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Thread: Delimitation: Split over splitting of seats

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Delimitation: Split over splitting of seats

    Sunday February 23, 2014 MYT 1:07:38 PM

    The Star Online

    Split over splitting of seats


    A vote for delineation: The SPR has pointed out that the number of voters in some seats are much too big and these need to be split for better representation. ó Bernama

    The Election Commission is three-quarters through its delineation exercise and says it is proposing about 15% to 20% increase in parliament and state seats.

    The Election Commission (SPR) has come under fire from certain quarters for going ahead with the delineation exercise of the electoral boundaries.

    But chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof says SPR had to do it as part of its constitutional responsibility because the number of voters in some seats are much too big and these need to be split for better representation.

    He also points out that there is a need because some states like Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu did not get any new seats in the previous delineation exercise.

    Currently there are 222 seats in parliament and SPR is proposing a 15 to 20% increase in its number. Barisan Nasional is the ruling party but it lacks a two-thirds majority in parliament, which is what is needed to push through SPRís recommendation of new seats.

    But Abdul Aziz insists that critics should not prejudge the report and its recommendations. ďWe cover our eyes when we do the delineation. We donít look at which party has won or will win when we do the delineation,Ē he says.

    Q: Article 113 of the Federal Constitution says that delineation of boundaries and seats can be done after eight years of the last exercise. But it is not mandatory and the eight years is actually only a minimum period, which means that SPR doesnít really need to undertake this delineation exercise, does it?

    If you just read it like that in the constitution, thatís true. But you must also understand that after eight years, in any seat, there would be an increase in the number of voters especially in developed states like Selangor, Johor and Perak. And because of that we have do something in the sense that to make it easier for voters and the elected representative.

    Let me give you an example. In the last delineation exercise, the number of voters in Kapar was about 60,000 to 70,000. Thatís still a big number but it was below 100,000. But that number has grown since then to 144,000 voters and by now it must be about 150,000. Even if the size of the constituency remains the same, the numbers of voters have increased because of the density of the population. It doesnít matter if it is natural or by migration. What matters is that they are registered there as voters. There are difficulties for an MP to serve 150,000 constituents and there are also difficulties for constituents to get to see their MPs. So we must do something.

    Q: What happens to Putrajaya then which has only 16,000 voters which is very strange for an administrative centre?

    Yes it is very strange. But what can we do about Putrajaya? Can we enlarge the size? Putrajaya is the creation of a Federal Territory under the Putrajaya Law just like Labuan and FT Kuala Lumpur were. They have their area under the law and have a special status. FT Labuan too has only a small number of voters (24,000). Putrajaya was carved out from oil palm plantations and nothing to become the administrative capital. We created Putrajaya as one constituency.

    Q: Why the huge disparity between Kapar and Putrajaya? How can you have one seat representing over 140,000 voters and another 16,000 ?

    Very true. But how do we overcome this?

    Either we have to increase the number of voters or enlarge the area. To enlarge the area, we would need to amend the law because we would have to encroach into Sepang in Selangor or Nilai in Negri Sembilan. And I donít think either state will give up its land to Putrajaya. And we cannot cross state lines when drawing up seats.
    So it is easier is to encourage people in Putrajaya to register as voters here or change their voting address to a Putrajaya address. Putrajaya is about 10 years old and its population is now about 300,000.

    In the 2008 election, there were only 6,000 voters and that number has increased to 16,000. The only thing is that some people do not want to change where they vote. Many want to balik kampong to vote and we canít force them to change their address. You canít compare Kapar with Putrajaya. You must compare Kapar with somewhere equivalent. And you can't compare Kapar with Sabak Bernam either because Sabak Bernam is one of the least developed areas in Selangor. There are only one or two traffic lights there. And there is not even a McDonalds or a KFC either.

    Q: How about comparing Tumpat with Gua Musang?

    In Kelantan, Tumpat has the highest number of voters (98,000). We plan to split this into two.

