• UMNO stands to gain from local elections in Selangor, not DAP

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on 6 February 2015

    UMNO stands to gain from local elections in Selangor, not DAP

    Yesterday, on 5 February 2015 in Sinar Harian, ADUN for Permatang Datuk Sulaiman Razak made several baseless accusations against the DAP.[1]

    First, Sulaiman alleged that the main reason DAP is demanding elections for local authorities (LAs, or Pihak Berkuasa Tempatan or PBT in Bahasa Malaysia) is to ‘seize more urban seats’ and to ‘monopolize positions of power and decision-making which will marginalize the rights of other races.’

    In reality, the party which will benefit most from local council elections in Selangor is UMNO and not DAP. In Selangor, UMNO holds 12 out of 56 DUN seats (21%) and 4 out of 22 Parliament seats (18%). Although UMNO succeeded in winning 18% of the popular vote in Selangor in GE-13, UMNO does not have a single representative in any of the local councils. With local council elections, UMNO through its popular support of 18% stands to win at least 50 out of 300 local councilor positions which at present are appointed by the State Government.

    At the same time, there is a strong possibility that UMNO will dominate the Kuala Selangor, Sabak Bernam and Hulu Selangor local councils through local elections, given the strong support for UMNO in these areas.

    As another example, in areas such as Petaling Jaya where UMNO did not contest any Parliament or DUN seats, local elections will give UMNO the opportunity and space to gain representation in the Petaling Jaya City Council (Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya or MBPJ).

    Second, Sulaiman accused DAP of wanting to ‘taking the opportunity to become the majority in the local councils’ especially in local councils such as MBPJ, MBSA and MPAJ which have large budgets. Sulaiman’s accusation is based on the perception that urban areas are majority-non-Malay areas and that this will benefit DAP.

    This allegation is also baseless. According to the 2010 population census, 10 of the 12 local councils in Selangor have a Malay majority, including Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA) and Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya (MPAJ). In Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), Malay residents are a plurality. Only in Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) is there a Chinese plurality.

    Does UMNO have no confidence that it can beat DAP in local elections for Malay-majority areas such as Shah Alam and Ampang?

    Third, Sulaiman accused DAP of ‘intentionally creating issues to blame the Federal Government because the election of local authorities come under a Parliamentary Act in the concurrent list for Federal Government and State Government powers.’

    Actually, State Governments have two ways to carry out local authority elections even if the Federal Government refuses to cooperate. The first way is to pass a state law in the State Assembly (DUN) to conduct local elections and obtain an exemption from the Local Government Act 1976. The Penang State Government took this approach but failed when the Federal Court rejected its appeal.

    The second approach is to hold local elections through the Selangor State Government machinery and appoint the winners as local councilors. This method has been used by the Selangor State Government to choose Chinese village heads in Kampung Baru Sungai Jarum in Kuala Langat, Kampung Bagan in Pulau Ketam and Pandamaran in Klang. The same method can be used to select local councillors but requires more detailed planning.

    Local elections in Selangor are not something new. It is stated in Selangor Pakatan Rakyat’s GE-13 manifesto as follows: Carry out decentralization through a gradual implementation of local government elections.”

    If UMNO Selangor continued to oppose the election of local authorities in Selangor, is it because they have no confidence in their own ability to attract support and win local council positions, or because UMNO in Selangor does not want to serve the people through local government?

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming

    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.sinarharian.com.my/politik/bn-dakwa-dap-tamak-dalam-isu-pbt-1.357227

  • Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, 25th of January, 2015

    Restore Local Elections to increase accountability, to better reflect local representation and to increase transparency

    PAS President Tuan Guru Hadi Awang, in a statement on the 23rd of January, rejected the need for local elections on the basis that it would promote instability, increase the gap between rural and urban development and could lead to another May 13th in the country.[1]

    Rather than respond to these baseless assertions, I would like to make the case for why we need local elections, more than ever. Bringing back local elections will increase the level of local accountability, will better reflect political representation at the local level and will increase transparency in local council and district spending decisions.

    Increase Local Accountability

    Having served as an MP for one and a half years and having worked with councillors in the Subang Jaya and Kajang local councils (MPSj and MPKj respectively), I understand and appreciate the role of local councillors much more than before. Local councillors, in many ways, represent the first responders to the problems faced by residents be it the illegal dumping of rubbish, clogged drains or potholes. In a mature democracy, elected representatives at the national and state levels should focus on legislative matters while local councillors should focus on matters to do with the local council.

    In Malaysia, local councillors are appointed by the state government. Many of them are unknown to local residents, even in the areas which they are supposed to take care of. One of the main reasons behind the relative anonymity of the local councillors is because they are not elected. I can assure you that any elected representative in Malaysia would have gotten telephone calls asking for us to take care of their rubbish problems because “we elected you”. They cannot say the same of the local councillors.

