I COULD not believe the Election Commission (EC)’s admission that 228 (0.35%) voters had been transferred out of the Hulu Selangor parliamentary constituency to the neighbouring Selayang parliamentary constituency.
Now, it is not news that voters get transferred involuntarily — you may even call it voter trafficking or abduction — from their neighbourhoods to faraway unknown constituencies. And unlike in the science fiction television show The X-files, we can easily guess why some political actors on earth would want their opponents’ supporters to disappear. For example, if the 228 voters were Pakatan Rakyat supporters, then their “forced migration” to neighbouring constituencies would certainly increase Barisan National (BN)’s chances of recapturing Hulu Selangor. After all, the BN lost by a marginal 198 votes (0.45% of the total valid votes) in 2008.
Like The X Files, however, we might never know how such things could have happened. Did extra-terrestrial life forms file in false applications on behalf of these voters to be transferred elsewhere? Did alien life forms or some earth-bound hackers simply mess up the EC’s database? There has never been an official explanation thus far.
For the first time in history, however, we have an indication that this could have been done by the EC. The EC has offered both an “innocent” explanation and an apology for not informing the affected voters in advance.
The “smaller” mistake
228 voters living in Kampung Tanjung of Batang Kali are actually voters for
Rawang state and Selayang parliamentary constituencies
The innocent explanation was that the 228 voters who live in Kampung Tanjung of Batang Kali are actually voters for the neighbouring Rawang state and Selayang parliamentary constituencies. This was apparently determined since the last constituency redelineation in 2003. If this is true, however, how could the voters have continued to vote in Hulu Selangor for two successive general elections, in 2004 and 2008?
Apparently the EC itself was not aware that the 2003-drawn boundary had relocated Kampung Tanjung from Batang Kali (state constituency) in Hulu Selangor (parliamentary constituency) to Rawang (state constituency) in Selayang (parliamentary constituency).
EC deputy chairperson Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said, “We have made the adjustment based on the Geographic Information System (GIS) which indicates that the particular village at the border is not part of the Batang Kali constituency in Hulu Selangor.”
Now, electoral districting — like administrative districting — is not mere division of land. This is not farming. You don’t cut the territory into smaller pieces and then plant people like farmers plant crops.
A set of matryoshka Russian nesting dolls (public domain | Wiki Commons)
In democracies, political districting should first identify where the people are and then only divide the land into meaningful or manageable political units. Within a reasonable external boundary like a state or city, districting should be a bottom-up process. Smaller units should first be delimited after public consultation before they are grouped into larger units, like Russian dolls.
In contrast, districting can be much simpler in colonial or authoritarian settings. The people will not be consulted on how they should be politically organised into geographical units. The rulers just see land, not people.
That’s how the neat geometrical boundaries — some merely based on longitudinal or latitudinal lines — of some African countries and some US states came into being. That’s also how the Johor-Riau Sultanate was partitioned into two, to prepare for colonisation by the British and the Dutch respectively.
Back to Hulu Selangor. The problem with the EC in 2003 was not the absence of GIS technology, but the absence of consultation with the electorate.
Clearly, the EC officers simply drew up the constituency boundaries without consulting the stakeholders, the same way many colonial mandarins drew up boundaries for their colonies. Take note that the Thirteenth Schedule of the Federal Constitution requires the EC to publicise their proposal and invite public input.
If the EC had done that in Hulu Selangor before submitting the 2002 constituency delineation proposal to Parliament, surely the body would have found out where Kampung Tanjung was on the electoral map.
The EC should apologise for their colonial-like attitude and top-down operation
The EC should therefore first apologise for their colonial-like attitude and top-down operation in the last constituency redelineation exercise. The then commissioners and director of the Selangor EC should in fact assume responsibility for this blunder and resign, if they have not retired by now.
And yet, this is only the EC’s smaller mistake.
The larger mistake
The EC’s larger mistake is its attempt to “correct” the “innocent” mistake by transferring the 228 voters back to Selayang. In doing so, it has usurped Parliament’s powers and violated the Federal Constitution.
The thing is, once a citizen is enrolled to vote in a particular parliamentary constituency, he or she can only be transferred to any other constituency in two ways.
The first method, as provided by the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, is through voluntary requests by voters. The EC has a right to approve or deny such requests by voters. However, it cannot unilaterally transfer a voter out to another constituency.
The second method, as governed by the Federal Constitution’s Article 113 and its Thirteenth Schedule, is through constituency redelineation, which should happen every eight to 10 years. While a redelineation proposal needs only a simple parliamentary majority, it is nevertheless a power exercisable by Parliament and not any other body.
Constitutionally, there is no other way to remedy the inclusion of the Rawang voters in Hulu Selangor but to wait for the next constituency redelineation exercise, which may begin in March 2011.
According to Wan Ahmad, the transfer was made two weeks ago as part of an ongoing nationwide exercise to accurately plot localities according to the GIS.
But in the case of Hulu Selangor, such an amendment is itself another violation of law. According to Section 9 of the Election (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002, the electoral roll used in a by-election must be the one certified before the vacancy occurred. And so, how could the EC have used an uncertified roll for its actions in Hulu Selangor?
Mistakes made by the EC (Matryoshka dolls pic: public domain | Wiki Commons)
Now, why is the EC so hasty to correct its mistake that it does not mind breaking its own by-law to violate the constitution and usurp Parliament’s powers? Is it so desperate to rig the election through illegal gerrymandering? Is it that it does not understand the constitution and by-law, as it appears not to understand the democratic values in constituency redelineation?
In either case, can we trust our elections to the EC?
Whoever ordered the transfer should be both investigated by the police for breaking the law and by Parliament’s Rights and Privileges Committee for contempt of Parliament.
The tragedy is that a motion to debate the matter in Parliament, whose very own power was usurped, was actually rejected by unelected Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia.
So, who will save our Parliament from the EC? The Hulu Selangor voters?
Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade. He is proud to be a member of the civil society, non-politically aligned, coalition for electoral reform, Bersih 2.0.
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