    We are looking at all constituencies with more than 60,000 voters as to whether to split it. We are definitely splitting Kapar. But all this is still in the process.

    Q: There is no two-thirds majority in parliament, so why is SPR still proposing new seats?

    This is our constitutional responsibility. We have three functions, One is to organise elections either general, state or by-election, the second to register voters and the third is delineation.

    Q: Because there is no two-thirds majority, this might not even get passed in parliament?

    Well, that is up to the politicians. Our duty is to do it. People will accuse us if we don't do it and question why we didnít follow regulations. Then in the same breath, there are those who tell us not to do it. Political parties who initially objected to the exercise seem to be changing their tune now.

    Q: What do you mean? Do you mean it can work in their favour?

    Definitely. For example if we split the constituencies in Selangor who benefits?

    Q: That depends on how SPR draws up the boundaries and split it. If it was a mixed seat but with the new boundaries, it becomes a very Malay seat, then it would surely help Barisan Nasional?

    Iíll give you an example. If we split say Kapar into two, who benefits? I am saying based on sentiment in the last election, it is in Pakatan Rakyatís favour. But peopleís sentiment does change from time to time.

    But I must stress again that we never think about which party will win when we do the delineation. I called up (the former SPR chairman) Tan Sri Rashid (Abdul Rahman) and asked him if he actually said that the delineation exercise was done in a manner to menangkan orang Melayu (make sure the Malays stay in power). And he told me ďtak masuk akalĒ (that doesnít make sense). It is impossible he had said it. He means it is not logical at all.

    (At a Perkasa function in Nov, Rashid was quoted as saying the delineation was done in such a way to ensure that the Malays stay in power).

    Q: Maybe what Tan Sri Rashid meant by 'tak masuk akal' is that it is illogical this is not the consideration when drawing up electoral boundaries?

    I don't know. That's all he said to me.

    Q: But something like this is so damaging to the credibility of SPR especially when Tan Sri Rashid had overseen 3 redelineation exercises?

    I know. And this is my first exercise! Maybe he thinks all chairman are like that. But I am not. This is my first time doing it. Give me a chance.

    Q: Is ethnicity a consideration?

    Not in the law. But sometimes we do look at this too even though it is not in the law so that it reflects the Malaysian population. We have statistics but we canít tell how many Malays are staying here and how many Chinese are staying there.

    But in a number of places though we canít do that. For example, if the parliament seat is a Chinese majority seat like Ipoh Timur, Ipoh Barat or Gopeng or if it is 99% a Malay seat like Pengkalan Hulu or Bagan Serai - no matter how you split it - they will still be the majority. Even if it is an all Malay seat like Tumpat (Kelantan), we still have to split it.

    Q: Which states can we expect an increase? And is the focus on new seats in urban or rural areas?

    We have to see all. Look at the developed states like Selangor, Perak and Johor. What I can see is there will be an increase in urban seats. As for the less developed states, look at Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. They have not had an increase in the last delineation exercise so we have to increase that. We are also looking at Sabah and Sarawak. We cannot compare these seats with the Peninsula because their situation is different. Generally, all states will see an increase either parliament or state seat or both.

    Q: Percentage wise what kind of increase are we looking at?

    It will be odd numbers (to prevent a hung parliament). If you look at the past delineations, there has been about a 15% to 20 % increase. We are more or less following that precedent.

    Q: Which seats you are looking at in Selangor?

    Klang, Shah Alam, Gombak, Serdang, Kapar, Kelana Jaya, Subang are all seats with a big number of voters. These seats were won with a majority of 20,000, 30,000 to 60,000.

    Abdul Aziz: ĎThe increase in parliament and state seats come as one package because if we increase the parliament seats then we also increase the state seats.í

    Q: But you are splitting seats Pakatan Rakyat won by huge majorities. It looks like you are trying to reduce the majority and give Barisan a chance to win at these seats?