    In the current set-up, local councillors are beholden to the parties which appoint them rather than to the residents whom they are supposed to service. While a non-performing councillor may not continue to receive the recommendation from the elected MP or ADUN to continue his term as a councillor, the question of accountability still remains. A poorly performing councillor can remain in his position as long as he is ‘protected’ by the party. In areas where the elected representative is from a different party from the councillor, the line of reporting and accountability becomes even less clear.

    Hence, local elections are the most effective way to restore the link between residents and their local councillor. Local councillors will have to campaign in order to be elected. They will have to make election pledges and produce election manifestos. Their profile among residents will be raised. Their accountability to the residents who voted them into office will also increase. This is arguably the most important reasons for the restoration of local elections.

    Better reflection of local political representation

    As it stands, it is a zero sum game at the local council level for political parties. Whoever controls the state government, controls the appointment of ALL councillors regardless of political support of the respective parties at the local level.

    For example, PAS may have won all four state seats and the parliaments seat of Kuala Terengganu but they have no representation whatsoever in the Kuala Terengganu City Council. Similarly, UMNO won 7 out of the 21 state seats in Seberang Prai but they have zero representation in the Seberang Perai Municipal Council. Pakatan Rakyat won 9 out of 11 parliament seats in KL but have no representation whatsoever in Kuala Lumpur City Council.

    Restoring local elections would better reflect the local political representation for all sides be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

    Local elections will not necessarily result in DAP dominating the contests in urban areas for two reasons. Firstly, the emergence of other parties and political forces will likely be the strongest in the urban areas. It will not be surprisingly for candidates representing green interests or even a green party to win representative in local council elections. Single issue candidates such as an anti-KIDEX or a pro-animal position are much more likely to win local council elections in Petaling Jaya compared to non-urban districts where mobilization based on a single issue is much more challenging.

    Secondly, the ethnic composition of many of the urban councils have changed significantly since the May 13th incident in 1969. The large migration of Malays from the rural to the urban areas have made areas like Kuala Lumpur very different from today from what it was in 1969. According to the 2010 census data, the Malay population in Wilayah Persekutuan KL (45.9%) outnumber the Chinese population (43.2%). In fact, out of the 3 city halls, 9 city councils and 37 municipal councils in Malaysia, only 6 have populations where the Chinese outnumber the Malays – Ipoh, Kuching Selantan, Johor Bahru Tengah, Pulau Pinang, Sibu and Subang Jaya![2] In other words, 88% of these large urban areas have a plurality and in most cases, a majority, of Malay residents. Even in a place like Petaling Jaya, the Malay population (46.2%) outnumber the Chinese population (39.6%)! (See Appendix 1 below)

    While the Malays may be slightly under represented in the voting population in some of these urban areas because of their younger demographic profile, it is clearly wrong to say that the DAP will dominate local elections on the basis that urban areas are largely Chinese dominated.

    More transparency in the budgetary process

    My final argument as to why local elections need to be restored is in term of budgetary transparency and oversight. Currently, there is very little debate or deliberation as to how a local council’s budget is allocated. This matters since it determines how many playgrounds get upgraded, how many overhead bridges get built, how much is spend on rubbish collection and public cleansing, how much is used for landscaping, just to give a few examples.

    With a more accountable elected local council coupled with a more politically accurate representation of local councillors, there will be a better check and balance over how the local council budget will be spent. Similar to how the opposition at the federal and state levels are supposed to scrutinize the government budgets of the federal and state governments, a more representative council should also do the same for the local council budget.

    Conclusion

    While there may be some legitimate concerns over having local elections e.g. the kind of electoral system to use, the specific powers of the local councillors, who can vote in these elections, just to mention a few, the possibility of a May 13th like event happening as a result of local elections is not one of them.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Ethnic Composition of the 3 City Halls, 9 City Councils and 37 Municipal Councils in Malaysia according to the 2010 Census Data

    [1] http://m.harakahdaily.net/index.php/presiden/33425-pembangunan-bandar-bermasyarakat-madani

    [2] Some of these places have since been upgraded to city councils e.g. Petaling Jaya

  • 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

  • Did the Election Commission choose not to increase parliament seats in the Sarawak delimitation to bulldoze the exercise in time for the next Sarawak state elections?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 8th of January 2015

    Did the Election Commission choose not to increase parliament seats in the Sarawak delimitation to bulldoze the exercise in time for the next Sarawak state elections?

