Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and MP for Tanjong Karang Noh Omar should take a one week ‘Study Break’ abroad in order to understand the one-man-one-vote principle in First-Past-The-Post systems

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, in Kuala Lumpur on the 23rd of May, 2013

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi shocked Malaysians when he asked those who were not satisfied with the results of the 13th general election to migrate to countries which practice the ‘list system’ or ‘single transferable vote’ electoral system.[1] MP for Tanjong Karang, Noh Omar, followed up by asking those who do not like Malaysia’s electoral system to go ‘live in the jungle’.[2]

Rather than suggesting for loyal and patriotic Malaysians who want genuine electoral reform to leave the country or to live in the jungle, I strongly recommend that the Home Minister and the MP for Tanjong Karang take a one week study leave abroad in order to understand how other countries which practice the First-Past-the-Post electoral system follows the one-man-one-vote principle.

The Home Minister is right when he said that we in Malaysia inherited the Single Member Constituency First-Past-The-Post electoral system from the United Kingdom upon independence. However, he failed to remember that the Reid Commission recommended a 15% maximum deviation limit from the national average in terms of the number of voters per constituency. He also failed to remember that prior to our independence, the maximum rural weightage allowed was 2 to 1 – which effectively means that the largest constituency can only have twice as many voters as the smallest constituency.[3] Instead, what we have now in Malaysia is a ‘bastardized’ form of the first-past-the-post electoral system where the largest constituency – P109 Kapar (144,369 voters in GE13) – has 9 times the number of voters of the smallest constituency – P126 Putrajaya (15,798 voters in GE13).

Indeed, if the Home Minister had done his research, he would have realized that the United Kingdom passed a Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act in 2011 which specified that the maximum deviation in the number of voters per constituency can only be 5%.[4]

In Australia, which uses the Alternative Vote (AV) in Single Member Constituencies, the maximum deviation in the number of voters per constituency is 10%. However, there is an additional, stricter rule which requires the Australian Election commission to project the number of voters per constituency 3 and a half years after a re-delineation exercise. This rule allows for a maximum of a 3.5% deviation.[5] The strict rules observed in Australia results in the one-man-one-vote principle being observed.

For example, the largest constituency in Australia in terms of geographical area is Durack in Western Australia with 88177 voters when the last re-delineation exercise was conducted in 2008. Durack’s size is 1,587,758 square kilometres, which is almost 5 times the size of Malaysia. The smallest constituency is the constituency of Wentworth in New South Wales in the city of Sydney with 98979 in 2009 when the last re-delineation exercise was conducted. Wentworth covers approximately 30 square kilometres which is about the size of Ipoh Barat. The rural-urban weightage in Australia is 1.12. In other words, the number of voters in the smallest urban constituency is only 112% the number of voters in the largest rural constituency. If Australia, given its large geographic area, can follow the one-man-one-vote principle, there is no reason why Malaysia cannot follow suit.

In Canada, an even bigger country in terms of geographical area, which also inherited the Single Member Constituency First-Past-the-Post electoral system from the British, the maximum deviation from the national average is 25%.[6]

Before going on this one week study leave, the Home Minister and the MP for Tanjong Karang should also read the Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform, paying special attention to points 20 and 22 which reads as follows[7]:


20.1. The Committee takes note of the proposed review on delineation of parliamentary and state constituencies by taking into account a balanced number of voters including rural weightage and also to fulfill the principle of ‘One Person, One Vote’.

20.2. The Committee recommends that the EC reviews the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution to give full meaning to the principle of “One Person, One Vote” and restore the rural weightage.

20.3. The Committee recommends that the EC determines a fair and equitable formula based on a fixed principle in determining the number of voters in a constituency, to ensure that there are no huge disparities among other areas in the state.


22.1. The Committee takes note that the electoral system practiced in Malaysia since Independence until now is Simple Majority System (FirstPast-The-Post).

22.2. The Committee takes note of the proposal to improve the existing Simple Majority System (First-Past-The-Post) or study any other electoral system such as a mixture of system (First-Past-The-Post and Proportionate Representation) or a Proportionate Representation System.

22.3. The Committee recommends that EC should study how to improve the current simple majority or first-past-the-post system as this proposal involves policy which needs to be considered by the Government and report back to the Committee as in paragraph 10.7.

If the Home Minister and the MP of Tanjong Karang had paid close attention to the Parliamentary Select Committee’s Report, they would have realized that their own colleagues from Barisan Nasional including 3 current MPs – Dr. Maximus Ongkili (Kota Marudu), Alexander Nanta Linggi (Kapit) and Kamalanathan a/l Panchanathan (Hulu Selangor) – also agreed that there should be review of Malaysia’s electoral system including the fulfilment of the ‘One-Man, One-Vote’ principle and to study the possibility of implementing a more proportionate electoral system. Will the two Honorable Gentlemen also ask their colleagues from Barisan Nasional to migrate to another country or to move to the jungle?

What makes this situation more tragic is the fact that the Home Minister also holds a PhD in Communications from UPM. One would have thought that he should have put his knowledge to better use by supporting electoral reform rather than blaming those who are merely pointing out the unfairness that exists in the current electoral system. He should also have known, given his wide travels around the world as Defense Minister and his academic credentials, that any party or coalition of parties which wins a majority of the vote in any first past the post system that is fair would enjoy a ‘seat bonus’. This means that if a coalition like Pakatan won 51% of the popular vote, we would have won more than 51% of total seats. Instead, we only won 40% of total seats as a result of the unfair delineation of boundaries.

If the Home Minister and the MP for Tanjong Karang are too busy to take a one week study leave abroad, I would be more than happy to sit down with them for a one hour briefing to show them how other democratic countries using the First Past the Post system redraw their boundary lines in order to reduce the disparity in the number of voters per seat. I would also be glad to show the two honourable gentleman the ‘seat bonus’ effect in democratic countries which allows whichever party or coalition of parties who wins the majority of the popular vote to win a greater proportion of seats.