The proposed re-delineation by the Election Commission (EC) has brought major changes to several constituencies. Some have ballooned to be one of the biggest or smallest constituencies in terms of voters population, while some have changed their ethnicity ratio drastically. Bersih 2.0 Chairman Maria Chin and some opposition MPs have cried foul because they see the move as unjustified and even a tactic to weaken the opposition chances in the next general election. Some constituencies won by the opposition will house more voters transferred from other constituencies, while some constituencies won by the ruling party will have less voter population.
It is the responsibility of the EC to carry out re-delineation exercise every 8 to 10 years. The guiding principle is one man one vote rule with reasonable weightage given to rural areas. If the exercise is done professionally and fairly, then there should be no complain or uproar. However, re-delineation exercise can be used as a tactic to give advantage to a political party via malapportionment and gerrymandering.
The number of voters within a constituency and drawing of seat boundaries take various factors into account to ensure fair and equitable distribution of voting power and avoid malapportionment. If delineation is fair, the number of voters and boundaries drawn should be similar across all constituencies, and vary only subject to voter density, demographic, and urban-rural considerations. The drastic change in the re-delineation exercise has little basis to justify itself.
There are two things that should be done to ensure re-delineation will be carried out fairly, firstly EC must be independent and secondly, the re-introduction of weightage limit.
At the moment, EC is not totally independent and it does not report to Parliament directly. It is like a department under the Prime Minister’s department. Weightage limit was originally set at 15%, then 33% and finally totally removed in 1973. A specific limit is necessary to avoid massive malapportionment which has been happening in past re-delineation exercises.
Malapportionment and gerrymandering are said to have caused huge damage to the opposition during past elections, and it seems like democracy will continue to be the opportunity cost of political game again, given the justified outcry this time.