Civil society Rose is gravely concerned with the continued claim that only by having one-third of the seats in the House of Representatives will Sarawak (and Sabah) rights be safeguarded and [will we be able] to prevent a situation where two-thirds of the MPs from peninsula states are able to pass laws that are against Sarawak’s or Sabah’s interests or that take away the two territories’ rights.
Our grave concerns are due to the impacts of such a demand:
There will be greater malapportionment if constitutional rules are not followed and observed in the subsequent redrawing of constituency boundaries. As our country and state abide by the principles of parliamentary democracy, the principle of one person, one vote should be upheld (ie each voter or citizen or groups of voters is to be more or less equally represented at the highest legislative body of our land, the House of Representatives).
The problem of malapportionment or over-representation of certain groups of voters is already well established even within Sarawak. For example, the parliamentary constituency of Miri has 143,229 voters (as at the 2022 general election) while the parliamentary constituency of Igan has 28,290 voters. In simple terms, the disparity in representation is 1:5 and the strength of a vote in Igan is five times more than that of a voter in Miri.
See the 2022 general election Sarawak voters diagram below. The electoral quotient (EQ) for Sarawak is 62,680 voters (total number of voters in Sarawak divided by 31 seats). As it stands, the Miri parliamentary seat is +128% from the EQ and the smallest seat Igan is -55% from the EQ for parliamentary seats. Can these numbers be described as ‘approximately equal’ and acceptable?
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What we would like to see is the number of voters in each constituency in Sarawak being about equal, with the exception of rural districts.
Based on the one-person-one-vote principle, Sarawak and Sabah are already over-represented: they have one-sixth of the electorate but have 25% of the seats. Increasing the number of parliamentary seats from 56 (Sabah 25, Sarawak 31) to say, 83, to try to achieve the ‘magic number of 33.3%’ will mean a greater disparity or inequality in representation.
By implication over-representation can mean that there may arise a situation where there are enough seats to form a majority government in Parliament but this government is only supported by a minority of the population. So what this means is that government may make decisions that might be opposed by more than half of the population.
Increasing the number of seats for Sarawak and Sabah would mean requiring an amendment to Article 46 of the Federal Constitution, which in turn means at least two-thirds of MPs need to vote for it to happen. This would only be a possibility if there are seat increases for the more populous states of the peninsula. An increase in the total number of MPs in the House of Representatives will have great financial implications for the federal budget (without considering the increase in the number of state seats).
The myth that one-third of the seats in the House of Representatives was promised to Sarawak and Sabah in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and that when Singapore left the federation in 1965 their 15 seats was given to Malaya and not Sabah and Sarawak has been perpetuated.
But a look at Paragraph 19 of the Inter-Governmental Report, Annex A of the Malaysia Bill and last but not least Article 46 of the Federal Constitution Reprint 1970 (Composition of House of Representatives) will show that, in reality, Singapore’s 15 seats in the House of Representatives just lapsed and was neither distributed to the Malaya states nor Sarawak or Sabah.
The states of Malaya continued to have 104 seats, ie the pre-formation of Malaysia number. In this copy of the Federal Constitution, you can see that Article 46 (2)(d) was “-Repealed-” – previously, it had indicated the number of members for Singapore.
Last but not least, we also caution politicians that not every demand must be out of political expediency without considering its impacts on the electorate and national stability. What would really enable us to strengthen our veto powers is to reform the Senate. We thus support the many calls to do so and think that this is the opportune time to consult and start the process and to do so with Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar ably helming the Senate now. – Rose