Monday, September 19, 2016

Your KiniGuide to the redelineation exercise

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KINIGUIDE The Election Commission (EC) finally posted an official notice on the redelineation exercise on Thursday, officially kicking off the much anticipated process of electoral boundary changes for Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.

In this instalment of KiniGuide, we dwell into the redelineation process and take a look at some of the problems that have cropped up in the past.

What is redelineation?

Every corner of Malaysian territory is part of one of 222 parliamentary constituencies, which are further subdivided into two or more state constituencies, which in turn are divided into polling districts and finally, voting localities.

Each parliamentary constituency is represented by a member of parliament at the Dewan Rakyat, and each state constituency is represented by a state assemblyperson at its respective state legislature.

A redelineation exercise is essentially a review of the territory encompassed by these constituencies to see if its boundaries are still relevant for the current times and make changes to the boundaries if necessary.

This could entail moving voters from one constituency to another, or even the creation of new constituencies or removal of existing constituencies.

Why should I care?

There had been allegations in the past that the redelineation process had been abused to favour one party over another in an election.

One was through malapportionment. This entails having vast differences between the number of voters from one constituency to another. This is unfair because it dilutes the value of voters in larger constituencies in favour of those voting in smaller ones.

An example of this can be seen in the EC’s proposal for the parliamentary constituencies of Selangor.
Under the proposal, Damansara would have 150,439 voters, which is four times more the number of voters in Sabak Bernam (37,126 voters) – a difference of more than 400 percent. The international best practice is to keep such discrepancies to within 20 percent of the average number of voters.



Another way to skew election results through the redelineation process is through gerrymandering.

This entails the redrawing the electoral boundaries to concentrate the supporters of one party in a handful of constituencies, while shifting supporters of an opposing party into many more other constituencies. This can result in some oddly shaped constituency boundaries.

A video explaining gerrymandering can be found here.

One way these two problems have manifested can be seen in the 13th general election.

The Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition garnered 51 percent of the popular vote in the 13th general election in 2013, but only won 40 percent of the parliamentary seats and was unable to form the government.

What are some of the proposed changes?

In total, the boundaries of 128 out of the 222 parliamentary constituencies would be changed. The top three states affected are Johor (21 constituencies), Selangor (18 constituencies), and Perak (17 constituencies). Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu would also see all the parliamentary constituency boundaries altered.

This would also be the second time in Malaysian history where there are no new parliamentary seats being created in a redelineation exercise. The first time was in the Sarawak redelineation last year.

This is probably because the ruling coalition does not have the two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat needed to add new parliamentary seats. However, there will be 13 new state seats in Sabah.

In addition, 12 parliamentary seats and 36 state seats would have their names changed. This ranges from complete changes (such as from 'Petaling Jaya Utara' to 'Damansara') to minor spelling tweaks (such as from 'Bagan Datok' to 'Bagan Datoh').

What is taken into consideration in a redelineation exercise?

This is spelled out under Section 2 of the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution. These factors are:
  • Parliamentary constituencies should not cross state borders, while state constituencies should not cross parliamentary constituency boundaries.
     
  • There should be enough administrative facilities available in each constituency to facilitate the electoral process (voter registration, polling, etc).
     
  • The number of voters in each parliamentary constituency within the same state should be approximately the same, but with ‘a measure of weightage’ given to rural constituencies due to the difficulty of reaching rural voters. This means rural constituencies may have fewer voters, which in turn gives more value to each vote.
     
  • That altering constituency boundaries can cause inconveniences, and to maintain local ties.
When was the last redelineation? Why is Sarawak not involved?

Article 113(2) of the Federal Constitution stipulates that a redelineation exercise can only take place after at least eight years have passed since the last redelineation exercise, but no maximum period is imposed.

The last redelineation exercise for Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah was in 2003.

The redelineation exercise for Sarawak is usually conducted separately from the rest of Malaysia. The last one was done in December 2015 - where 11 new state seats were created - five months before the Sarawak state election.

Hence, Sarawak is not due for another redelineation exercise anytime soon.

So what was EC’s notice about?

There are in fact two separate notices – one for the states of Peninsular Malaysia and federal territories, and one for the state of Sabah.

Article 113(6) of the Federal Constitution requires the states of Peninsular Malaysia (plus the Federal Territories), Sabah, and Sarawak to be treated as three separate units.

The notice is divided into four schedules.

The first schedule lists constituencies that are to have their names and boundaries changed. The second schedule lists the number of voters in each parliamentary and state constituency.

The third schedule lists places where voters can go to find out more about the EC’s proposed changes. These display areas would be open during office hours until Oct 14. These are mostly public places such as multipurpose halls, offices of local authorities and offices of village chiefs.

The fourth schedule lists the EC’s offices, where stakeholders can voice their objections to their proposals. By law, such objections must be lodged within a month of the notice being published.

Where can I read the notice for myself?

Newspapers known to have carried the notice are New Straits Times and Utusan Malaysia, in the classifieds section of the Sept 15 editions of the respective newspapers.

You can also find it online on the EC’s website here (for Peninsular Malaysia) and here (for Sabah).

What can I expect to find at the display areas?

Based on Malaysiakini’s visit to several such places in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, these areas would have banners displayed outside to denote these areas as places where the recommendations are displayed.

Once inside, the first thing that is likely to catch your eyes are maps of the proposed constituency boundaries.

For those in Peninsular Malaysia, there will be two maps - one of Peninsular Malaysia, and one of the state or the federal territory where the display area is located.

However, there are no detailed maps of the constituencies involved.

Hence, for those residing near a constituency boundary, the maps on display would not be helpful in figuring out which constituency they are supposed to vote in under the proposed changes.

In addition to the maps, there are also two books - one listing the number of voters in each polling district in the state; another listing the number of voters after the proposed changes.

You may also find forms for filing objections to the EC, or a booklet explaining the redelineation process.

Although you cannot bring these documents home (except the forms), you can find materials on the EC’s website here (maps and electoral rolls), here (objection forms), and here (booklet on redelineation process).

What happens next?

Article 113(2) of the Federal Constitution requires that the redelineation process be completed within two years after it has started. The rest of the process is laid out in Part II of the 13th Schedule of the constitution.

On Oct 15, the objection period for the EC’s proposals will close, and the commission will begin holding local inquiries to hear these objections.

Such inquiries would have powers conferred under the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950, and hence have some powers, such as being able to compel witnesses to testify.

The EC may make revised recommendations based on the findings of the inquiries and begin the process of getting feedback again, but no more than twice.

Once the process is completed, the EC is to submit a report on its recommendations to the prime minister and the Dewan Rakyat.

If the Dewan Rakyat approves of this by a simple majority, a draft order of the proposed changes will be submitted to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, after which it can be gazetted into law.

If the changes are rejected, the prime minister may make changes to the proposal and re-table it in Parliament. This process is repeated until the Dewan Rakyat is satisfied with the amended proposal.
Many believe that the government would prefer to fight the next general election, which is not due until 2018, under the new electoral boundaries.

This is one of the reasons why redelineation was done first, ahead of the Sarawak election in May this year.

Who can raise objections to the proposal?
According to the Federal Constitution, only three groups may raise objections to the EC’s proposal. Even then, it is only for proposed constituencies that affect them.
These are:
  • State governments;
  • Local authorities (such as municipal councils and district offices); and
  • Groups of at least 100 voters from the affected constituencies.

This instalment of KiniGuide is compiled by Koh Jun Lin.

~ Malaysiakini

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