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Malaysian Parliament passes redelineation report amid opposition outcry

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia's Parliament on Wednesday (March 28) passed a proposal to redraw the country’s electoral boundaries, amid opposition outcry and fears that the move will benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the upcoming general election.

Malaysian Parliament passes redelineation report amid opposition outcry

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives in Parliament to table the Election Commission’s (EC) report on the redrawing of electoral boundaries. Photo: Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia's Parliament on Wednesday (March 28) passed a proposal to redraw the country’s electoral boundaries, amid opposition outcry and fears that the move will benefit the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the upcoming general election.

Despite attempts by opposition lawmakers to delay the debate, the proposal was passed in Parliament with 129 majority votes, compared to 80 votes against in a bloc voting.

At the very least, a simple majority of 111 federal lawmakers was needed for the report to be passed. BN currently holds 132 out of the 222 seats in parliament.

The new changes are expected to be ratified within days after the report has obtained the King's consent.

The opposition and critics say the proposed electoral boundaries would benefit BN, which is facing arguably its toughest polls since independence over 60 years ago, by stuffing large numbers of opposition-leaning voters into fewer seats and dividing constituencies along racial lines.

Hundreds of Malaysians marched to parliament ahead of the Bill's introduction, which was delayed by about an hour after opposition lawmakers objected.

“Basically the entire redelineation exercise is conducted to favour BN. There is a very (clear) Chinese and very Malay divide. This is not very good," said opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) Member of Parliament Charles Santiago. “This harks back to the 'divide and rule', back to the British colonial era."

However, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had earlier tabled the report in Parliament, said criticisms that the proposal benefited only the ruling government were baseless.

“I was informed there were recommendations suggested by the EC that was not agreed by certain parties, including from the government party,” he said.

“Even so, the government did not interfere or influence the EC in carrying out their duties and we are always respectful of the decision made by the EC, which is for the betterment of the people and the country.”

The report prepared by the country’s Election Commission (EC), proposes changes for 98 out of 185 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia.

The changes range from minor ones, such as name change of some wards involving an alphabet, to major ones which saw boundaries of seats redrawn and the number of voters doubled from its original size.

The report, which took the EC two years to prepare, will not change the number of parliamentary or state seats, but will modify the size of several constituencies.

The redrawing of boundaries will lead to some large pro-opposition constituencies with more than 100,000 voters, while pro-government seats are much smaller, critics say.

Selangor - the country's richest state and one of the few controlled by PH in the last two elections - will see voter demographics change in 18 of its 22 parliamentary seats. Five of its parliamentary seats will go through name changes and nine state seats are also being renamed.

For example, the EC is proposing changing the Petaling Jaya Utara constituency — currently being held by the DAP — to Damansara.

Damansara would become the biggest constituency in Selangor and also Peninsula Malaysia, having 150,439 voters, a significant increase in voter base compared to the 84,456 voters Petaling Jaya Utara currently has.

By contrast, the Sabak Bernam federal seat - held by BN will be the smallest in Selangor, with 37,126 voters.

Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali accused Mr Najib's ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) - the lynchpin party of BN - to do all it can, including gerrymandering, to stay in power.

"To ensure (its) survival, Umno is using all agencies including the EC to twist and steal in the upcoming general election," he said.

The second most affected state is Johor, where BN is expected to face a tough battle in the upcoming general election. The Southern state will see changes to 19 out of its 26 parliamentary seats.

Mr Rashaad Ali, a research analyst at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies' Malaysia Programme said the redelineation exercise gives BN a "slight advantage" going into the polls which is expected to be called days after the redrawing proposal is approved.

"This is achieved mostly by creating super majorities of either Malay voters or non-Malay voters, assuming that Malays will vote for BN and non-Malays will vote opposition," he told TODAY. "Even if the overall effect only translates into a handful of additional seats for BN, it might be sufficient to stem the tide from the opposition."

Still, not all hope is lost for the opposition Pakatan Harapan bloc.

As much as perhaps the proposal may seem to favour BN particularly in the states of Selangor and Johor, it does not automatically translate to the ruling coalition's cruising to victory in the coming polls, said Mr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

"Redelineation is just one of many factors that could determine the electoral outcome, one other being the number of three-cornered fights and also yet another, the quality of candidates being fielded by the political parties," he said.

"It would be a strategic mistake for the opposition to allow the redelineation report consume much of their energy, and as a result, take their attention away from other, perhaps more, important factors that could determine the electoral outcome."            

The EC's proposal, however, did not include any recommendations for electoral boundary changes in the Borneon states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003, under the leadership of then-premier Mahathir Mohamad, who was also accused of manipulating the process in favour of BN, which has held power since independence from Britain in 1957.

The latest redelineation proposal however, appeared to be a reversal of the last exercise, which saw a number of Malay majority seats turned into mixed seats to bank on BN’s popularity among non-Malay voters back then.

Dr Mahathir, 92, who led Malaysia for 22 years, is now running as the opposition’s candidate for prime minister against Mr Najib, his former protege. WITH AGENCIES


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