    No! We donít look at who or which party is holding which seats and who is going to win. We cover our eyes when we do the delineation. And we donít consult politicians when we carry out our exercise. Because if we did that, then politicians would say ĎWhy do you do it like this because such and such area is what gave me my win and if you split it then I will lose in the next electioní and that sort of thing. We donít look at that. If we split the constituencies in Selangor, tell me which party benefits? From our analysis, whatever we create in Selangor will go back to Pakatan Rakyat.

    But we donít look at that as a factor whether to add seats or not. Our main reason is as stated in Schedule 13 of the constitution which is to give reasonable convenience to voters of going poll and see to the number of voters in the constituency and with regard to the administrative facilities in the constituencies.

    Q: Why the need for more than 222 MPs? Isnít this an additional cost on the government and taxpayers as we would have to pay more MPs and the MPs get a pension for life?

    We only study the situation on the ground. We only look at the number of voters and the responsibility of the elected representatives. The population keeps increasing. And are there enough elected representative in Dewan Rakyat to represent them all? Some MPs have to represent 140,000 voters which is unfair to both the voter and the MP. Weíve got feedback from voters telling us it is difficult to see their elected representative because he or she is too busy. And MPs with constituencies of more than 100,000 voters have come to see us and ask that we do something because their constituency is too big.

    As for the budget, weíll leave it to parliament, They can discuss that. If the increase of MPs will cost the government too much, then they can decide not to increase seats.

    Q: Australia has a similar population with ours and they are geographically bigger than Malaysia but how come they are able to manage less MPs than us?

    We cannot compare Malaysia with Australia because both are very different in terms of election systems, history, size of the country, transport, communication systems, literacy level and socio economic development. They are a developed nation but we are still a developing country and they have 200 years of independence behind them where as we are still a relatively young country with over 50 years of independence. Our election system is first-past-the-post but Australiaís is a preferential and proportionate system where they have 150 + 76 seats for their six states and two territories compared to our 13 states and three Federal Territories. We have our own system which is suitable for our people and it is up to the elected representatives if they want to make any changes to it.

    Q: And what about the argument against increasing the number of MPs because then not everyone will get a chance to speak in parliament as there are too many of them?

    Donít tell me just because of that, we cannot do this delineation. Parliament can decide to lengthen the meetings. Instead of meeting for 3 days, make it 6 days or 10 days so that everyone gets to talk. But the problem is that it is the same people (MPs) talking.

    I read (the new Bersih 2.0 chairman) Maria Chin saying there shouldn't be more because then not everyone will be able to talk. Can you imagine that because there is no time for each MP to debate in parliament that we should not increase the numbers? Maria should suggest the parliament session and meetings be lengthened instead.

    Q: None of the parties have a two-thirds majority in parliament. Would it be a slap in the face for SPR if its delineation report for more seats gets rejected?

    No not at all. At least we have done our job. We are doing this for the benefit of voters and the elected representatives. Elected representatives come to see us and tell us that ĎPlease we canít stand it any more. Our constituency is too big.Ē We will be condemned if we donít do our constitutional duty. People will criticise us and say Ďhow come we donít see that the number of voters have increased?í

    We put our recommendations for new seats in our report. Once the report is complete, we will publicly display the seats and new boundaries. Voters in those constituencies can object, give their feedback and suggest changes over a period of a month. Then we will study this, make the necessary amendments and display it for another month and it goes through the same process. The second time it is final. After this, the report is handed to the PM. And once I have given the PM the report, my duty ends there. Whether MPs accept it or not is not my duty. I donít ask the ruling party or opposition party that they must accept it. Let them see the report. If it is good, accept it, If it is not, then reject it or amend it.

    Q: But the public display of the new boundary is only one month? Is that enough time for people to scrutinise and object?

    That is the law. I donít know if itís short but that is not the feedback I am getting on it. I canít extend this. They would need to amend the constitution to allow if the period of display is to be made longer as it comes under the law as part of the procedures for the electoral boundaries.

    Q: Does SPR have a Plan B?

