Claims that the Election Commission’s (EC) proposed redelineation exercise is tilted in favour of Barisan Nasional (BN) and may aggravate racial polarisation are unfounded, according to political analysts.
Head of the National Council of Professors’ Governance, Law and Public Management Cluster Prof Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod said although elements of racial polarisation were seemingly evident in the redelineation draft, it however could not be entirely avoided as Malaysia’s demographic pattern has always reflected a disparity in the racial composition of the people living in urban and rural areas.
Nevertheless, he added, the Federal Constitution stipulates that priority be accorded to rural constituencies in terms of allocation of facilities and amenities, taking into factor the hardships faced by the people.
“Nothing has been finalised yet as the public display process of the proposed redelineation is underway,” he said, adding that if the EC was found to have contravened fundamental principles enshrined in the constitution, the matter can be taken to court for a judicial review.
“The constitution also allows other interested parties like state governments, local authorities and other groups (comprising at least 100 registered voters) to raise objections if they don’t agree (to the proposed redelineation),” Nik Ahmad Kamal, who is also senior law lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia, told Bernama.
The EC’s proposed recommendations for the Redelineation of Electoral Boundaries for Federal and State Constituencies in the States of Malaya are currently up for public display, from Sept 15 to Oct 14. In Sabah, the EC has also posted notices of 13 proposed new state constituencies.
EC secretary Abdul Ghani Salleh has said that the redelineation exercise was being implemented in accordance with Clause (2) Article 113 of the Federal Constitution and Clause (2) Article 14 of the Sabah State Constitution.
Both BN and opposition parties have hit out at the proposed redelineation, claiming that it could create racial imbalance in some electoral constituencies.
The opposition parties has alleged that the redelineation was lopsided and in favour of UMNO.
Responding to the allegations, EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah said the displayed recommendations were not final as they have to go through the process of local inquiry and have to be approved by the Dewan Rakyat before being enforced.
He also denied that the exercise was aimed at favouring certain parties in the 14th general election, and added that the EC was carrying out its responsibility as provided for in the Federal Constitution.
On criticisms that the proposed redelineation was a “betrayal” of the democratic system, Nik Ahmad Kamal said it cannot be described as undemocratic as the exercise was being carried out in line with existing laws.
“The process is being done lawfully, so how can anyone say it’s undemocratic and a violation of the citizens’ rights? Are the people going to be denied of their voting rights as a result of this redelineation exercise?”
“As long as our nation practices the Westminster parliamentary system (of government) and ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system, the party or coalition that wins a simple majority (during the general election) has the right to form the government. And, unless there are changes, our country will continue upholding this system,” he said.
Nik Ahmad Kamal said the basis for electoral changes, as provided for under the Federal Constitution, was to avoid gerrymandering or the manipulation of constituencies so as to favour one party, which went against the principles of justice and fairness.
He said redelineation exercises have to be carried out from time to time to factor in changes in the demography of constitutions, as well as the increase in voter numbers and other reasons set out in the constitution.
“The (redelineation) process must be done in accordance with the fundamental principles specified in the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution,” he said.
One of the principles, he said, required each constituency in a state to have an approximately equal number of voters, with the exception of constituencies located in remote districts.
“Another principle requires the authorities to take into consideration (when carrying out a redelineation exercise) the inconveniences posed by electoral alterations of constituencies, and to ensure the maintenance of local ties,” he added.
Nik Ahmad Kamal said electoral redelineation exercises provide for more effective administration by the federal and state governments, which, on the whole, would benefit the people.
“The spirit of redelineation is clearly emphasised in the 13th Schedule, taking into account the reference to ‘maintenance of local ties’ in constituencies,” he said.
He said, however, different interpretations of the term “local ties” have arisen since the constitution did not provide any further clarification on what it signified.
“Some opine that it means constituencies should be adjusted to fit into the administration of local authorities… and to create constituencies where the majority of voters share a similar socio-economic status to make it easier for their elected representative to serve them,” explained Nik Ahmad Kamal.
Fellow of Universiti Teknologi MARA’s (UiTM) Institute of Journalism Studies Sara Chinnasamy, meanwhile, said electoral redelineation did not guarantee the victory of any particular political party and that it was a process that has been taking place in the country from time to time since 1958.
“The opposition parties are making baseless allegations that the current redelineation exercise is in favour of BN because even MCA, Gerakan and UMNO have voiced their concerns over the proposed changes.
“Claims that they are going to lose a number of seats only reflect the opposition’s ignorance of the whole process. The (EC’s) redelineation proposal has to go to the Dewan Rakyat, where all the MPs will get the chance to debate on it and raise their objections,” she said.
Sara, a senior lecturer at UiTM Shah Alam’s Faculty of Communications and Media Studies, said redelineation exercises have to be held periodically because over the course of time, population changes take place in various constituencies.
“The EC also has to take into account other factors like the constituency’s pace of development and the availability of basic amenities and communications facilities,” she added.