• Why BN does not want more Parliament seats

    Why BN does not want more Parliament seats

    The fact that no new no Parliament seat was added in Sarawak by the Election Commission is a very good indication that the yet-to-be revealed peninsular Malaysia and Sabah delimitation plans will also not include parliamentary seat increases.

    With 31 out of 222 seats, Sarawak currently has 14 percent of the total Parliament seats. This figure would be diluted further if parliamentary seats are added in peninsular Malaysia and Sabah but not in Sarawak.

    Any Sarawak chief minister would not have agreed to the new Sarawak delimitation plan if there was no assurance from the BN at the national level that no parliament seat will be added in either peninsular Malaysia or Sabah. This way, the current distribution of parliamentary seats and power at the federal can be maintained.

    The delay in revealing the new delimitation plans for peninsular Malaysia and Sabah also indicates that a decision has been made to present plans without any increase in Parliament seats.

    Election Commission chairperson Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (seated right), in various statements in 2014 indicated that new Parliament seatswould be added in the coming delimitation exercise, especially in existing seats with more than 100,000 voters. It was also reported in various news reports that the delimitation exercise would begin by the end of 2014.

    While the floods in the East Coast may have caused the public display of the new delimitation exercise in peninsular Malaysia to be delayed, and will likely delay it further, there is also another alternative explanation. Which is that the EC was asked to amend the delimitation proposals so that no new parliament seats are added.

    My colleague, Anthony Loke, the MP for Seremban, had already revealed in early November 2014 that he saw an electoral mapfor Negri Sembilan which proposes an increase in parliament seats including splitting the seat of Rembau into two.

    This shows that the maps for peninsular Malaysia, and possibly Sabah, were ready for public display. 2014 came and went but these maps were never shown.

    So, why was this the case?

    One possible explanation is that the EC obtained orders from ‘above’ not to increase any parliamentary seats to avoid the possibility that the whole delimitation exercise would be ‘stuck’ in parliament because BN does not have a two-thirds majority to vote through an increased number of Parliament seats, as this will require amending the federal constitution.

    It is also likely that the EC was asked not to increase any state seats in the states where the BN does not enjoy a two-thirds majority – Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan.

    This is to avoid the problem of not being able to obtain a two-thirds majority in these state legislatures to increase the number of state seats by amending the state constitution. The exception here may be in Kelantan, where the PAS state government has had experience in negotiating with the Election Commission to increase state seats.

    In states where the BN does enjoy a two-thirds majority such as Perlis, Pahang, Malacca, Johor and Sabah, it is likely that the EC will propose new state seats because such proposals are likely meet the approval of the BN-controlled state legislatures, which includes the necessary constitutional amendments at the state level.

    What are the political implications?

    What would be the impact of such a move by the EC? While we cannot be sure until the maps are revealed, it is likely that if no new Parliament seats are added, the EC will redraw the existing parliamentary boundaries to be favourable to the BN.

    We saw this happen in Kedah in the 2003 delimitation exercise where no Parliament or state seat was added, but major gerrymandering took place which helped the BN win back marginal Parliament seats in lost in the 1999 general election, including Pokok Sena, Bali and Jerai.

    In states like Selangor, boundaries may be redrawn to help BN win back marginal parliamentary seats such as Kuala Langat, Sepang and Hulu Langat. In Johor, boundaries may be redrawn and new state seats created in order to help the BN win back marginal state seats such as Bekok, Tangkak and Parit Yaani.

    The ‘no increase’ urging by some NGOs

    Ironically, the EC may justify its decision not to increase Parliament seats by referring to the statements made by NGOs such as Bersih, Tindak Malaysia and ABU requesting that no new parliament seats be added in the delimitation exercise.

    While I am certain that none of these NGOs would approve of the EC’s attempts at gerrymandering even if no new parliament seats are added, their insistence on no new parliament seats may come back to haunt them.

    This is because if new parliament seats were proposed and new state seats in the Pakatan-controlled states of Kelantan, Penang and Selangor and in states where Pakatan has at least one-third of state seats – Terengganu, Kedah, Perak and Negri Sembilan – the EC and the BN would have been forced to negotiate with Pakatan.

    Then, the option would have been available for Pakatan to reject the delimitation plans, either at the federal or at the respective state levels by refusing to amend the state and federal constitutions. The default then would likely be to go back to the existing maps, which would be somewhat fairer, electorally speaking, compared with a new set of delimitation plans that would most certainly be more favourable to the BN.

    What can we do then?

    If the EC wants to bulldoze such a delimitation proposal in Parliament and in the respective states, the remaining options for the opposition as well as civil society, would be the following:

    • Organise as many objections as possible to the proposed delimitation exercises and use the public hearings to pressure the Election Commission to amend its delimitation proposal;

    • Ramp up pressure on the EC at each subsequent public hearing; and

    • If all else fails, the rakyat should organise another massive public gathering to protest of the delimitation exercise.
    We cannot allow a government that was supported by only 47 percent of the voters in the 13th general election to abuse the electoral system so that it can stay in power in perpetuity.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

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