The current voting system in Malaysia favours and benefits the big political parties.
The Jelapang seat allocation dispute between DAP and Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is a classic example that demonstrates this phenomenon. Perak DAP is refusing to budge and make way for a smaller component party to contest.
If there is a three-corner fight between PSM, DAP and BN, the BN candidate will most likely win the seat because PSM and DAP have diluted the opposition votes. The current electoral system only functions as “the winner takes all” and does not sufficiently read the general intent of voters.
The fact that Wong Tack from Himpunan Hijau had to join DAP to contest in the election, is another example where our electoral system fails to register local issues at play in this case.
If there is a "Green Party of Malaysia” candidate willing to contest a seat to challenge the installation of the Lynas rare earths plant, the green candidate has to negotiate with the Pakatan opposition so that they are allowed a one-on-one fight to maximise their chances of winning the seat. If Pakatan refuses to give way, as for the case of Jelapang, there is little hope that the smaller party candidate can win the seat outright.
Perhaps Bersih should consider adding in another demand to the lists of electoral reforms which is looking at the possibility of a preferential voting system. This system has been used in many other developed democracies for a long time. The preferential voting system requires the winning candidate to secure either an absolute majority (50 percent + one) of the primary vote or an absolute majority after the distribution of preferences.
As a hypothetical, let’s say there is a three-corner fight between PSM, DAP and Umno at the Jelapang seat. If we are using the preferential voting system, voters have to put numbers "1", "2" and "3" onto the allocated boxes along side the name of the candidates on the ballot paper.
Assuming that I am the voter and my first preference is a DAP candidate, I will place "1" into DAP's candidate box. In case the DAP candidate does not win, my second preference is the PSM candidate. I then place "2" onto PSM's candidate box. To every candidate, I allocate a number according to my preference of the candidate that I would like to represent me in my electorate. The Umno candidate gets number "3" as for the case of my voting.
Assuming that the result turns out to be Umno as the winner of 10,000 votes, DAP receives 5,000 votes and PSM gets 9,900 votes after the counting of the primary or first preference votes. It is clear that for this case, there is no absolute majority winner. The next step then is to eliminate the candidate with the least number of votes from the count, which is the DAP candidate.
Winner by elimination
The ballot papers of the DAP candidate are then re-examined and re-allocated amongst the two remaining candidates according to the second preference - where all the voters had placed the number "2" on their ballot paper for the eliminated candidate, which is DAP in this case. At the end of the second preference count of the (eliminated) DAP candidate’s 5,000 votes, 4,100 of the second preferences go to PSM and 900 go to Umno.
The final tally is that PSM has garnered 14,000 votes and Umno with 10,900 votes. So the Jelapang seat is given to the PSM candidate. As the current Malaysian voting system stands, Umno wins the seat, even though the figures clearly show that the voters’ intention is to vote for the opposition.
Put it another way, the winning candidate is the "most preferred" if we use a preferential voting system.
The advantages of the preferential voting system is that it allows parties of like-minded philosophies or policies to ‘exchange preferences’ in order to assist one another to win. PSM and DAP are obviously classified as "like-minded” philosophy parties for this case, as they were only separated by a minor, irreconcilable difference due to the stubbornness of the Perak DAP leadership.
As a result of this, the two parties have wasted precious time arguing over the matter. If the preferential voting system is in place, they can place their respective candidates in a three-corner fight and simply exchange their preferences to maximise their chances to win the seat without having to go through any arguments.
The preferential voting system also ensures that voters can support minor parties and independent candidates, knowing that their preferences may be used to decide the winner. Thus, votes for minor parties and independents are not wasted.
As for example in Sabah and Sarawak, if the opposition and the government supports the building of a big dam in the electorate where the indigenous people live and they clearly state their opposition to the dam project.
The indigenous group can put an independent candidate to garner a sizeable number of votes that can decide the winner for their electorate. This forces the potential winning candidate to listen to the minority group's grievances if they want to win the seat. It also puts the local issue on the election agenda of that particular electorate.
As for the case of Wong Tack, there have been calls for him to resign from Himpunan Hijau because he has watered down his initial radical tone from "burning down the Lynas project" to "you have to come in from the front door". If Wong Tack is to run as an independent candidate, he stands little chance to win a seat. He is at the mercy of the Pakatan pact who allocated him a seat to run in the coming GE13.
This is mainly because the Lynas issue is a big issue for the nation, and Wong Tack as the head of Himpunan Hijau is currently a popular public figure. Unfortunately, once he joins DAP and runs as their candidate, he has to toe the party line. If the preferential voting system is used in Malaysia, he can remain as he is and there will be no confusion as to where his loyalty lies.
‘Unfair to accuse Wong Tack’
Accusing him of being a chameleon is unfair; after all, being an activist is the embryonic stage of being a politician. It is the electoral system that causes this phenomenon. This situation is totally different from party-hopping.
Wong Tack might have to go through the same painful lessons that Dr Kua Kia Soong learnt before. Dr Kua was a Chinese educationist who quit the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) in 1990 to contest under the DAP in the 1990 general election. He won the Petaling Jaya Utara parliamentary seat, but ended up quitting DAP as his personal world view was different from DAP's.
The same situation has repeated itself, and will continue to repeat over and over again if we do not look into changing the current voting system.
The first port of call for any minority group is to choose a leader and try out as an independent in the electoral process. If they are successfully voted into the Parliament, then it is in the Parliament where all their grievances can be heard. If their grievances are ignored in the Parliament, then the minority group can take to the streets to gather more support for their cause.
Unfortunately, the current voting system denies the minority group that opportunity to bring their grievances to the Parliament. Hindraf had to go through countless street protests - which turned violent - to get their voices heard. Neither BN, nor Pakatan is willing to agree to all their demands. Hindraf chief P Wathayamoorthy was quoted to have said that "I don't know what else to do".
If there is a preferential voting system, he can run as an independent and possibly hold a good number of votes to get the candidates in that constituency to listen to him, because he will decide who gets to win the seat through preferences. As for the case of less assertive indigenous groups, they are virtually left to rot when their plights are ignored by the major parties.
We need to get the candidates from the big political parties to work for the people, not the other way around. As it currently stands, the minority groups have to kowtow to the big political parties to get their approval for candidacy.