It is the gerrymandering of constituencies that helps these MPs survive, WH Cheng writes.
Ever wondered how some crude – should I add uneducated? – members of Parliament retain their seats, election after election?
We keep condemning their crude acts in Parliament over social media, in the press, through opinion pieces and casual conversations. We have stressed that these crude MPs do not deserve to be re-elected, come the next general election.
And yet they get re-elected, one term after another. They return to Parliament, not humbly, but arrogantly, demonstrating their immunity and their power as “warlords”. And we complain and wonder why we still have such MPs in action whenever there is a Parliament sitting.
Such crude MPs retain their seats in their respective constituencies one election after another because of a big reason not realised by many: it is the gerrymandering of constituencies that helps these MPs survive.
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The systematic gerrymandering process of these parliamentary and state constituencies over these years has allowed these MPs to turn into powerful local overlords in their ‘mini kingdoms’. In these cases, it would seem the constituents or voters have to serve their MPs instead of the MPs serving them.
These MPs receive votes and support from their constituents in elections after various goodies are regularly dished out to them, their families and cronies. Some of these voters are naturally diehard backers.
In return, these constituents turn a blind eye to any other issues and keep voting and supporting these MPs, who will then seek re-election when their term comes to an end (but it never ends).
These crude MPs appear immune to defeat. Sometimes we hear of opposition campaigners who are not allowed to enter certain areas in their constituencies during general elections. This can happen in rural constituencies, especially in interior villages, isolated and small towns, rumah panjang (longhouse) and even high-rise low-cost flats and rural housing estates.
The strongholds of these crude MPs appear tightly controlled, whether psychologically, physically or mentally (through the propaganda of fear or threats, perhaps). Many of the people there are longtime diehard supporters, ‘grateful groups’ (well fed with goodies and other benefits) and perhaps those who normally vote for these MPs because there isn’t another choice anymore (because of such fears or threats?).
How does this happen? Through gerrymandering, these constituencies were systematically redrawn to allow these crude MPs to stay where they are for the rest of their lives.
That is why many parliamentary and state constituencies today have such a wide disparity in the number of voters. Those constituencies with the least number of voters have usually been broken into many parts, concentrating many supporters of certain parties.
These small constituencies may be easier to manage: elected representatives will not have a hard time travelling to canvass voters. Their votes are regarded as “fixed deposits” and victory is almost guaranteed.
When Barisan Nasional was in power for over six decades, the number of its winnable parliamentary seats kept increasing.
At the same time, the number of winnable seats for the opposition was trimmed. These seats were merged into others or redrawn. Eventually, most of the constituencies won by opposition parties had a larger number of voters, and some even emerged as the biggest or largest ever constituencies ever seen. Some of these seats may be as large as the size of a state, a province or even a small country.
So what is the solution? How do we get rid of these crude MPs or ‘prevent’ them from being re-elected?
First, look into the gerrymandering and redrawing of the boundaries of these parliamentary or state constituencies. Have these ‘winnable’ areas redrawn, transferred or merged. Perhaps then we might see these crude MPs defeated in the next general election with a more diverse combination of voters.
The second option might seem impossible unless ruling political parties or coalitions have strong political will to make the amends: limit the terms of serving MPs to perhaps two or three five-year terms. This option will need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution – which may seem impossible now.
So the only way to write off these crude MPs from the legislature is through the first option. The redrawing of constituency boundaries must be carried out in good faith – in a just, sincere and equal manner.
For this, we have no other choice but to wait for the day when a good leader from a good party or coalition running a good government emerges to carry out such reforms.