A government cannot be called democratic simply because its electorate can participate in general elections, Malaysian Bar president Christoper Leong says today.
"The true test of a democracy is in looking at the structure and mechanics that are put in place in the implementation of the electoral system, the election campaign and the election itself, and in not finding that system wanting," he told a forum on electoral systems.
Leong said the Malaysian electoral system contained flaws and it was incumbent upon the Election Commission to correct the existing flaws, and aim to achieve the best practice of “one person, one vote, one value”, taking into account the variances unique to the Malaysian electoral demographics.
Speaking at a forum titled "Towards a fairer electoral system: 1 person, 1 vote, 1 value", Leong said the international best practice of “one person, one vote, one value” had not been achieved in Malaysia because of election delineation discrepancies.
He said, however, that malapportionment and gerrymandering was not new, and that it has occurred throughout the nation’s history, even from independence.
"In some instances, it has been justified on the grounds of the unique cultural demographics of our nation, and the fundamental urban and rural divide that continues to exist even after 57 years of independence,” he said.
"But while the general proposition is that the lines should be drawn to reflect the internationally accepted best practice of one person, one vote, one value, this has not been achieved in our country.”
He said constituency delineation had two aspects that could affect electoral outcomes: the distribution of the total electorate among constituencies and the determination of constituency boundaries.
Leong added that the government was plagued by a perspective that its hold on political power was because of the outcome of how constituency boundaries have been drawn, adding that it was not equitable and ignored certain fundamental truths expected of a democratic nation.
He cited last year’s general election, where Barisan National did not get the popular vote, but managed to capture 60% of parliamentary seats.
He said the Constitution (Amendment) Act of 1962 increased the government’s powers of control over the EC by empowering Parliament to determine the terms of office of EC members EC other than their remuneration.
He said the next major change was in 1973 after the 1969 elections, arguably in response to the poor showing in favour of the ruling party.
Here, the provisions of law that limited constituencies to a two to one rural weightage were replaced with a new section that was intentionally vague and did not specify a number or percentage of weightage.
"It is critical to understand that the implication of this provision is that it completely removed the specific constitutional limits to rural weightage," Leong said, adding that this was the current provision in the Federal Constitution.
He added that what this meant was at its extreme, it would be impossible to attain any version of the notion of one person, one vote, one value.
"It would, therefore, be possible to have instances where, for example, one vote in constituency A, would be worth nine votes or even more, in constituency B," he added.
Other changes in law affecting the redelineation process were made in 1984, with the removal of the upper limit of 10 years for constituency review and replaced with “an interval of not less than eight years between the completion of one review and the date of commencement of the next review”.
Leong said this meant that the EC had absolute discretion to determine when constituencies needed to be reviewed and there would be no ceiling on when they could be compelled to do so.
In 1994, electoral ranges for both federal and state constituencies within five distinct categories were introduced under law reforms, where the EC attempted to define the minimum and maximum number of voters in each of these categories at the parliamentary and state levels.
Leong said that in its simplest form, it could be seen that the value of the city vote for parliamentary constituencies could be 3.5 times less in value than the rural vote; and the value of the city vote for state constituencies could be five times less in value than the rural vote.
He called on the EC to take steps to correct the existing flaws in the system, and aim to achieve the best practice of “one person, one vote, one value”. – February 15, 2014.