Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 30 March 2018
In order to view the latest constituency delineation exercise in its proper context, we have to see how the cardinal principle of representative democracy – one person one vote – has been twisted and warped since Independence in 1957. In other words, we have to appreciate “how the trick is done” in order to ensure the Alliance and then the Barisan Nasional remains in power even when they lose the majority votes. Allow me to revisit an article I wrote in 1992, published in Aliran Monthly, 1992: 12(12) and Nanyang Siangpau, 26.11.1992.
The original Merdeka Constitution provided clearly that in drawing up constituencies, “there shall not be more than a difference of 15 per cent in the number of electors of any constituency to the electoral quota.” (Articles 113 to 117).
The ‘electoral quota’ or national average, was defined as the number obtained by dividing the number of electors in the Federation by the total number of constituencies. Now, what could be clearer than that. So that was what our so-called “Social Contract” at Merdeka specified.
The 1962 Constitution Amendment
The Alliance Party at the time was not satisfied with this 15 per cent difference so the Constitution was amended in 1962. This Act transferred the power to delimit parliamentary constituencies from the Election Commission to a bare majority in Parliament. This fundamental change has been described by Professor R. H. Hickling, the first Parliamentary Draftsman of Independent Malaysia thus:
“The abolition of the powers of an Independent Commission smacks a little of expedience and expediency can be a dangerous policy…the Federation is intent upon destroying the relics of a paternal policy embedded in the original Constitution, under which a number of independent bodies (in addition to the Supreme Court) shared, with the legislature, the authority of the Federation.”
A new Thirteenth Schedule set out certain new features permitting a weightage of up to 2:1 in favour of rural constituencies. This already effected a major change in the nature of representative democracy in the Federation.
Thus, from a difference of 15 per cent of the voters for one constituency to the national average as stipulated under the 1957 Constitution, those changes in 1962 enabled differences of 100 per cent in the electorate between an urban and a rural seat.
As the MP for Ipoh, D.R. Senivasagam put it during the debate on the 1962 Constitution Amendment Bill:
“What democracy are you talking about when so blatantly and so clearly you are giving yourself power to use, perhaps in a crude way, to give double vote to rural folk as against the urban population…Surely there could be no greater violation of democracy as we know it or as it should be known, in this country.”
In fact, the practice during the Sixties saw even greater inconsistencies. During the 1969 general election, for example, the parliamentary constituency of Johore Tenggara had an electorate of 13,821 while the Bangsar parliamentary constituency had an electorate SIX times as large, namely, 81,036!
The 1973 Constitution Amendment
As if this was not enough malapportionment, in 1973 the BN Government introduced yet another Constitution Amendment. Originally, Section 2 (c) of the Thirteenth Schedule had read:
“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 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 half of the electors of any urban constituency.”
The 1973 Amendments deleted the words “to the extent that in some cases a rural constituency may contain as little as one half of the electors of an urban constituency.”
Thus, at a stroke the check against too great a disparity between urban and rural seats was removed and constitutionally, the Elections Commission can draw electoral boundaries in which ten rural seats equal one urban seat.
The 1973 Constitution Amendment also reconstituted the membership of the Dewan Rakyat. The 104 parliamentary seats in West Malaysia were increased to 114 seats.
Now if, according to Section 2 (c ) of the Thirteenth Schedule, “the number of electors within each constituency ought to be approximately equal throughout the unit of review”, then the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur ought to have 10 parliamentary seats. However, it was only allocated 5 seats while Selangor was allocated 11 seats.
In view of the increase in the electorate of Penang, Perak and Malacca, these states should likewise have had further increases in parliamentary representation compared to what they were actually allocated under the Amendments.
Thus, the average electorate per seat ranged as wide as 20,000 for Pahang to 45,000 for Wilayah Persekutuan in 1973. And if particular seats between different states were considered, there were discrepancies as big as a ratio of 1:6 in urban-rural weightage at the time.
Now, before 1973, the changes in the number of constituencies for each state could be affected by a simple majority in Parliament. But with the Constitution Amendments, the Government ensured that the rural weightage and under-representation of the urban electorate would become difficult to undo.
There was also gerrymandering within states themselves. For example, from 1959 to 1974, Penang Island had 14 state assembly seats while Penang mainland had 10 seats, reflecting the bigger electorate on the island. However, in 1974 Penang island’s state representation was slashed from 14 seats to 12 seats, while that of the mainland’s (making up only 45.9% of the state’s voters) was increased from 10 to 15 state assembly seats.
The political reason for this gerrymandering in 1974 was clearly to increase the UMNO state constituencies in Penang to ensure that the Gerakan Government under Lim Chong Eu, who had defected to the BN, could be re-elected with the additional UMNO seats.
The 1992 Constitution Amendments
The passage of this Bill through Parliament demonstrated the Mahathir Government’s contempt for Parliamentary democracy. MPs first saw the Bill one day before it was debated on the 20 October 1992! So what has changed?
This Bill was firstly a blatant political interference with the independence and integrity of the Election Commission. Under Article 113 (2) (ii) of the Constitution, the Election Commission is conferred the responsibility of reviewing the re-delineation of constituencies at an interval of eight to ten years. But at the time of the Constitution Amendment in October 1992, eight years had not lapsed for the Election Commission to begin its review. If the Election Commission had been independent, it would have discussed the proposals with the Opposition as well as the ruling parties. This the Commission failed to do.
The swift passage of the 1992 Constitution Amendments through the federal and state assemblies had more to do with UMNO’s plan. Only a month before that, the press had reported that the UMNO Supreme Council had already decided on the establishment of 12 new divisions. And as UMNO divisions were based on parliamentary constituencies, it became clear how it came about that 12 new parliamentary constituencies were proposed under the 1992 Constitution Amendments.
Secondly, these Amendments destroyed the independence of the parliamentary civil service by doing away with the separate ‘closed service’ of the Parliamentary staff which exists in the Commonwealth Parliamentary system to protect it from political interference.
Today, the absurdity of the “equal apportionment” rule can be seen in the comparison between the electorate size of two federal constituencies: Kapar’s 146,317 voters and Putrajaya’s 17,627 voters. These two federal constituencies are not in the same state and Putrajaya may be considered an exceptional case. But when we compare malapportionment of constituencies in the same state such as Selangor, the ratio is 3.94, which means that a vote in the smallest federal constituency of Sabak Bernam is nearly four times the value of a vote in the largest federal constituency, Kapar.
It is clear that there must be a constitutional review to lay down a consensus for the percentage of rural weightage that is acceptable. We have to ask what is wrong with the 1957 “Social Contract” that there should not be more than a 15% difference between constituencies? The malapportionment and gerrymandering that has been going on all these years makes a mockery of democracy in Malaysia. Constituency delineation exercises since 1957 can be seen as 62 years of subterfuge. It is also clear that the Election Commission must be seen to be fair, made up of personalities who have earned the respect of the public for their independence as well as being representative of all parties. Thus, unless there are though-going reforms to the process of constituency delineation, the whole electoral process in Malaysia is akin to cheating at chess…