PETALING JAYA – The Election Commission (EC) should be able to complete its redelineation exercise in time for the 14th general election (GE14), likely even if it is held early next year, said observers.
With GE14 rumoured to be called next March or April, the EC is being accused of expediting the redrawing of voting boundaries for peninsular Malaysia to suit.
Polls reform group Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah said the EC should be able to complete its redelineation in time for early polls, claiming that the voting regulator appeared to be in a “rush” to do so.
“They can do it if they want to and it looks like they are trying to rush through. They are definitely rushing and it’s probably because they want to hold elections as soon as possible; otherwise what’s the rush?” she told Malay Mail when contacted yesterday.
Under the Federal Constitution, the EC must publicly display its proposed new boundaries and hold local enquiries to hear public objections, followed by a second round of display of its revised proposal and more local enquiries on further public objections.
The EC must then submit a report on its finalised redelineation proposal to the prime minister, who would then table it in the Dewan Rakyat for approval by simple majority, before handing it to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who will make an order on when it takes effect.
Speaking to Malay Mail, Bersih 2.0 confirmed that the law does not stipulate how long local enquiries must last nor how long the subsequent steps must take. Even the effective date of the new boundaries will depend on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s order, according to the Federal Constitution.
The EC’s redelineation bid for peninsular Malaysia was previously stalled as it had been barred from carrying out the first round of local enquiries in Selangor, as the constitution requires voting boundaries of all peninsular states to be reviewed as a single unit.
With the Court of Appeal ruling on Monday that the EC may start local enquiries in Selangor, the redelineation process may now proceed.
How soon could EC start Selangor’s local enquiries?
According to Bersih 2.0, the general experience of voters throughout peninsular Malaysia for the first and second round of local enquiries is that they would receive a notification letter from the EC about one month ahead of the hearings.
Melaka appeared to have a shorter notification period. Chan Tsu Chong, one of the Melaka voters who had objected during the second round, told Malay Mail he received a letter on July 25 informing him of a local enquiry session on August 9.
Political analyst Wong Chin Huat told Malay Mail: “Selangor objectors will probably be called by the EC to inquiries during the festive seasons, in the hope that many would be on holidays and EC can then just expedite the process.”
This Monday’s court decision comes just ahead of Christmas on December 25 and New Year’s Day on January 1. Both are public holidays. The end of the year, with the longest school holidays, is also a popular time for Malaysians to go on vacations.
“Most people have plans for holiday, if you don’t turn up, it (the objection) will be thrown out,” Maria said.
How fast can EC finish local enquiries?
During the EC’s first and second round of local enquiries for the other states, it took five days at most to complete these, including hearing 80 objections in Terengganu in just four days.
There are currently 111 objections in Selangor against the EC’s redelineation process.
Wong believed the EC could hold both the first and second round of local enquiries for Selangor within two months, and have its redelineation proposal ready for the Dewan Rakyat’s first meeting of the year typically held in March.
“EC can finish its delineation exercise in about two months. Two weeks for the postponed inquiries after the first display, 30 days for the second display, two more weeks for inquiries in the second display.
“This means the entire proposal may go to PM by end of February and will be submitted to the Parliament in March. The new constituencies can be used in GE14 if called by April or after,’’ he said.
Past March, the next Dewan Rakyat in the previous four years were held in June (2014), May (2015, 2016) and July (2017), while school holidays — typically favoured as polling dates — for 2018 fall within the second half of March, in June and in the second half of August.
Maria alleged that the EC could even compress the exercise further if it desired.
“There’s a possibility that EC will just run with first enquiries, and all these might just be thrown out on grounds they are not valid objections, and we may not even see a second enquiry.”
Wong agreed the scenario was possible, but said it was unlikely and would be unconventional.
“With 100 over objections, to say none of them is valid, EC would be virtually provoking the Selangor electorate,’’ the academic heading think-tank Penang Institute’s Political Studies programme said.
What if Selangor appeals?
When asked if the Selangor government will contest the Court of Appeal’s December 18 decision to lift the stay on local enquiries in the state, lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the matter was still being discussed.
“If we are pursuing an appeal, we need to get the leave of the Federal Court and we have to file that application within 30 days,” she told Malay Mail.
Maria was pessimistic that an appeal by the Selangor government would result in any significant delay to the exercise, saying it could still be ready in time for when Parliament next convenes.
The Selangor government previously obtained in July another legal safeguard to prevent the EC from rushing through its redelineation process without waiting for the end of the lawsuit, where the EC was temporarily barred from submitting its finalised report to the prime minister.
While the Court of Appeal subsequently reversed in October the freeze on the EC submitting its report to the prime minister, the Selangor government did not appeal as the stay order on local enquiries in Selangor was still in place then.
The Selangor government’s lawsuit was filed in a bid to invalidate the EC’s redelineation exercise for being allegedly unconstitutional and due to various alleged irregularities, such as purported gerrymandering, malapportionment and the use of a “defective” electoral roll without the addresses of 136,272 Selangor voters. The Selangor government lost this legal challenge earlier this month, but the lawsuit has yet to conclude as the state government has said it would appeal.
Why is this crucial again?
Maria claimed that past redelineation exercises always gave the ruling party an edge in general elections, noting the 2004 landslide victory by then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — when Barisan Nasional won 198 out of 219 parliamentary seats — came after a redelineation exercise nationwide except for Sarawak the previous year.
Wong said while elections are for voters to choose politicians, gerrymandering and malapportionment turned it around so that it was politicians that choose voters instead.
“Malapportionment and gerrymandering, however, does not guarantee victory for BN. It merely amplifies BN’s victory if it wins. However, if there are high turnout and swing towards the Opposition, such manipulation may see BN suffers greater defeat,’’ he said.
BN lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority in Election 2008 despite retaining power. It kept hold of Putrajaya again in 2013, but failed to regain its parliamentary supermajority.
– Malay Mail