Article contributed by Thean See Xien, Member, Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee; and photos by Muhammad Bazli Naim b Abdul Azid, Administrative Assistant, Bar Council
On 2 July 2016, the “Preparatory Seminar and Workshop on Gearing Up for Redelineation” was held at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium in the Straits Trading Building. Jointly organised by the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee (“CLC”) and Tindak Malaysia (an electoral NGO), this event was aimed at raising awareness of and preparedness for a possible redelineation of Malaysian parliamentary and state seat electoral boundaries prior to the next Malaysian General Election which must be held no later than 2018.
The event was kicked–off with opening remarks by Ms Karen Cheah Yee Lynn, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar. Ms Cheah welcomed all to the event, and thanked the speakers for coming from as far as Sabah and Sarawak and other parts of Malaysia to speak. Ms Cheah stated that the idea behind the event is to inform people on how to ensure their voices as voters will be counted by the Elections Commission (“EC”), and denounced malapportionment (ie the creation of electoral districts with divergent ratios of voters to representatives) as offending the basic principles of democracy. Ms Cheah concluded by stating that similar workshops will be held in other states.
The first talk of the event was presented by Ms Arina Ong Xin Yi, a member of the CLC, who explained the legal basis for constituency redelineation with reference to Article 113 and the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution. Ms Ong explained that redelineation can only be conducted by the EC after 8 years from the previous redelineation exercise, and spelled out the principles governing redelineation, namely that constituencies do not cross state boundaries; have regard to the availability of administrative facilities available for polling; equality of number of electors in each constituency with weightage given to rural communities; and regard to maintenance local ties. Ms Ong concluded by reminding the attendees of the deadline for the filing of objections, which need to be signed by a group of 100 or more voters.
The next speaker was Dr Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist and Fellow at the Penang Institute, who discussed the recent Sarawak state constituency redelineation exercise. Dr Wong reported that 33 of the Sarawak state seats were redelineated, out of which 28 were divided resulting in an increase of state seats from 71 to 82. Dr Wong further stated that the ostensible purpose of redelineation is to ensure equal and meaningful voter representation, and claimed this redelineation exercise failed to fulfil its purpose, as increasing state seats in tandem with population is unnecessary, while the redrawn boundaries failed to address the problem of malapportionment as demonstrated by the deviation figures of the state seats remaining excessive. Dr Wong blamed the issues experienced in the Sarawak redelineation on the absence or weakness of objections mounted, unfair conduct of the Public Inquiries, and exclusion of various seats from the redelineation exercise, and posited that the solution to this problem is breaking the informational monopoly exercised by the EC by demanding equivalency of information provided to the public and to Parliament, ensuring that such information as is provided is adequate, and is being prepared to challenge the EC accordingly.
In a similar vein, YB See Chee How, the State Assemblyman for Batu Lintang, and Ms Ann Teo, Chairperson of ROSE Sarawak (a Sarawakian electoral reform NGO), followed Dr Wong’s talk by relating their experiences of the Sarawak redelineation exercise. YB See claimed that the EC’s motive in the redelineation is to ensure the victory of Barisan Nasional, and that the EC has accordingly stymied attempts to challenge their basis for redelineation by blocking or throwing out cases. YB See further related his attempts to bring the matter to the judicial system YB See then raised the point that the principles of redelineation stated in the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution are consonant with international principles on the subject. YB See concluded by stating his judgment that the EC is worried about citizen action. Ms Teo echoed YB See’s call to mount any protest at the delineation stage, and criticised the EC for providing inadequate information at the redelineation stage and treating objections as going through the motions. Ms Teo further elaborated on the various procedural aspects of redelineation by relating her experiences and lessons learnt in mobilising voters to object to the EC’s redelineation of Sarawak constituencies, stressing the need to double check that objectors are voters in the constituency in question, collecting signatures early, and building a good team of mobilisers and organisers.
The morning session concluded with the first question–and–answer session where participants raised various issues based on the morning’s talks. Questions considered included the right to challenge the EC in the event of a failure to give reasons for their decisions, the allowability of objections on general principles as opposed to specific procedural challenges, the requirement for the EC to enjoy the confidence of the people, and awareness of the general public in respect of redelineation. Tokens of appreciation were then presented to the morning’s speakers by Mr Roger Chan Weng Keng, Chairman of the CLC.
The afternoon session was conducted by Tindak Malaysia’s representatives, Mr SV Singam and Mr PY Wong. Mr Singam and Mr Wong presented various tools and tips available for voters to handle redelineation exercises. Mr Singam explained the methodology of redelineation through allocation of polling districts, and gave a demonstration of Tindak Malaysia’s map tool showing how the tool can display and overlay polling district boundaries, current and proposed constituency boundaries. Mr Singam encouraged the dissemination and usage of the map tool as a basis to mount objections against the EC. Mr Singam repeated the point raised in the morning session that the best way to impact the process is at the objection stage, and gave instructions on how to register as an objector at the Tindak Malaysia website. Mr Wong then explained Tindak Malaysia’s 1RUN principle — 1Rakyat, 1Undi, 1Nilai, and explained that the first stage of the effort would be to arrange coordination at state and Parliament levels, and recruit objectors through individual and mass forms. A breakout session was then conducted to solicit ideas and next steps, with the participants exchanging best practices and information, and agreeing to carry on contact.
Mr Singam summed up the discussion by educating the attendees on the gross malapportionment present in the Malaysian electoral system, the historical context of malapportionment, and the absurdities generated as a result. Mr Singam concluded by stating the obvious next steps to be taken, including the recruitment of coordination teams, objector registration, training, and data compilation.
The event concluded with a second round of question–and–answer session, with the issues raised including the creation of simplified voter delineation educational materials in a similar way to the CLC’s Rakyat Guides, the tailoring of language to cater for different constituencies, the need to leverage on political party machinery, and goal–setting for CLC and Tindak Malaysia in respect of delineation.
Mr Roger Chan Weng Keng then presented Mr Singam and Mr Wong with tokens of appreciation.
It is hoped that this event will be a good first step in educating the public on redelineation exercises, and the CLC and Tindak Malaysia are intent on following–up on this event with subsequent events, including in other parts of Malaysia.
Voters are encouraged to register as objectors and obtain the map tool at Tindak Malaysia’s website, http://www.tindakmalaysia.org.