet a political objective.
“The redrawing and shifting of the electoral boundaries clearly showed it is being done to benefit certain political parties.”
He cited the DAP-held seat of Kidurong, renamed Tanjong Batu in the redelineation exercise, as example of how a redrawn boundary had weakened the opposition.
To negate the opposition's strength, a new seat – Samalaju – was carved out of Kidurong and to a lesser extent part of the adjacent Barisan Nasional-held seat of Kemena.
“A large chunk of Chiu Chiew Sing's (the DAP Kidurong assemblyman) rural voters, who are mainly Dayaks, had been taken away from him.
“Kidurong has been reduced to a small urban constituency where Chinese voters are dominant.
“The redrawn boundary is like telling Chiu: you keep your Chinese voters, we're taking the Bumi voters away.”
Faisal said he also noticed “lots of changes in the boundary of marginal seats” – seats which BN won in thin margins in the last two (state and general) elections and where the opposition had made inroads, like the Malay-majority seat of Kalaka and the Iban-majority seat of Krian currently held by PKR – done to weaken the opposition.
In the case of these two seats in central Sarawak, the EC carved out the new seat of Kabong “to shift some voters away from Krian to Kabong”.
Faisal also said he foresaw legal issues ahead.
He said what was stated in the gazette was a redelineation in relation to the creation of the 11 new seats that was passed by the assembly.
“The gazette notice only states the creation of the 11 new seats, not renaming parliamentary constituencies, shifting state seats from one parliamentary constituency to another or redrawing the boundaries of constituencies not involved in the creation of the new seats.”
He was referring to the shifting of the PKR-held state seat of Batu Lintang from the Stampin parliamentary constituency to the Bandar Kuching parliamentary constituency and changing the name of the Mambong parliamentary constituency to Puncak Borneo.
He said while the creation of state seats was the purview of the state, changes to parliamentary constituencies came under the purview of Parliament.
“The EC could be challenged, particularly the shift.” – January 7, 2015.
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