Tindak Malaysia, an electoral reform advocacy group, has launched a “Sarawak redelineation portal” to assist all voters, local authorities, state government, political parties and the Election Commission in formulating fair electoral boundaries for Sarawak.
As eight years have lapsed from the 2015 exercise to redraw constituency boundaries in Sarawak, the Election Commission may carry out another exercise anytime and is presented the opportunity to create accessible, representative and equal constituencies.
Tindak Malaysia, which has been exploring the redrawing of constituency boundaries topic since 2011, believes the voters of Sarawak and all relevant stakeholders of Sarawak are ready for any new exercise to be carried out by the Election Commission.
Currently, Sarawak constituencies are grossly malapportioned and experienced significant gerrymandering. According to electoral statistics for the 2022 general election provided by the Election Commission, the most populous constituency is Senadin (68,564 voters) in Miri and the smallest electorate constituency is Gedong (10,067 voters). This has created a massive urban-rural gap and constitutes a complete disregard of one person, one vote, one value.
Moreover, the Election Commission has created some polling districts in 2015 – one of the foundations of constituency formation – that neither respects voter equality nor constitutes a proper depiction of local ties.
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Sarawak is home to the most populous polling district in Malaysia – Kuala Baram (53,111 voters in the 2022 general election) in Senadin – and the volume of voters found in Kuala Baram is sufficient to make one equal-sized parliamentary constituency in Sarawak. This explains why the Senadin state seat and its parent parliamentary seat of Miri are grossly oversized.
Some of the polling districts in Sibu (eg Teku) and Sri Aman (eg Sengat) are drawn in a way that the polling district is internally divided by a massive river or arbitrarily connected through a land neck.
Several polling districts were drawn in non-conformance to divisional, district or local council boundaries. Some of the Sarawak constituencies bear hallmarks of gerrymandering.
The Batu Kitang state seat (in the Greater Kuching area) exhibits a highly irregular shape, and this can be attributed to both the extreme irregularity of certain polling districts and the arbitrary grouping of polling districts.
Besides the above issue, Tindak Malaysia, informed by its experiences, finds the historical approaches of the Election Commission for the redrawing process inadequate.
When the commission issued a notice through the gazette and newspapers about the provisionally determined constituencies, the 2015-18 Malaysian redrawing experiences showed that the commission insufficiently communicated the effects of the proposed recommendations to the voters, local authorities and state governments. Within the 30-day review period and with the limited information provided by the Election Commission, voters are supposed to analyse, formulate a representation view, gather at least 100 objectors and submit the list of objectors together with the written representations.
In October 2023 Tindak Malaysia took proactive steps to present to the Malaysian public and various stakeholders how fair boundaries of Sarawak could look like. Tindak Malaysia has submitted this “redelineation portal” link and detailed explanation to our election commissioners.
In addition to that, Tindak Malaysia has communicated about the presence of an electoral redistricting app (an application jointly built by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance or International Idea, The Association for Elections and Democracy, Indonesia or Perludem, and QGIS Indonesia with the input of Tindak Malaysia and a prominent Japanese political scientist) to the Election Commission so that it can lay the foundations for fair constituencies.
Tindak Malaysia hopes the Election Commission is grounded on solid truths about fair redrawing of boundaries and derives useful lessons from the Tindak Malaysia website on how to communicate on the effects of the proposed recommendation in an effective manner.
Tindak Malaysia is in discussion with other NGOs and stakeholders to prepare themselves for future representation work on the redrawing of boundaries and setting expectations on the Election Commission and Parliament (as the final approver of the redrawing process).
For the public, Tindak Malaysia is open for feedback on how to refine the redrawing proposal from today till 2nd December 2023. Moreover, Tindak Malaysia is inviting voters of Sarawak to register with Tindak Malaysia to be future objectors (an important voter group to ensure the Election Commission upholds the principles of redrawing). The instructions for feedback communication and objector registrations are found on the portal link.
Within the current constraints of the federal and state constitutions, Tindak Malaysia aims to equalise all state constituencies to have an electorate size of +/-20% of the average size of the state seats.
Unfortunately, the oversized polling district presence in Miri has resulted in two state seats being oversized and four state seats being undersized. Since Sarawak has 31 parliament and 82 state constituencies, the Election Commission is not expected to equalize all state and Parliamentary constituencies concurrently (as Sarawak no longer practices the principle of simple multiple for state seat size).
By maintaining strict limits on the electorate sizes of state seats, the foundations for fair parliamentary constituencies are built.
Tindak Malaysia believes Sarawak still has geographical and communication challenges and hence a slightly wide latitude (+/-20%) for the electoral sizes of the state constituencies is justifiable.
However, Sarawak and the federal governments bear significant responsibility to strengthen physical and communications networks for interior constituencies. The voters of Sarawak should demand that this responsibility be carried out.
For constituency shapes, Tindak Malaysia aims to strive constituencies to respect local council, district and division boundaries so long as equalisation of constituencies is attained. Tindak Malaysia-proposed constituencies may not necessarily adhere to such boundaries if local council or district boundaries violate local ties (eg, the Padawan Town Council).
Moreover, Tindak Malaysia has shown the distribution of government schools (preferred polling centres) as markers [indicating] whether specific areas require more polling facilities (to comply with the principles of redrawing).
The launch of Sarawak redelineation portal comes after the recent joint statement between Tindak Malaysia, Bersih, Perludem International Idea entitled the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Apportionment and Boundary Delimitation (October 2023). This declaration aspires for more stricter views on constituency electorate sizes and contiguity of constituencies and calls for redrawing authorities to make information available for voters to make representations.
Tindak Malaysia hopes all relevant stakeholders for future Sarawak redrawing exercise (including the Election Commission) can leverage the data and interactive maps of the portal on the following grounds:
- The Election Commission to learn and adopt parts or the whole of the Sarawak Redelineation proposal
- Members of the parliamentary Special Select Committee on Human Rights, Election and Institutional Reform and MPs to adopt stricter views on redrawinng
- The political parties of Sarawak to assess the Sarawak redrawing proposal
- NGOs and outreach groups in Sarawak to mobilise future redrawing objectors.
Tindak Malaysia believes that the future Sarawak redrawing exercise, as proposed by the Election Commission, presents an opportunity to build accessible, representative and equal constituencies. A fair redrawing of constituency boundaries for the whole of Malaysia can start from Sarawak.
It is for all the people of Malaysia, including the Election Commission, to assess Tindak Malaysia’s proposed constituencies and lay the foundation for a fair redrawing. – Tindak Malaysia
Danesh Prakash Chacko is director of Tindak Malaysia