Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Vulnerable' voters will decide half of S'wak seats

8:39AM Apr 29, 2015
By Koh Jun Lin
The Sarawak electoral constituency redelineation process will still see a third of the voters deciding on about half of parliamentary seats in the state, says electoral watchdog Tindak Malaysia.

It gleaned this information, Tindak Malaysia said, from months of analysis, despite the EC not making relevant information readily available for laypersons.

Today is the final day of the objection period for the Election Commission’s (EC) second and final proposal for Sarawak’s new electoral boundaries.

Tindak Malaysia’s PY Wong said the NGO’s analysis has revealed that the proposed electoral boundaries would not change the malapportionment in the state.

Whether before or after redelineation, only about a-third of the popular vote is needed to win 41 of the 82 Sarawak legislative assembly seats.

Likewise, about a-third of the popular vote can decide 15 of the 31 parliamentary seats in the state. All these seats come from constituencies with fewer voters.

“There seems to be a consistent pattern of creating seats whereby one-third of the voters can determine half of the available seats.

“This pattern has been repeated at the parliamentary level, the state assembly level and even during the 13th general election. So we can (surmise) that this is not by chance,” Wong (right) said.

He explained the decisive one-third vote comes from rural constituencies, where people suffer higher levels of poverty, have poor access to information, are seemingly fearful of the authorities and susceptible to money politics.

“So you have given one-third of the voters a high voting power, (but they are) very vulnerable, economically and politically.

“This is not right for a democracy… Once you have this malapportionment of seats in place, a general election is just a charade,” Wong said.

Six thousand voters vs 31,000 votes

Malapportionment is a situation where the number of voters is each constituency varies substantially from the average.

This gives smaller constituencies disproportionate powers to elect candidates into office, while diluting the value of votes from larger constituencies.

According to Tindak Malaysia’s analysis, the largest state constituency, according to the EC’s proposal, would be Pelawan, with 31,388 voters, or 132 percent above the state-wide average of 13,526.

On the other hand, the smallest constituency is Gedung, with 6,340 voters or 53.13 percent below average.

Pelawan is in the parliamentary constituency of Sibu while Gedung is in the parliamentary constituency of Batu Sadong.

Once the objection period is closed, the EC is expected to convene a hearing to decide on the objections, and then table it for parliamentary approval through the Prime Minister’s Office.

Only a simple majority is required to pass the new electoral boundaries, as it does not change the number of constituencies in the state.

Rose mobilising objections

Wong said the group lacks the resources to tackle the issue, but its partner, Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose), is mobilising more 100 voters in Stampin who are objecting to boundaries which affect them, using Tindak Malaysia’s analysis.

Under the Federal Constitution, only the affected states, local authorities, and groups of at least 100 affected voters may raise objections to proposed electoral boundaries.

Wong also urged the EC to make its information on the boundaries free and more easily accessible.

This includes making digital maps of constituency boundaries available online, so that voters can zoom in to see the “finer details” of the boundaries.

In addition, the EC should explain the impact and justifications for the changes that it is making, he said.

“I think this is very important. Otherwise, how are you going to give effective feedback to the EC on what one can expect?

“To do that, you must have all the information in a form that is easy to use and easy to understand. I would say, as voters, that we should all should expect that,” Wong added.

No polling districts listed

Sarawak’s proposed electoral boundaries are now presented in a large map of the state with few references to ensure accuracy.

The map shows the parliamentary and state assembly constituency boundaries, but not those of polling districts.

In addition, the EC gazetted a notice for the delineation exercise on March 30, which contained a list of constituencies and the numbers of voters.

However, the notice was in a protected digital file. While it can be downloaded and read over the Internet, its contents cannot be readily copied into a spreadsheet software for analysis.

Wong said Tindak Malaysia was only able to perform its analysis through years of experience and nine months of preparation ahead of the redelineation exercise, something beyond the means of a layperson.

Some of the other alleged discrepancies and issues highlighted by Tindak include:
  • The number of Sarawak voters as listed in the delimitation notice does not tally with the April 2014 electoral roll that it is supposed to be based on. The electoral roll had 1,111,393 voters, whereas the tally in the notice is 1,109,134 – a difference of 2,259 voters;
  • The polling district of Damo is the smallest in the state, with only 51 voters using the same polling centre. This makes it difficult to ensure voter secrecy. Overall, there are 188 polling districts that have fewer than 300 voters, out of a total of 887 polling districts;
  • Lines representing constituency boundaries on the EC’s map are about 500 metres, thick based on the map’s scale, making it difficult for voters using it to ascertain the constituency that they live in. The lines are thick enough to fit a small polling district;
  • There are supposedly 26 new polling districts, but there are no maps to show its location and boundaries; and
  • It costs about RM4,000 to purchase a copy of Sarawak’s electoral roll from the EC, which Wong argued is prohibitively expensive for those who want to analyse its data.
~ Malaysiakini 

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