    No. We don't have a Plan 'A' and a 'Plan Bí. You either accept or reject the whole thing. The increase of parliament and state seats come as one package because if we increase the parliament seats then we also increase the state seats.

    Q: But SPR can still go back and redraw boundaries without increasing seats so as to get it passed in parliament by a simple majority?

    Who knows when the MPs see our report they might think 'Oh this is good for everyone and we must vote for ití and we get both sides agreeing. It is up to them.

    Q: So SPR is working as if it will get a two-thirds backing for delineation and it doesn't have another delineation plan that does not involve an increase in seats which needs a simple majority to pass?

    Well, we expect the worst. But we hope both parties (Barisan and Pakatan) will study the report first. And maybe both sides will see it benefits them and they will agree with a two-thirds majority in parliament.

    Q: What happens if parliament rejects the report? Does this mean no new state seats either?

    There are some views who say that nothing can be done because they (parliament and states delineation) are one unit. But there are other views that say the states have their own constitution and so they can propose to SPR to do a delineation of their respective state.

    For example say Selangor wants to increase 10 new state seats and they amend their constitution for it. And when they come to SPR we have to do it and start the delineation exercise for that particular state all over again. We have to go through the whole process of report, display, report, display and submit to the Menteri Besar (of the state) and do it within two years. In such a case, it would be a standalone for that state. The state suggests the number of seats but where the seats are will be up to SPR.

    This has never happened before. My legal adviser is still studying this possibility.

    Q: How many people are in charge of doing the delineation?

    The whole of my group. About 600 people all over including Sabah and Sarawak. Each state has 20 to 30 officers doing this full time. We donít hire from outside unlike for the elections. This is our own staff. And we have senior officers from Mapping and Statistics departments in the committee helping us. We have maps, use GIS (geographic information system), Google Earth to see the density of the area, mountains, forest and rivers. It is not easy.

    Q: Did the Kajang by-election mess with the delineation exercise?

    It disrupted it a bit. We had been so focussed in our mind, energy and budget on the delineation of all states and visiting places regularly for the exercise. From our monitoring system from our state directors we were of the view there would be no by -election. Then suddenly one guy from Kajang resigned for no reason. He was very healthy, won by a big majority less than eight months ago and there were no complaints from voters.

    That disrupted us a bit because now some of our officers have to switch gear and concentrate on Kajang.

    We have to prepare the electoral roll, clean up the roll, look at postal votes and give sufficient notice to overseas voters. And we have to get in the indelible ink which would take at least two weeks.

    In the other two by-elections (Sg Limau & Kuala Besut) we were prepared because we knew the two assemblymen were ill. With Sarawak too, there was an indication that the Chief Minister was stepping down so we were not caught off guard like with Kajang.

    Q: Recently civil society set up groups like Tindak, DART and Beres to look at the delineation exercise and process and they are also training people how to draw electoral boundaries. How will this impact on SPR's delineation?

    The responsibility to do the delineation is SPR's. If you have any complaints, wait until the one monthís public display. Then you can come with your maps, give your feedback, make objections, give ideas, suggest new things. All you need is to get 100 voters from that particular constituency, then go ahead and suggest changes. But it must be based on our map. Mind you itís not easy. Tens of our officers are on the ground looking at roads, electricity poles, mountains, hills, rivers as well as seeing that there must be administrative facilities in that district. As far as possibility a state seat must be within one district but sometimes it can't be helped. And it should never cross state boundaries.

    Q: Are you excited with this kind of engagement by civil society?

    I have no problems with it but it must be sincere and honest. Donít just try to find mistakes and go and bang us on that. I like feedback even negative feedback but it has to be sincere. Because sometimes others see things that we canít.

    Say we put the boundary on Jalan Duke and they propose a different road instead and we can discuss why they are proposing something else. And sometimes there are questions on a constituency that is geographically a different size. For example one is big and another is small but the number of voters are about the same, This could be because of population density or maybe in the big constituency, half of it might be a jungle etc.

