COMMENT The end of the month-long objection period of the recent constituency boundary review in Sarawak has shown that the Election Commission’s (EC) current method and process of delimiting and delineating constituencies is deeply flawed.
The record number of objections - 56, as of 2.30pm on Wednesday - this time around as opposed to only 26 in 2005, and one judicial review of the whole delimitation/redelineation process, along with the possibility of lawsuits to come, indicate deep voter dissatisfaction with the EC’s current manner of undertaking constituency boundary reviews.
The process - and indeed the commission itself - requires serious and substantive reforms.
Principally, the month-long experience of our group - Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) in studying and engaging with the proposals, highlighted these serious flaws in the EC’s proposals:
a) non-compliance of constitutional requirements by the EC in using the electoral roll of 30 April 2014, when it should have used the latest gazetted electoral roll of 31 October 2014;
b) major discrepancies in the number of voters shown in the EC’sBuku Syor-Syor SPR in many constituencies, as opposed to the actual electoral roll of 30th April 2014;
c) the wholesale transfer of voting districts (daerah mengundi) which altered the federal parliamentary constituency boundaries. For example, P195 (Bandar Kuching) and P196 (Stampin), P220 Baram and P222 Lawas, despite the EC’s own proposals to the contrary (Clause 2(a) of the gazette notification);
d) a lack of detailed information in the new constituency map for Sarawak (and specifically, the lack of any detailed voting district map in each state and parliamentary constituency);
e) a lack of detailed information in the Buku Syor-Syor SPR,identifying the exact geographic coverage of each voting district in each state and parliamentary constituency, which allows voters to identify their specific voting locations; and
f) serious violation of Section 2(c), Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution, which requires the EC to ensure that “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 rural districts and other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies”. Instead of alleviating current levels of malapportionment, the current proposals have worsened it.
EC proposals fatally flawed
Overall, the current EC proposals for constituency review are fatally flawed because they fail to inform voters of the effects of its recommendations (as per Clause 4 of the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution).
In addition, there seems to be no coherent basis or rationale that underpins the EC’s proposals, nor does it suggest that the EC is keeping to constitutional requirements.
In accordance with human rights conventions as enshrined under international law, Rose is of the view that all voters have the right to receive full and correct information about this constituency boundary review process.
Clearly, the lack of information in the EC proposals shows that the EC has failed to live up to this internationally-recognised obligations.
Rose therefore urges the EC to consider these objections fairly and to make all necessary revisions that would give substantive meaning to the process of voter participation and the principle of equality in voter weightage.
This is essential since we believe that international human rights conventions recognise the rights of all voters to participate fully without hindrance or discrimination in this review process.
It is thus incumbent upon the EC to facilitate this process, instead of debilitating the ability of voters to do so.
Mobilising objections on redelineation
In the interest of creating awareness and encouraging voters’ participation in the process of delimitation by voters in Sarawak , Rose volunteers had mobilised 114 voters of P196 Stampin to submit representations/objections to the EC.
Amongst the objections or representations based on the above findings, we urge EC to republish a notice of its proposed recommendations to review the division of Sarawak into constituencies, in full compliance with the provisions contained in the Thirteenth Schedule.
We also submitted an alternative proposal based on the equalisation principle, for consideration by EC and to assist the EC in coming up with a fairer set of constituency boundaries for Sarawak.
As it is not possible to implement ‘equalisation’ principles in isolated constituencies, this proposal is intended to be an alternative for all parliamentary and state constituencies in the entire state.
In this alternative proposal, all seats are kept within a +/-20 percent band about the Electoral Quotient (EQ) for Parliament and +/- 25percent for State Constituencies.
In the current EC’s proposal, the smallest state seat is -53.13 percent and largest is +132 percent from the Electoral Quotient (EQ) for state seats. (Note: EQ refers to the value arrived at when the total number of voters in a state is divided by the number of constituencies for the state)
In the end, what Malaysian and Sarawak voters want are genuinely free and fair elections, a desire that is in accord with internationally-recognised norms and principles.
It is therefore the responsibility of the EC to ensure that it carries out its constitutional duties to serve the democratic interests of the people of Sarawak and Malaysia.
RISE OF SARAWAK EFFORTS (Rose) is a small group of volunteers who were polling and counting agents in GE13. Their focus is election issues and rural community transformation.