Pakatan and the Art of Gerrymandering

By Hakim Joe

Every now and then, the federal government will decide if they require a larger government or not and this affects the arrangement of district boundaries to accommodate either the expansion or contraction of each constituency and either the subtraction or addition of constituencies. The number of state and parliamentary seats is supposedly controlled by the number of registered voters but not necessarily so as there are no laws governing the delineation of such districts. 

In the USA, Canada and UK, there exist such legislations whereby it takes a minimum number of voters to form a constituency and a maximum number before it must be separated into two. This method of auto-demarcation makes it harder (not impossible) for an incumbent government to deliberately modify electoral districts to their advantage and unless there are legislations governing such an event, the regulation of district boundaries is entirely up to the federal government. This is called gerrymandering where the purpose is to concentrate opposition votes into as few constituency as possible to gain more seats in the surrounding areas (called packing), or to diffuse the opposition votes across many constituencies (called dilution). 

In Israel and the Netherlands, there is only one electoral district where everybody votes for their representatives. No gerrymandering is therefore possible. 

Mal-apportionment is also visible here where the number of voters in each electoral constituency can vary widely. Kapar (PKR) in Selangor has a registered voter’s base of 112,224 representing 1 parliamentary seat just as Sabak Bernam (UMNO) with 31,381 registered voters also representing 1 parliamentary seat. So are Sg. Besar (34,073) and Tj. Karang (36,391) each having one parliamentary seat. The total registered voters for all these three UMNO-held seats are only 101,845. 

Compare as well Sri Serdang (PAS) with 49,757 reg. voters to Sg. Air Tawar (UMNO) with 12,726 reg. voters for the Selangor state seat. Sabak (18,655) and Sg. Panjang (20,500) are alongside Sg. Air Tawar and both were won by UMNO candidates. The total voters for these three UMNO-held state seats are 51,881 (a mere difference of 2,124 voters) but yet UMNO won 3 state seats to Pakatan’s single seat. 

One may argue that Sri Serdang is a densely populated area whereby Air Tawar, Sabak and Sg. Panjang are not, and that Sri Serdang is a small area equivalent to each of Air Tawar, Sabak and Sg. Panjang respectively. The question thence becomes whether the voters’ mandate is accurately representative or not. BN received only 49.8% of the popular vote in West Malaysia but yet they won 86 out of the 166 parliamentary seats. Overall BN received 51.5% of the popular vote and this accounted for 140 out of the total 222 parliamentary seats. 

The East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are different though as these states can only have 25% of the total number of parliamentary seats – which makes gerrymandering difficult though not impossible. The overwhelmingly pro-BN support here makes gerrymandering and malapportionment unnecessary. There are currently 56 parliamentary seats in East Malaysia of which BN won 54. 

The population of Malaysia (2008 estimate) is 27.7 million of which 5.5 million resides in East Malaysia and 22.2 million in West Malaysia. That’s a ratio of 1:5. However, East Malaysia has 54 parliamentary seats to 166 for West Malaysia. That’s a ratio of 1:4 which is why the East Malaysian seats are so vital to Pakatan. 

No matter how the electoral constituencies are delineated, the incumbent federal government will always be at an advantage as they alone possess the legal authority to alter them. Pakatan will need to win a minimal 68% of the popular vote if they hope to form the next federal government through a simple majority. That is yet another additional 9.8% swing on top of what was already achieved during the Political Tsunami of 2008. 

Can Pakatan do it?