Commentary Politics

No one factor, not even delineation, decides

Parliamentary performance by various parties in GE13.

Parliamentary performance by various parties in GE13.

Written by Aziz Hassan

Kuala Lumpur — March 31, 2018.

Recollections & Reflections – A commentary

NOW that the delineation of electoral constituencies has been passed and duly gazetted, the only thing left before we head to the much anticipated 14th general elections is for the 13th Parliament to be dissolved.

The delineation report was passed after a debate of only about two hours but much noise was heard in the days leading to it because Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, speaker of the lower house, had abruptly postponed the tabling by a week while also ordering an embargo outside the house on the report.

No one can be sure why Pandikar did this because no one had the chance to ask and neither did he explain publicly why but the essence is that both the postponement and embargo did not appear to leave any material effect on the entire process. Nor did it give the opportunity to anyone to alter the report to favour a particular party.

To claim that Pandikar’s decision meant that MPs were denied the opportunity to explain issues to their constituents was also a weak argument because from the time the Election Commission started work on the exercise in 2016, it had engaged various stakeholders. Furthermore, constituents affected by the delineation will eventually know well before polling day if they have to vote in a new area compared to 2013. Anyway, how many constituents can an MP meet to discuss the report?

Following the report’s successful passage through the house, loud was the protestation that it was an unfair exercise that would be detrimental to the opposition. There were arguments regarding the racial perspective but no matter how one looks at it, there will never be a situation where the three main races in the peninsular can be placed proportionately in one area. In doing its job the EC also must consider the geographical perspective. Amidst all these views, the DAP’s Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng came out with a special – to ask why Penang was not affected. You honestly didn’t think this would be an issue to someone else but that’s politics, which further proves the point that the EC can never hope to please everyone.

The other point is that no matter how it’s done, accusations heaped on a delineation are as old as the country itself and we have had 9 since 1959, including those affecting only Sabah and Sarawak. (The total in 1969 was a result of additional seats from Sabah and Sarawak after the two became a part of Malaysia from 1963.)

Results from the 13 GEs thus far show that delineation does not automatically guarantee an advantage to the ruling party.

The fundamental issue is that at the end of the day, no Malaysian who’s registered as a voter is denied the right to vote and the one person one vote principle remains intact.

There have also been suggestions or accusations that the recent delineation was no more than gerrymandering to favour the ruling party but to do that would be to assume that the Malays would vote for a Malay candidate or a Malay party and the Chinese for a Chinese candidate and a Chinese party and so on and on.

What this translates into is to insult the voter.

There are however enough proof that this has never necessarily been the case, which means that it would be suicidal for a candidate to assume that voters of the same race or religion will vote for him or her. (See some examples in our study on delineation and the voting in some areas vis-à-vis the racial breakdown of the voters to be published on April 1.)

Media reports on previous GEs quoting analysts and election watchers also showed that different factors had played a significant part in influencing the minds of voters but delineation seemed a distance away.

Much was said about how the opposition focused on racial issues to whip up sentiments prior to the 1969 GE and the post-election celebrations seemed to suggest there was a link between the results and the campaign methods.

The one in 1999 was generally agreed to be one that was influenced by the Anwar Ibrahim controversy, with Umno losing a significant portion of support from the Malays and getting past the post mainly with the help of Chinese voters.

Come 2004 and it was an overwhelming performance by the newly established government of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which despite having very little credentials because of its infancy, had strong support all round because it was said that people finally had enough of the Dr. Mahathir Mohamed administration after 22 years and also had high expectations of Pak Lah.

But the love affair soured four years later when some of Pak Lah’s pledges were not delivered and a few rushed through just months before he retired. The opposition was buoyed and Umno and its Barisan Nasional allies were left to lick their wounds.

Another argument against the delineation theory is that if this was a factor advantageous to BN, how could the then Pakatan Rakyat opposition control six states including KL?

What followed five years later, in 2013, added credence for this argument when BN for the first time in its history of governing the country lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament and also lost out on what is usually referred to as the popular votes.

The main issue this time? No guesses needed for the urban voters, who never seem to be able to detach themselves from 1MDB but it would be a different scenario in the rural seats.

 

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.