KUALA LUMPUR: Amid the euphoria over the passing of a bill to enable automatic voter registration and reduce the minimum voting age, experts believe it is time the authorities address two longstanding problems affecting the electoral system — gerrymandering and malapportionment of constituencies.
Constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet said although the passing of the bill for constitutional amendments was a sign of progress for democratic development in the country, the real flaws in the electoral system must be tackled.
Malapportionment is the creation of electoral districts with divergent ratios of voters to representatives. In some cases, large, sparsely-populated rural regions receive equal representation with densely-packed urban areas.
Experts believe this might lead to election results that were contrary to the popular vote.
Lim, who is also Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee deputy chairman and National Human Rights Society secretary-general, said enabling youth who had reached the age of 18 to vote would worsen the country’s “one person, one vote” principle.
He cited as an example parliamentary constituencies in Selangor during the 14th General Election last year as a prime example of intra-state malapportionment of parliamentary constituencies.
“Even in Selangor, most youths aged between 18 and 21 are found in under-represented parliamentary constituencies, such as Bangi (178,790 voters), instead of over-represented ones, like Sabak Bernam (40,863).”
Lim said he disagreed with politicians who claimed that lowering the minimum voting age was a historic constitutional amendment.
“When politicians say (it is a) historic amendment… (and that) the youth will no longer be ignored or the youth (would be given a) greater political voice, they are not very accurate.
“The worth of an urban youth in Selangor is only one-fifth the vote of a rural youth in Pahang.”
Lim said if issues of gerrymandering and malapportionment of parliamentary constituencies remain unresolved, the constitutional amendment would only effectively empower rural youth in over-represented states.
He said youth in under-represented urban states would not be empowered and would likely continue to be “ignored” if issues with the constitutional amendment were not addressed.
He said if the authorities were keen on empowering youth, they should address problems with the electoral system.
“If not, do not kid yourself by saying you want to empower the young. Why care about what the youth in Bangi have to say when a pak cik in Bera has more valuable voting power?”
Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) chairman Thomas Fann previously voiced similar concerns about automatic voter registration and lowering the minimum voting age.
Fann had said the number of voters would increase substantially, as four million people had yet to register as voters, and they would automatically be added to the electoral roll once the amendment was passed.
“The bigger concern is it will increase voters in constituencies in which malapportionment exists in urban areas.
“The Election Commission must conduct a redelineation exercise to make constituencies approximately equal. This, however, requires a constitutional amendment.”