On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Sense and sensibility must prevail

The EC must serve the interest of Malaysians of all races, certainly not politicians as they come and go.

IT’S a good way out with the Barisan Nasional setting up a panel to assess and consolidate different views among the ruling coalition on the Election Commission’s proposed redelineation of electoral constituencies.

The objection from the MCA, MIC and Gerakan against the proposal is clear but Umno has also put on record that it is not happy with the proposed changes.

The proposal, had it been allowed to be implemented in the planned form, would have turned the clock back for Malaysia.

The last time Malaysia had a redelineation exercise was in 2002 after the 1999 general election which saw Umno politicians holding on to their seats because of the decisive Chinese votes.

In that elections, the old electoral logic of Malay voters in rural constituencies faithfully supporting Umno, was rudely chucked out.

If not for the Chinese votes, which many Umno politicians openly acknowledged, it would have been a disastrous outing for the Barisan, particularly Umno.

The Malay electorate, angry with Umno over the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the party and his subsequent imprisonment, sent out its message loudly – via the ballots.

The effect was that in 2002, the ruling coalition, realising the danger of depending entirely on Malay voters, decided that the system needed a re-think.

So, it decided to reduce markedly the Malay bias of the electoral system and address the overall imbalance in the size of the constituency.

The 2002 exercise represented a “correction” of an increasing imbalance between patterns of the government’s electoral support and constituency delineations as researcher Graham Brown of the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE), Queen Elizabeth House Department for International Development, University of Oxford, wrote in his paper on Malaysia’s electoral system and ethnic voting.

He described it as the “most extensive electoral engineering for two decades”.

Brown’s research showed that between 1999 and 2004, all three main ethnic groups moved significantly towards equal representation.

“The Malay community lost a quarter of its over-representation, dropping to 5.3 %; the other communities reduced their under-representation correspondingly.

“In understanding the implications of this shift, two opposite factors are worth noting. Firstly, while constituency delineation has historically favoured rural, largely Malay constituencies, the Barisan has increasingly performed best in ethnically-mixed seats, most of which are urban.

“Secondly, in the 1999 general election, a drop in support of the Barisan regime was particularly evident among the Malay community.”

Fast forward to 2016 – if the EC is to have its way, it will be a return to a system that is Malay-biased.

What was passed in 2002 with greater emphasis to mixed ethnic constituencies will be replaced by the return of increasing Malay predominant constituencies.

To put it simply – it is a crude method of dumping racially-balanced constituencies to one that favours only the Malay electorate, in urban and rural areas.

In the peninsula, this will be a blow to non-Malay parties like the MCA, MIC and Gerakan, which could possibly find themselves elbowed out, with Umno possibly arguing that it should be the one contesting in these Malay majority areas. Rightly or wrongly, long-time partners of Umno – the MCA and MIC – could find themselves becoming footnotes in Malaysia’s political history, if the proposed redelineation is allowed to proceed.

To be fair, gerrymandering exercise is an acceptable democratic method, which is done in a way as to benefit the party in power.

Gerrymander, originally written as Gerry-mander, was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette on March 25, 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his party, according to a report.

But if one were to look at the existing 222 parliamentary seats, it is already heavily in favour of the Malays and bumiputeras, with heavy rural weightage.

Of the 222 parliamentary seats, only 29 have more than 50% majority of Chinese voters and these were all won by the DAP in the 2013 general election. Some other mixed seats also benefitted PKR.

To put it bluntly, despite the huge number of Chinese voters returning from abroad to vote for the DAP in 2013, the reality is this – the system makes it impossible to overthrow the Barisan, in particular, Umno.

It is sheer wishful thinking, if not fantasy, for Chinese voters, to think they can overthrow the regime by just voting the DAP or any opposition coalition.

To make it worse, Chinese voters in Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu voted for PAS – a move that has triggered great mistrust and unhappiness among Umno politicians until this day.

While many Umno politicians accepted the Chinese votes for DAP or even PKR, they could not fathom why the community voted for PAS, which has said in no uncertain terms that it wants to set up an Islamic state and implement Syariah laws.

As expected, today, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang is persistent in pushing through his Syariah bill – along with his fellow PAS MPs – which many Chinese voters had ushered into Parliament in the 2013 elections.

