Last Updated: 7:05am, Apr 22, 2014
SHOULD we have a larger Parliament? What’s the shameless Election Commission of delible-ink fame scheming?
On Saturday I attended a whole day forum which considered the 2 questions. The venue was the Bar Council auditorium in Kuala Lumpur. The moderator was Dr Bridget Welsh.
The morning session panelists were Dr Wong Chin Huat (Bersih), Dr James Chin (academic) and Mr Wong Piang Yow (Tindak Malaysia).
The afternoon session panelists were Dr Ong Kian Ming (DAP MP for Serdang, Selangor), Mr Sivarasa Rasiah (PKR MP for Subang), Dr. Hatta Ramli (PAS MP for Kuala Krai, Kelantan) and Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO of the Malaysian Government’s Global Movement of Moderates and former Umno deputy Minister for Education).
At the end of the seminar I felt I had become a little less ignorant about 5 key things.
1. The work of a Member of Parliament
In 2012 Parliament met for 561 hours. Someone has calculated that “an average MP spoke and was heard for 2 hours and 32 minutes”.
Unlike Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, U.K., etc. Malaysia does not have a tradition of appointing permanent (parliamentary select) committees with the power to call Ministers and Senior Civil Servants ask them to answer questions about matters of public interest. This is from the U.K. Parliament website:
“There is a Commons Select Committee for each government department, examining three aspects: spending, policies and administration.These departmental committees have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. Findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee's recommendations.”
In Malaysia, the electorate don’t even know who their local town or city councillors are, since we don't have local elections. Therefore, when we are bothered by potholes or blocked drains or clogged roads, we expect our MPs to take action!
A Parliament dominated by one party leaves the business of governing to the cabinet (Ministers), i.e. the other MP’s don’t do any significant work.
In this scenario, like a frog spawns tadpoles, the ruling party spawns MPs who think of seats in Parliament as rewards for party membership. Seats become rewards which help to ‘resolve’ squabbles within the party over who gets a seat as reward.
2. The number and distribution of Parliamentary seats The number of Parliamentary seats allocated to each state is defined in Article 46 of the Constitution of Malaysia.
The 5 states with the largest number of seats are Sarawak (31 seats), Johor (26), Sabah (25), Perak (24) and Selangor (22)? That’s 128/222 which is 58 %.
The 5 states with the smallest number of seats are Perlis (3), Malacca (6), Negeri Sembilan (8), Terengganu (8), Penang (13)? That’s 38/222 which is 17 %.
Those seat allocations were decided by the Election Commission (EC) and the Prime Minister’s Office in 2003 and 2005. The Constitution doesn't define the frequency with which the number of seats and their allocation should be reviewed, other than to say that normally the review should not be more frequently than every eight years.
To change the number of seats and their allocation, Article 46 of the Constitution must be amended – and this requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament.3. The number of voters per constituency In terms of numbers of voters, for GE13 Kapar had the largest number of voters at 144,369 voters while Sabak Bernam, also in the state of Selangor, had the smallest number of voters at 37,390 voters.
The difference is size is not easy to explain. The size of each constituency is determined by the classification assigned to an area by the Elections Commission. The classification could be any one of the following: urban, semi-urban, rural.
The Constitution of Malaya (before Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined the Federation to form Malaysia) originally provided for some control on size differences between constituencies.
If the original “control” of 15 % had been in force during GE13, the smallest constituency would have had 51,000 voters and the largest constituency would have had 69,000 voters, give or take a few.
This would of course have created a problem for the constituency of the Federal Territory of Labuan, since it would not have been possible for them to have 51,000 voters. Also, in the case of Putrajaya, the constituency borders would have had to be redrawn (reducing the sizes of neighbouring constituencies) to increase the number of voters to well above the actual figures of 6,608 voters in 2008 and 15,791 voters in 2013. So, the EC has to be granted some leeway in making decisions.
The Constitution in Schedule 13 Article 2 (see page 212) includes the following principles for delimiting constituencies: convenience for voters in going to the polls; availability of administrative facilities for registration and polling; equal numbers of voters; inconveniences caused by altering boundaries; and maintaining local ties.
4. Constitutional curbs on the Election Commission After GE13 the EC does not have a shred of credibility, though it continues to function, secretively.
Fortunately Schedule 13 Article 4 requires the EC to publish the changes it intends to make to constituencies, and Schedule 13 Article 5 requires the EC to hold a local enquiry concerning the changes if “a body of one hundred or more persons whose names are shown on the current electoral rolls of the constituency in question” object to the proposed changes.
Tindak Malaysia is enrolling scrutineers and is organizing the rakyat to hold the EC to account.
5. Shahidan Kassim The irresponsible Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Shahidan Kassim, is the Minister responsible for electoral reform and ultimately the redelineation.
Shahidan has chosen to ignore the recommendations of the multi-party Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by Max Ongkili and wants to push his own racist agenda instead. On 31 March 2014, the Malay Mail Online reported:
"The principle of equal legislative representation of “one person, one vote” is not suitable for Malaysia unless it is implemented in accordance with the country's multi-racial composition, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said today."
Hence Bersih, which earlier called upon the EC to resign, has also called upon Shahidan to resign.
The EC is a truly shameless body. A former chairman of the EC, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman has admitted that past redelineation exercises were designed to keep certain parties in power!
The DAP, PAS and PKR MP’s at the forum said their parties have not been consulted by the EC, though they have heard that the EC is working on some proposed changes.
It has emerged that that in the last redelineation exercise the EC changed the constituency boundaries before changing the total number of seats – a departure from previous practice. The EC does not appear to have provided a rationale for the change.
Overall, many believe the EC and Shahidan are up to no good. I believe Dr Wong Chin Huat when he says the results of GE14 can be fixed now by the redelineation exercise, both through gerrymandering and malappropriation.
Umno will labour to get some MPs to cross over and join them so that they can gain a two-thirds majority and push through an amendment to Article 46 of the Constitution to increase the number of seats.
If the number of MPs is increased without a corresponding increase the the workload of MPs, e.g. through the formation of many bipartisan Permanent Parliamentary Select Committees (which would be a superb way to reduce the number of issues reported by the Auditor General each year), (1) some parties will have more seats to distribute as rewards, (2) the people will pay more for MPs and (3) Parliament may become even less effective than it already is.
If we stand by and watch as the government increases the number of MPs by moving boundaries in 50-50 constituencies to favour one party, we allow the EC to be, in Dr Wong’s words, an “Employment Commission” for unprincipled men.
Rama Ramanathan blogs at write2rest.blogspot.com
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