Remaking Malaysia: Flaws that need fixing in first-past-the-post polls

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on August 27, 2018 - September 02, 2018.
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TO encourage public discussion on long-overdue reforms to Malaysia’s election system, The Edge asks political analyst Dr Wong Chin Huat to explain the issues that require attention. This is the fifth in a series of articles based on a presentation by Wong, a Fellow of Penang Institute, to the government’s Institutional Reforms Committee. Previously, he explored the functions of electoral systems, flaws in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and electoral malpractices.

The Edge: What reforms should be made to the existing FPTP system?

Wong: The first task is to correct inter-state malapportionment. Article 46 of the Federal Constitution should be amended to state only the total number of parliamentarians, 222, as in 1957. The allocation of constituencies to various states and federal territories should be governed by Article 116.

In 1957, the inter-state allocation of parliamentary seats was governed by Article 116 (3) and (5). These sub-sections say that constituencies must be allocated to the states in such a manner that the electoral quota of each state is nearly equal to the electoral quota of the federation without causing undue disparity between the population quota of the state and the population quota of the federation.

 

What do “electoral quota” and “population quota” mean?

The “electoral quota” is obtained by dividing the number of voters in the federation by the total number of constituencies or, in a state, by the number of constituencies in that state.

The “population quota” is obtained by dividing the population of the federation by the total number of constituencies or, in a state, by the number of constituencies in that state.

By looking at these figures, it can be shown that the number of people represented by each elected leader is roughly equal.

 

What about the weightage for Sabah and Sarawak?

The special safeguards for Sabah and Sarawak should be reflected in their over-representation in an elected and empowered Dewan Negara as in most federations, instead of the unusual practice of over-representation in the Dewan Rakyat.

In the event that the over-representation of Sabah and Sarawak is to be sustained, then Article 46 should be amended to stipulate only the total number of parliamentarians for the three units, namely, the States of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

 

What about intra-state malapportionment?

Sub-section 2(c) of the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution should be reverted to the pre-1973 version, which reads (underlined parts were removed or changed in the 1973 amendment): “The number of electors within each constituency ought to be approximately equal throughout the unit of review except that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies, to the extent that in some cases a rural constituency may contain as little as one half of the electors of any urban constituency.”

This would mean that for each of the units of review, the States of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak, the largest constituency cannot have more than twice the number of electors for the smallest constituency.

To rule out abuse of the exceptional clause of “weightage for area”, this sub-section may end with an additional clause that the application of weightage for area must be made in a transparent and consistent manner, with specific considerations expressly stated.

 

How about limiting gerrymandering involving the jurisdiction of local authorities?

To limit the room for gerrymandering, more restrictions should be placed on the crossing of electoral and administrative boundaries by making it mandatory for federal and state constituencies to respect the boundaries of local authorities.

State constituencies are currently made electoral subdivisions of parliamentary constituencies, which are, in turn, electoral subdivisions of states, aligned into a three-tiered nested structure, as stated in sub-section 2(a) of the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

 

What other purposes will this serve?

Besides narrowing room for gerrymandering, making state constituencies as electoral sub-divisions of local authorities would also be useful when local elections are introduced in the future. If a multi-member electoral system is used for local elections, each state constituency can double-up as a municipal/district electoral ward. If FPTP is used, then each state constituency can be sub-divided into a few local wards. This will enable one single electoral roll to be used for all federal, state and local elections.

 

What about the arbitrary redivision of polling districts?

The Election Commission (EC) should be relieved of its discretionary power to create and re-divide polling districts under Section 7 of the Elections Act 1958.

Sub-section 7(2) of the Act has been abused by the EC to even unconstitutionally alter constituency boundaries before or after the delimitation process provided for by Article 113 and the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

To check the abuse, Sub-section 7(2) should be followed by a new clause that states that a polling district created or altered under this law must consist of the whole or parts of only one housing estate, village or neighbourhood.

Another new clause should require that the creation or alteration of polling districts must not affect the boundary of any federal or state constituency that has been delimited by Parliament.

 

How can partial and delayed delimitation be prevented?

Delimitation exercises should be carried out regularly and all constituencies must be considered. The current provisions have clear gaps that need to be closed. The original maximum interval of 10 years should be restored. Article 113(2)(ii) should be amended to say that there must be an interval of not more than 10 nor less than eight years between the date of completion of one review, and the date of commencement of the next review.

There should be a compelling deadline of six months for the prime minister to table the EC’s final recommendations to Parliament.

To prevent partial delimitation, Sections 4 and 7 of the Thirteenth Schedule should be amended so that the EC’s proposal must contain the considerations for retaining or modifying the boundary of every constituency.

Next: Alternatives to the FPTP system

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