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GE14: Are we losing faith in electoral processes?

  • The redelineation exercise must be non-partisan in order to instill public confidence in the electoral process. The hasty adoption of redelineation report shows it is a flawed process.

By Khoo Ying Hooi

It is this time of the year again where everyone is gearing up for the long-awaited general election. This time around, it even takes to the extent where two airlines, Cathay Pacific and Malindo Air, have offered Malaysian customers the waiver re-booking fees for flight tickets booked on the polling day of the 14th general elections (GE14).

As many expected, this will be the most competitive election in our Malaysian electoral history between the government coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Since the beginning of 2018, our news coverage has been heavily focused on news related to election. Redelineation issue and anti-fake news bill are among the most recent topics while we all gearing towards the most watched general election not only nationally but also internationally.

The redelineation report was gazetted last week despite heavy objections from not only the opposition politicians but also from the civil society led by the electoral reform movement, Bersih whom protested outside the Parliament building. The debate in the Dewan Rakyat was merely few hours with the parliamentarians only allowed for 10 minutes to speak. That then resulted to 129 who voted in support of the motion and 80 who opposed it. In less than 24 hours, the redelineation of electoral boundaries has now become an official document that can be used for GE14.

The redelineation exercise is a fundamental process in parliamentary democracy but this exercise must be a non-partisan exercise in order to instill public confidence in the electoral process and its outcomes. The hasty passage of the redelineation report however has revealed that it is a flawed process.

Among the problems, for instance, the size of parliament and/or state seats in rural areas are now becoming larger, although their populations are smaller. As for some urban seats, their size although is smaller but their population is higher. This shows the use of malapportionment to gain seats in the parliament where manipulation of electoral district boundaries happened to the ruling party’s advantage. Or in simple words, the pro-government districts might have fewer voters and pro-opposition districts could have more voters.

Similarly, the Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 was passed with a vote of 123 for and 64 against despite heavy criticisms by the opposition, civil society groups and media organisations. Although the government insists that the law is not intended to stop dissenting voices, but we all know the bill can be a tool of intimidation under the guise of fake news.

Ideally, elections should be free and fair where each single vote should be worth the same. With such exercise, the question is, are the people able to have their vote counted and respected? Electoral experts such as Serdang Member of Parliament Dr. Ong Kian Ming, and Penang Institute’s Dr. Wong Chin Huat have produced detailed reports about the impact of redelineation of electoral boundaries to the GE14. Fair elections are far more complicated; they involve the playing field set in place by the government.

While we know no elections in any part of the world are perfect, but systemic flaws in elections can occur due to many reasons, for instance, electoral manipulation. Some time ago, the Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) by the Harvard University and the University of Sydney ranks Malaysia’s electoral boundaries as the most biased of the 155 countries assessed. Malaysia was put at the rank of 142nd out of 158 countries in terms of electoral integrity.

Redelineation is only one of the many electoral issues that we are facing. Adding to that, we are also marked by unequal campaign conditions such as unfair access to the state institutions, resources, media and the list goes on. Press freedom remained an area of serious concern as this serves as a huge hindrance for the candidates to actually compete on an equal footing. With the anti-fake news bill, the freedom of expression can be further on stifled in the months leading to the GE14.

Putting all these issues together, are we losing faith in our electoral processes? An election is only known as free, fair and acceptable when the voters can vote freely and their votes are counted and translated into their choices. But in a country like Malaysia, it would seem that we are all locked out of the system, by circumstance and not by choice. But that does not necessarily mean we are losing hope, as in the end of the day, history teaches us to move forward, learn from mistakes, ultimately to create a better existence for all.

(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)

 

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