BY PUTHAN PERUMAL
SEPT 23 — One question that all of us Malaysians ask ourselves is this: how do I get involved in the process of redrawing electoral boundaries?
Contrary to popular belief, we do have a say in the review of the division of constituencies.
Most of us are perhaps not aware of, or have simply overlooked, the importance of the 13th Schedule to the Federal Constitution.
Article 113 (2)(i) of the Federal Constitution states that the Election Commission shall, from time to time, as it deems necessary, review the division of the Federation and the States into constituencies and recommend such changes therein as it thinks necessary in order to comply with the provisions contained in the Thirteenth Schedule.
The important aspect to note is there is power given to the Election Commission to review the division of the Federation and the States into constituencies.
The Election Commission lately, as I understand it, has made proposals not to review the division of the Federation and the States , but to relocate voters to different polling districts.
Is the Election Commission allowed to do that under the Federal Constitution?
What is this 13th Schedule and why is it so important? The 13th Schedule, firstly, sets out the principles that must be followed by the Election Commission in reviewing the division of constituencies.
According to Section (2) of the Thirteenth Schedule, the Election Commission must ensure the following:-
(i)While having regard to the desirability of giving all electors reasonably convenient opportunities of going to the polls, constituencies are not to be divided in such a way that they cross state boundaries;
(ii)Regard ought to be had to the inconveniences of State constituencies crossing the boundaries of federal constituencies;
(iii) Regard ought to be had to the administrative facilities available within the constituencies for the establishment of necessary registration and polling machines;
(iv) the number of electors within each constituency in a State ought to be approximately equal;
(v) Having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such rural constituencies,
(vi) Regard ought to be had to the inconveniences attendant on alteration of constituencies,
(vii) Regard ought to be had to the maintenance of local ties.
The Election Commission has said that the latest proposed changes only affected the names of the seats and not the number of seats, whether federal or state, in the country.
However, in that so called process of changing name of constituencies, voters have been re-located to different polling districts.
So we ask ourselves, where does the Election Commission get its power to do that?
We have seen the Thirteenth Schedule. There is no such power. The only way I can see how the Election Commission could possibly get that power is from the principle that a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to rural constituencies. Ask yourself if you are in a rural constituency where more people are required to fill up your constituency? Ask yourself whether you are being re-located to a polling district in a rural constituency?
If the answer above is a big no, then the Election Commission’s proposal cannot stand because it would be contrary to the Federal Constitution.
Another important principle that must be at the forefront of the Election Commission’s mind is that the number of electors within each constituency ought to be approximately equal. The word “approximate” is used simply because it would be practically impossible to divide the electors in each constituency equally. So there must be some degree of flexibility given in favour of the Election Commission in applying that principle. This degree of flexibility, however, should not be open to abuse.
This principle is important because one vote should carry with it one value of equal importance in deciding the government of the day. My vote should be as important and as valuable as yours in determining the government of the day.
Therefore, it is your duty as a Malaysian to get involved and find out what is the number of electors in your constituency and compare it to the numbers of electors in your neighbouring and surrounding constituencies. They should be approximately equal. If they are not, then there is a defect in the manner in which the Election Commission is reviewing the division of constituencies. It means that your vote is not as valuable as others. It is as simple as that.
If you do not belong to a rural constituency , find out if your polling district is re-located and whether people from other constituencies are being filled up into your constituency. This is very important. There is no basis for the Election Commission to do that.
When this is apparent, what do we do? Let us then go back to the 13th Schedule because the answer is there. It will then become clear how a mere 100 citizens can change the landscape of electoral boundaries.
The 13th Schedule goes on to state the following:-
1. If the Election Commission is of the opinion that a review of the division of any constituency is recommended, it shall publish a notice of that proposed recommendation in the Gazette and in at least one newspaper circulating in that particular constituency;
2. Upon this publication of the notice, if the Election Commission receives any written objection to the proposed recommendations from either
a) the state government or any local authority of the effected constituencies; or
b) a body of one hundred or more persons whose names are shown on the current electoral rolls of the constituencies in question,
then the Election Commission must cause a local enquiry to be held in respect of those constituencies, and such an enquiry shall have all the powers conferred by the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950.
3. If the findings in the enquiry are not in favour of the proposed recommendations, it would then be the duty of the Election Commission to revise the recommendations until they are satisfactory to all parties involved.
As pointed out, a mere 100 citizens who are aware of theirs rights are very much capable of bringing about change in the way electoral boundaries are redrawn. So, it is important to be aware of the fact that we do have a role and part in determining the division of our constituencies. Go object in groups of 100. The more the objections, the longer it would take for the local enquiry to be complete.
The learned scholar Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi couldn’t have made it any clearer when he said: “An elector must be resident in his constituency. If he is shifted around, that means the EC is not telling the truth about his place of residence.”