    We have reasons why we do something. But sometimes someone from outside sees something that we didn't, so I say 'why not?' Donít complain before you see the report. See first. If there is something not right, then speak up, criticise.

    Q: Does the criticism bother you?

    SPR consist of human beings. We are not robots and we have feelings too. We work very hard. And we donít work for a ruling party. They (critics) are always talking about the indelible ink. They were 1,000 police reports lodged over the indelible ink during the general election.

    But the ink was only an additional measure. The most important thing is that voters have ICs and their names are on the electoral roll and there are polling agents doing the checking.

    We didnít have experience using the indelible ink and there were weaknesses. But how many who managed to wash the ink of their hand, got to vote more than once? Was it 20,000 or 10,000 or 1,000 or one or two?

    Not even one! If you wear a white shirt and there is a black dot on it, do you say that the whole shirt is dirty? Do you say because of a small mistake, that the whole election failed? Try to help us improve.

    Have you heard any complaint about the ink in the Sg Limau and Kuala Besut by-election? None. If we do something good, there is no praise.

    Be open minded, open your ears and eyes. Donít be influenced by certain groups. I never said SPR is perfect. There is room for improvement. But donít judge us by one mistake.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Seat increase: Is Parliament like a baby that follows EC's whims?

    First Published: 10:09pm, Mar 06, 2014
    Last Updated: 12:03pm, Mar 07, 2014


    by Wong Chin Huat

    CONSTITUENCY redelineation does not require a two-thirds approval in the Parliament. Instead, the Draft Order that states the changes need only a simple majority in the Dewan Rakyat to be passed.

    Further, while the Draft Order is supposed to be based on the EC's recommendation, the Prime Minister can actually make modifications to the recommendation.

    All these are stipulated by the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

    When is a two-thirds approval needed?

    Only changing the number of parliamentary seats allocated to the various states and federal territories requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

    This is because the numbers of allocated seats, for example, 31 for Sarawak, 26 for Johor, 22 for Selangor and 14 for Pahang, is spelt out in Article 46, which like most constitutional articles, requires a two-thirds majority.

    Changing the number of state seats in a state also may not require a two-thirds majority, except in Kelantan, Pahang, Penang, Perak and Terengganu where the number is specified in the State Constitution.

    In Selangor, the number of state seats is determined by state enactment and hence requires only a simple majority. In the remaining states, while the initial numbers are stated in the state constitutions, they also provide the option to change it by state enactment, again, which may be passed without a two-thirds majority.

    These facts, while may be heavily technical for the general public, are gradually becoming standard knowledge for politicians, activists, journalists and political junkies.

    Redelineating on constitutionally non-existent numbers

    What remains confusing for even many lawmakers is whether, in the event of seat increase, should the number of seats be changed (by amending Article 46 or the relevant provision in state constitution/enactment) first before the redelineation process (under the 13th Schedule), or vice versa?

    In practice, at least for the 2003 and 2005 exercises, the EC carried out and completed the redelineation process before having Article 46 amended. For the Peninsula and Sabah, the process started on Aug 8, 2002 (with the publication of notice for display) and ended on March 10, 2003 (with the publication of the report). The Order (with no modification on the EC's report) was then gazetted on May 1, but only on June 24, was Article 46 amended.

    The same happened with the Sarawak redelineation exercise, which began on Jan 7, 2005 and ended on June 8. Then, only on Sept 29, was Article 46 amended.

    Parliament becoming the EC's Rubber stamp

    What do these dates mean?

    It means when Article 46 as of Aug 8, 2002, stated that Malaysia had 193 parliamentary constituencies, the EC decided that 219 constituencies should be created and published notices about the display of redelineation recommendations for the Peninsula and Sabah, with 26 more constituencies than before.

    When the EC report and the Draft Order were laid before Dewan Rakyat on April 3, 2003, the entire process had been completed involving voters nationwide for 219 constituencies, a number which could not be found on the Federal Constitution.

