Monkey business in the Sarawak State Assembly



A lot of monkey business was transacted in the Sarawak State Assembly on 11 November 2014. Thirty pages of the Hansard record for the day are dedicated to the discussion of the Composition of Membership Bill, 2014. This Bill increases the number of representatives in the Sarawak state assembly from 71 to 82.

I read the discussion in order to understand the rationale for the increase.

Essentially, the Barisan Nasional Proponents of the Bill said:

(1) We have the right to ask the EC to review the number of Assemblypersons every eight years. The number has been raised three times since the first sitting of 48 Assemblypersons in 1969. In 1985 it was increased to 56 (another speaker said 52); in 1995 it was increased to 62; and in 2005 it was increased to 71. So now we will raise it to 82. (2) We need to increase the number of representatives because the number of citizens and the number of voters has increased. (3) The EC should add constituencies in the interior and in the rural areas.”

Essentially, Opponents of the Bill said:

(1) What’s the rationale for 11? Why not 7 or 17? (2) Since the growth in population and voters is in the urban areas [presumably including movement of citizens from rural to urban areas], shouldn’t the increase, if any, be in urban areas? (3) What’s adding 11 seats going to cost in terms of increased expenses and dilution of ‘voice’ of each Assemblyperson during the rare sittings of the Assembly?

There was a lot of repetition of the criteria the EC must use when conducting a delineation exercise.

Essentially the Federal Constitution lays down four principles for delineating constituencies: (1) It must be relatively convenient for voters to vote on voting day; (2) there must be sufficient administrative infrastructure to carry out the voting; (3) constituencies must be “approximately equal” in numbers of voters, with due allowance for convenience and administrative infrastructure; (4) ties between local communities must be maintained.