Challenging malapportionment and gerrymandering

‘Witnessing history’ by Wong Chin Huat

SHOULD the Election Commission (EC) commence the redelineation process before cleaning up the electoral rolls despite public outcry, citizens must organise themselves to reclaim the process.

As we know, any group of 100 or more voters affected by the redelineation can submit their representation (objection) to the EC and force the EC to hold local inquiries.

However, how should they assess the EC’s proposed boundaries? What can they challenge in malapportionment and gerrymandering respectively?

Three grounds to challenge Malapportionment

On malapportionment, we should remember that the Thirteenth Schedule, Part 1, 2(c) stipulates that the seats within the same state should be “approximately equal” although reasonable malapportionment may be allowed if in the “pro-rural” direction.

We can divide the latest available number of total voters in a state – if nothing newer, the GE13 figures would be good – by the number of parliamentary and state seats.

This would give us a state average of constituency size. We should then look out for the outlying constituencies and seek adjustment. While super-small constituencies can be sometime justifiable because of inland terrain, the outliers on the other end are not.

Take Sarawak for example, Hulu Rejang with 21,686 voters could be justified with a size of nearly Pahang. The severe under-representation of Stampin – with 84,732 voters – is blatant abuse of power when its neighbours were almost just half its size: Kota Samarahan (38,158), Petra Jaya (49,570) and Kuching (53,336).

Rural constituencies that find themselves larger than the urban ones – like Baling (93,376 voters) as compared to Alor Setar (69,189 voters) – have every reason to expect the EC to cut down their size. They would have powerful cases in court if the EC insists on violating the constitutional allowance for “pro-rural” malapportionment.

We can also make comparisons between parliamentary and state seats within the same state, even though there is no constitutional provision on this. By common sense, one would not expect a state assemblyperson to serve more voters than a parliamentarian.

In Selangor, the smallest parliamentary constituency in GE13 was Sabak Bernam, with only 37,318 voters. Scandalously, out of Selangor’s 56 state constituencies, 28 of them now have more voters than Sabak Bernam. While this was partly due to the growth of electorate, the main reason was malapportionment in 2003.

With 26 parliamentary constituencies and 56 state constituencies, an average parliamentary constituency in Selangor should be about 2.15 times that of an average state constituency. If the EC refuses to down the oversized state constituencies to at least that of Sabak Bernam, they should be prepared for legal suits.

Wong Chin Huat: Challenging malapportionment and gerrymandering
Nov 11, 2013 – fz.com


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