    The recent Sarawak delimitation exercise, which officially began on Monday, 5th of January, 2015, with a public display of the maps in Sarawak was shocking because for the first time in Sarawak’s history, state seats were added without a single increase in the number of parliament seats.

    Table 1 below shows the number of parliament and state seats added in each of the 5 delimitation exercises since 1968. With the exception of the 1968 and 1977 delimitation exercises where no parliament and state seats were added in Sarawak, in each of the past three delimitation exercises in 1986, 1996 and 2005, both parliament and state seats were added in Sarawak.

    In the recently revealed Sarawak delimitation exercise, a record number of new state seats – 11 – have been proposed by the Election Commission. This would increase the number of state seats in Sarawak from the current 71 to a proposed 82 state seats.

    What is the rationale for increasing the number of state seats by 11 but not adding a single parliament seat? If an increase in the voting population is used to justify the increase in state seats, why should that rationale not apply to parliament seats as well?

    One cannot help but suspect that the real reason why there were no parliament seats added is because this would require a constitutional amendment at the parliamentary level where the BN does not possess a two-thirds majority. If new parliament seats were proposed, then the whole Sarawak delimitation exercise may be delayed because it may get stuck at the parliamentary level.

    The non-increase in the number of parliament seats while at the same time increase in state seats is a clear indication that the Election Commission is not complying with democratic principles but is bowing down to political expediency in wanting to bulldoze the new Sarawak delimitation exercise in time for the Sarawak state elections, due by 2016. Once again, this shows the non-independence of the Election Commission and its failure to produce an independent, fair and transparent delimitation exercise. Political parties, civil society organizations and members of the public who are concerned about upholding free and fair elections must join together to reject this unfair and undemocratic Sarawak delimitation exercise.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

  • Is the Election Commission trying to slow down new voter registrations so that there will be less pressure to increase the number of seats in areas where Pakatan is strong in the upcoming delimitation exercise?

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 12th of June, 2014

    Is the Election Commission trying to slow down new voter registrations so that there will be less pressure to increase the number of seats in areas where Pakatan is strong in the upcoming delimitation exercise?

    On the 10th of June 2014, I asked the Election Commission whether it will renew the status of Assistant Registrars (AROs) of political parties so that political parties can once again do their duty of registering new voters. Almost all of the AROs for the DAP have not been renewed past 2013 which means that we cannot conduct voter registration exercises during our public events. This non-renewal of AROs does not only affect the DAP but also other political parties as well.

    The reply I obtained from the Minister in charge of the Election Commission, Shahidan Kassim, said that the Election Commission has no plans to renew or appoint new AROs from political parties. The reply also said that the EC is in the process of coordinating existing voter registration exercises. I have also read reports that the EC does not want to give ARO status to political parties because some of these AROs have abused their positions and registered voters without their knowledge and gave financial incentives for unregistered voters to register.

    The reply from the Minister is highly unsatisfactory as it ignores the fact that the number of newly registered voters has been steadily decreasing since Quarter 1 2013. According to Table 1 below, the number of newly registered voters was 104959 in Q1 2013, the number of voters who had changed their address was 31070 while and the number of deleted voters was 31807. The net increase in the number of voters (newly registered plus those who have changed address minus the deleted voters) was 10422 in Q1 2013. Since then, the nett number of voters have been decreasing in every quarter. For Q2 2013, the net increase was 47671 and for Q3 2013, the net increase was only 8434. By Q4 2013, the net number of voters had become negative – minus 7941 – which means that the number of voters on the electoral roll has decreased. In Q1 2014, the latest electoral roll update, the net number of voters was negative 11565.

    Table 1: Nett Increase / Decrease in the number of registered voters Q1 2013 to Q1 2014

    Part of the reason why the net number of voters has been decreasing is because the EC has not been active in conducting voter registration exercises. The EC has depended a lot of political parties to conduct voter registration exercises on its behalf. But now that the political parties no longer have ARO status, we cannot register voters any longer. This is an important reason why the number of newly registered voters have decreased since Q1 2013.

    One cannot help think that the EC is purposely slowing down the increase in the number of new voter registrations because many new voters will be in the urban areas which supported Pakatan strongly in GE13. This means that there will be less pressure on the EC to increase the number of parliament and state seats in these areas in the upcoming delimitation exercise. I call upon the EC to restore the ARO status to political parties once again and to take strong action against individuals who have abused their ARO status to make false voter registrations rather than to punish all political parties for the offenses of a small number of irresponsible AROs. Only with the help of political parties can the EC hope to register more new voters and decrease the number of eligible but unregistered voters. Unless of course, the EC is planning to implement automatic voter registration in which case AROs would not be needed.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    Appendix 1: Question and Answer on AROs by Shahidan Kassim, Minister in charge of the Election Commission (EC)

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