KUALA LUMPUR: The Election Commission’s redelineation report, tabled by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, was passed yesterday. The New Straits Times Press met EC chairman Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Abdullah, who touched on the perception of the commission, its court battle and the impact of fake news
Question: Many have questioned the need for a redelineation.
The Federal Constitution dictates that electoral redelineation be conducted every eight years. This is because of changes. The population has grown, especially in urban areas, while some areas on the outskirts have become cities, thanks to development. This is an important factor. We need to make changes when there is a big increase in population or a higher population density.
Some people want the number of constituents to be the same in all parliamentary seats, but that is impossible. We cannot compare highly-populated urban areas with the rural areas. Putrajaya, for instance, has fewer voters than Kuala Lumpur as it is a new area. It cannot grow because it is surrounded by other constituencies.
We also have to consider the geographical and ethnicity aspects. We cannot simply divide an ethnic group in any particular area. We take these matters into account when we redraw boundaries. Some question why we “take” this area. These people see it only from a location aspect, but we have to consider the ethnic breakdown. We cannot put half of the community in one constituency and the other half in another. As best as we can, we try to keep them together. Redelination is made in voters’ interest.
Question: What were the factors which led to the redelineation proposal being brought to court?
Answer: This happens when some parties are dissatisfied with what EC had done, and they have the right to bring it to court. The best solution to this issue is in the courts. There is no use arguing and hurling accusations outside. We abide by the court ruling. We are not rushing the matter or acting hastily. The commission has no ill intentions. There were also those who questioned why EC wanted to submit the final report to the prime minister quickly. If the report is ready, surely we won’t just sit on it. Why should we wait?
Question: Now that the motion is passed, what happens next?
Answer: Once the royal assent is granted, the motion will be gazetted. The old boundaries will cease to exist and EC will use the new ones. This is why it is wrong to say that EC would use the new boundaries if it was not approved in Parliament. If the Parliament rejects it, we cannot say anything. We make recommendations. So, why is EC the target of some disgruntled individuals?
Question: There are claims that EC deliberately proposed the redelineation exercise for the sake of some parties.
Answer: Talking is easy. Before, we redrew using maps. Now, if you want to break up an area, you need to study the geographical layout. Each redelineation process involves people and voters. Migration of voters will happen and cannot be avoided. That is why I ask NSTP to help EC in terms of the “Jom Semak” and “Jom Kita Mengundi” campaigns.
Question: Is this act of creating a negative perception of EC done in the interest of certain parties?
Answer: In GE13, although the old boundaries were used, the opposition captured some states. So, why wasn’t this raised? Why the silence? There were claims that 40,000 Bangladeshis were brought in to cast votes. But after the election, no petition was sent to us, not a single police report. I fear that this coming general election, there will be some who will claim that foreign workers travelling to construction sites on factory buses on polling day are “phantom voters”.
Question: What is your view on the #UndiRosak campaign? Will it affect voter turnout?
Answer: Whether it is effective depends on society’s acceptance of it. If people accept it, then it will affect the turnout. In GE13, there were 173,000 spoilt votes. If the campaign continues and people believe in it, the number (of spoilt votes) will go up. There is also the question of its purpose. The commission is trying its best to ensure that people get out and vote, more than the anticipated 85 per cent. If the campaign goes on, who loses out? The Constitution provides the right to vote to Malaysians aged 21 and above. We decide who the leaders are and which political party shapes the government. What is the purpose of spoiling our votes? We have to remember that in Kelantan, a state seat was once won with only two votes. Every vote counts.
Question: Is EC setting a limit on the number of party agents?
Answer: Only one party agent is allowed in each voting stream at any one time. As voting runs from 8am to 5pm, it is unlikely that a person can last that long. There must be a replacement if the agent needs a break. Maybe two or four agents are required for each voting stream. There are 8,971 polling centres, with 29,907 voting streams. There should be an estimated 116,388 agents.
The commission does not pressure parties into sending their list of agents early. We only encourage them to do so as we need to vet the list and this takes time. The same also applies for ballot counting. If parties send enough agents, there will be enough observers and thus, end any suspicion of EC “cheating”.
Question: What is your view on the need for indelible ink?
Answer: EC provided the ink because some said it was necessary. Actually, the ink is not needed, but we had to guard against accusation of cheating. Many countries have abandoned ink dipping. If EC were to drop it, some would make noise. There are always negative perceptions of EC.
Question: How does EC tackle fake news?
Answer: We focus on educating people. This is why we want to empower the Election Academy, as this is where we can educate the public on understanding the election process. In the past, the academy focused on guiding and training EC officers. The academy was established two years ago.
Question: Does EC intend to create a mobile ballot box for the disabled?
Answer: Changes will be made after this GE. If it involves matters of governance, we will do so. If it involves amendments to the Act, it would depend on the political party that becomes the government. The proposal to create a mobile ballot box requires legislative amendments. I had previously asked elected representatives to submit this proposal to the Parliament.