But the miscalculation, if not damage, has been done. The MCA lost many of its representatives and this, for sure, has affected its clout in Cabinet.

In short, Umno does not think it can depend on Chinese votes in the next general election – expected to be held in mid-2017. The perception is that the anti-establishment sentiments among the Chinese has not changed.

But the 2016 proposed redelineation has serious implications – with the Chinese population shrinking to 20%, its relevance could diminish even sooner if the push for Malay-predominant constituencies increases.

In 2011, the national census revealed that Malaysia’s population doubled in size from 13.7 million in 1980 to 28.3 million in 2010 with 32 million now.

Bumiputeras numbered 17.5 million, or 67.4% of the population, while Chinese made up 24.6% at 6.4 million, Indians 7.3% at 1.9 million while “others” made up 0.7% of the population at 200,000.

Foreigners made up 8.2% at 2.3 million – much more than the Indians. That was in 2011 but updated figures in 2016 has suggested that the unofficial figure could go as high as seven million against the official estimates of three million. At seven million – that is 22.1% of the 32 million population.

Going by current trends, the projection is that the number of non-Malays will continue to drop further with some saying that by 2050, there could be 80% bumiputeras in Malaysia and just 15% Chinese and about 5% Indians.

In 2014, 75.5 % from the total of live births were bumiputeras, followed by Chinese (14 %), Others (6 %) and Indians (4.5 %).

Based on calculations, the Chinese’s birth rate of 1.4 babies per family in 2015 from 7.4 in 1957 means that their position in Malaysia will fall from 24.6 % in 2010, 21.4% in 2015 to 18.4 % or less in 2040, according to a report.

The reality is that the Malay majority constituencies will increase. Even in the present scenario, 138 out of 184 seats in the peninsula had an increase in the percentage of Malay voters between the 2013 and 2008 elections, transforming previously Chinese-majority seats — Serdang, Rasah, Kluang and Taiping — to mixed seats, according to a research.

But no Malay-based parties, especially Umno, should take for granted that Malay votes would stay with Umno as it may become increasingly irrelevant due to Malay urbanisation and shifting ethnic voting patterns. Having more Malay majority seats should never be regarded as a safety net.

Umno may be swayed by its increase in Malay support in five states: Kedah, Kelantan, Penang, Perak, and Kuala Lumpur in the Federal Territories in 2013 although it lost support in Terengganu, Johor and Malacca.

One research showed that Putrajaya in the Federal Territories saw 100% of its Malay voters leaning towards Barisan in the 2013 polls, after its total voters doubled from 6,608 to 15,791, with 46% of them transferred in from other states.

Politweet, a research group, noted that 59% of Malay voters in the peninsula leaned towards Barisan in 2013, a slight increase from 57% in the 12th general election.

But support from the Malay youth for Barisan, however, reportedly dropped from 57% in the 12th general election to 54% in the last election.

The increasing number of Malay-majority parties, beside PAS and PKR, such as Parti Amanah Negara and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) have entered the fray, all aiming at the mass Malay votes.

In a multi-corner fight, it will be the non-Malay votes that will decide and the experiences of the Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections and the Sarawak state elections have shown that Chinese voters will return to Barisan.

If the purported 300,000 members of Perkasa headed by Datuk Ibrahim Ali and supported by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, joins Parti Pribumi as speculated, the Chinese voters will revolt against any opposition front.

The Chinese electorate understands its minority status, and it realistically accepts Malay leadership – which is opposed to Malay supremacy, which smacks of racist, if not, feudalistic tendency, in modern Malaysia.

The EC’s proposal is to alter the boundaries of 128 of the 222 parliament seats – thus it does not need to get a two-thirds majority approval in Parliament.

Divisive politics, especially race and religious, has already damaged Malaysia in recent years. We don’t need the EC to make it worse.

If we allow the EC to push through this, we will be stuck with it until 2024, by which time the damage to race relations will be beyond repair. It is a point of no return, to put it bluntly.

Let’s do the right thing – be rational and sensible for Malaysia. Having more mixed ethnic constituencies will help Malaysia in the long term as a candidate contesting in such areas, will deter from playing the race and religion cards.

The EC must serve the interest of Malaysians of all races and it must not give rise to speculations that it wants to serve the interests of political parties and surely not politicians, as they come and go.