    Could the Parliament then decide that it wanted 218 or 220 constituencies? Surely it could not do so without making the entire exercise which took eight months a hoax?

    Now, who decided that the Parliament should have 219 constituencies? It was not the Parliament although only the Parliament has the power to amend the Federal Constitution.

    It was the Election Commission that decided how many Parliamentarians there should be. And pathetically, the Parliament just rubberstamped a decision taken by the EC upon itself, like a toddler who does not how to protest.

    The Dewan Rakyat Speaker should bear the greatest responsibility for having the Parliament's power usurped by the EC.

    The EC can only start the redelineation process after informing the Dewan Rakyat Speaker and Prime Minister of their intention to do so.

    Shamefully, the two speakers, Mohamed Zahir Ismail (unbelievably a former senior judge) and Ramli Ngah Talib who presided over the Dewan Rakyat in 2003 and 2005 failed in their duties to guard and exercise the power of the Parliament.

    Egg first or Chicken first?

    Some ask or try to justify, how can the Parliament amend Article 46 before knowing how the constituency boundaries would be?

    Anyone with a clear mind can see that such reasoning is to provoke the self-interest of political parties and politicians Ė if the boundaries suit me, I will support the seat increase, who cares if it's not constitutional?

    Now, if you are going to build a house, do you first decide how many rooms then decide where to build them? Or, you build the rooms where you like and then count the number of your rooms?

    The confusion arises because of two problems.

    The first problem is that we have lost the intellectual ability to ask how many Parliamentarians or lawmakers we have. We have been brainwashed that as we make more babies and babies grow up, we therefore need to employ more lawmakers.

    The EC chairman was reportedly saying: "Can you imagine that because there is no time for each MP to debate in parliament that we should not increase the numbers?" He seems to believe that one can propose the extension of parliamentary time but must not object to seat increase.

    But, why is increase an end in itself? Why should we increase the seats even if it will undermine representation?

    Do we need MPs and ADUNs to deliberate on laws and policies? Or do we need them to fund and run constituency service centres? If there is really a pressing need for the latter, then something must be very wrong with our normal government agencies.

    Shouldn't most of the constituency services be offered through more one-stop centres? The fundamental question is why should elected representatives be bogged down by bureaucratic tasks?

    As it is now, one cannot support the idea of continuous seat increase without intellectually belittling the role and competence of lawmakers.

    The second problem stems from the historical mistake in 1962 for the Parliament to deprive the EC's power to apportion seats across states.

    Before the 1962 constitutional amendment, the EC would mathematically decide the number of seats allocated to a state based on its shares of population and electorate (the apportionment process) and then divide the state into constituencies by such number (the districting process).

    The "chicken first or egg first" confusion comes from the Parliament's folly in 1973 to spell out in Article 46 the number of seats of every state and territory and vest that power of EC in itself. This cuts the redelineation process into two halves: apportionment by the Parliament and districting by the EC.

    However, until this folly is corrected with the full power of redelineation returned to an independent EC or Boundary Commission, the Parliament's sole power in dictating the number of Parliamentary seats in Article 46 must be respected.

    No horse-trading in smoke-filled rooms

    Malaysians are generally aware of the perils of gerrymandering and malapportionment but few understand that seat increase is a key element in the partisan redelineation process, so much so that without seat increase, the room for the EC to scheme and manoeuvre will be severely shrunk.

    Malaysians must now stand up and speak up, demanding that any talk of seat increase to be transparent and scrutinised by the public, and rejecting any horse-trading deals in smoke-filled rooms.

    It's time we tell the lawmakers that legislative seats are not your or your party's private property, whose number you can increase at whim. They are tools to democratic representation and must serve that purpose. If you want more seats in the house, argue it in the public and convince your bosses Ė the citizens.

    It's time we tell the EC to stop acting like politicians' Employment Commission regardless of representational quality.

    Wong Chin Huat earned his PhD from University Essex, UK on a thesis on the electoral system and party system. He is now a fellow at Penang Institute. This is the second of a short series on seat increase

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