How to rig an election
How the coalition running Malaysia is still in power is an unanswered question. $4.5 billion went missing from a state development agency, and $681 million appeared in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank account around the same time — purportedly from a secret admirer. The matter was made worse through a cover-up operation in which the investigating officials were dismissed. “But in Malaysian elections, alas, voters do not count for much,” writes The Economist.
1MDB, the development agency whose board of advisers is chaired by Razak, is the state agency in question. “America’s Justice Department has accused him and his stepson, among others, of siphoning money out of 1MDB through an elaborate series of fraudulent transactions. Much of the money went on luxuries, it says, including paintings by Picasso and Monet, a private jet, diamond necklaces, a penthouse in Manhattan and a gambling spree in Las Vegas. In February Indonesia seized a $250m yacht that the Americans say was bought with Malaysian taxpayers’ money.”
“All this is unlikely to have improved Mr Najib’s standing with voters. Yet an election must be held by August. Faced with the risk of losing power, the government is rigging the system even more brazenly. Parliament will soon vote on new constituency boundaries. The proposed map almost guarantees Mr Najib another term, despite his appalling record.”
Gerrymandering, which involves drawing constituency boundaries so that opposition voters are forced into fewer seats, seems to be the chosen strategy. The practice is made easier by another electoral “abuse”, called malapportionment, which is illegal in Malaysia but still practiced.
“Unfortunately, the electoral boundaries are not the only way in which the system is stacked against the opposition. The media are supine. The police and the courts seem more interested in allegations of minor offences by opposition figures than they are in the blatant bilking of the taxpayer over 1MDB and the open violation of the constitution at the election commission. The latest budget seems intended to buy the loyalty of civil servants, by promising a special bonus to be disbursed just after the likely date of the election.”
“As long as the electoral system is fair, Malaysians will be able to judge the government and vote accordingly. But a rigged system will rob their votes of meaning. That is the point, of course. Mr Najib may be venal, but he is not stupid. He fears that most voters would not return him to office if given a choice, so he is taking their choice away,” the Economist writes.