Highlight: Did two million rural voters decide for Malaysia?

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PETALING JAYA (May 22): Among the election "literature" distributed prior to the 13th general election (GE13) was Tindak Malaysia's analysis of Malaysia's electoral outlook. By virtue of Tindak Malaysia's position as a non-partisan community movement that conducted voter education and election agent training, the analysis was widely circulated via social media. The analysis examined the 2008 political landscape and drew conclusions as to the probable results of the GE13. Tindak Malaysia's main political premise was that BN would never lose a general election because its re-delineation strategy ensured that it won most of the smaller rural parliamentary seats while Pakatan Rakyat took most of the larger but lesser urban seats. The movement ranked the 222 parliamentary constituencies according to the size of their voters based on 2008 data. Most of the rural areas, aside from Putrajaya, made up the first 112 seats. To further illustrate its point, Tindak Malaysia compared the smallest parliamentary seat of Putrajaya to the largest seat of Kapar. Putrajaya's 6,608 voters when compared to Kapar's 112,224 voters resulted in a ratio of 1:17. This means one vote in Putrajaya is worth 17 in Kapar. Today, Putrajaya and Kapar have 15,791 and 144,159 registered voters respectively. According to Tindak Malaysia founder, Wong Piang Yow, BN only needed to win a simple majority of 51% in 112 of the smaller parliamentary seats to stay on as the ruling government also by a simple majority. And based on his calculations, BN had easily won 112 seats within the first 139 seats (according to voters' size) in the 2008 general election with a total of 2.08 million votes. "Do you agree that two million can decide for 28 million?" he asked in the analysis. The official GE13 figures have yet to be gazetted but Wong has estimated that 2.26 million voters had decided for Malaysia on May 5. Tindak Malaysia's analysis also emphasised that the bulk of the 112 seats were in Malay-majority rural areas and had a total voter count of less than 45,000 each. "For a simple majority rule, the rural bumiputeras decide," Tindak Malaysia stated. "Only for two-thirds majority do the non-bumiputeras have a say." "Is it a coincidence that the poorest groups with the worst infrastructure, education and healthcare facilities are the kingmakers?" Political analysts who viewed the presentation agreed that the premise, though simplistic, was valid. However, they pointed out that other variables and technicalities had to be taken into consideration. Professor James Chin of Monash University said that the two million represented registered voters and had therefore decided for the 10.9 million voters instead of the total population of 28 million. He added that the calculations of a simple majority were also based on the assumption of a full voter turnout in all 112 seats, something which has yet to be achieved. "But yes, it is possible that two million decided for 10.9 million in 2008," Chin said. K Shan, chairman of the National Institute for Electoral Integrity (NIEI),  agreed with Chin on both points but added that the controversy lay in the popular vote which he called a "problematic analysis." "We are behaving like we're in a two-party system when in fact we're living in a multi-party system," Shan said. "The popular vote analysis doesn't reflect an illegitimate government." Taking a different stand from other critics of Malaysia's electoral system, Shan stated that the first past the post (FPTP) system can be maintained but proposed the inclusion of proportional representation.   "FPTP is a balanced representation of the rural, urban and East Malaysian communities especially when 70% of voters in East Malaysia are located outside the urban areas," he said. "FPTP establishes a balance in urban voting power." On the subject of voting power, the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has recommended that the upcoming re-delineation exercise reflects equal representation of votes by reverting to a former rural weightage system. The system, which was part of the original Federal Constitution in 1957, called for not more than a 15% discrepancy from the average constitution in each state. It underwent constitutional amendments in 1962 and was scrapped completely in 1973. "Rural weightage basically says that people in rural areas should have a greater say in how the country is run because they might need more help," said IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan. "So there must be a normalisation of the constituency sizes while appreciating that there are urban, semi-urban and rural areas and each which different characteristics." Political analyst and newly-elected DAP MP for Serdang Ong Kian Ming, meanwhile said that while Tindak Malaysia's calculations may be simplistic, it showed a possible reality given that the large majority of small seats were won by BN. "This point shows the inherent unfairness of the electoral system in Malaysia," he stated. "You would not find such a case in other mature democracies using FPTP." Two academics from Universiti Putra Malaysia's (UPM) Human Ecology faculty agreed on the premise that BN's winning points were scored in the rural areas and warned that the ruling coalition now needed to focus on the urban areas in preparation for GE14. Professor Sarjit Singh Darshan Singh said while BN's survival in GE13 was heavily dependent on the rural votes, the next election would be a more severe test of its strength as younger voters moved to the urban areas. He also noted that political awareness among the minority communities had also increased this time round which indicated that they wanted to be involved in the political process. "They want to contribute their views but the question is to what extent are their views taken into account by the government," Sarjit said. Calling the GE13 a "minority general election," Professor Jayum anak Jawan asserted that without them, BN would not be ruling again. "Sabah and Sarawak carried a sinking ship and with rural areas fast becoming urbanised, the minorities will play a bigger role in the next election," he said.