Malaysiakini Letter

EC redelineation: a quantitative approach

Calvin Sankaran  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The redelineation of the electoral boundaries by the Election Commission (EC) has unleashed a firestorm of protests from Pakatan Harapan politicians as well as various civil society organiSations. The major source of complaint is that the electoral boundaries have been redrawn to give the ruling BN government an unfair advantage in the upcoming 14th general election.

Maria Chin, formerly the chairperson of Bersih 2.0, denounced the redelineation as the ‘biggest cheating to ever happen”. Longtime observer of Malaysian politics, Bridget Welsh went even further by claiming that, “It is by the far the worst case of electoral manipulation in Malaysia’s history and one of the most egregious in the world”.

While a lot of comments and criticisms have been made, very few of these have been of quantitative in nature. Even those analyses which used data - for example by the Penang Institute and Tindak Malaysia - were done superficially and often politically-slanted.

As such, I would like to offer an unbiased, facts-based analysis of the redelineation exercise, It is important to note that the scope of my analysis is strictly limited to determine if the EC’s redrawing of the electoral boundaries would provide an advantage to the ruling coalition in the upcoming GE14. This analysis does not address the larger issue of the fairness of the Malaysian electoral system itself.

The data that I have used for my analysis is mainly based on the EC’s Redelineation Report as well as other official government statistics readily available online. Unlike many of the commentators on this issue, I have gone through each and every page of the EC’s report on the redelineation exercise containing more than 1,000 pages.

Preliminary analysis

Based on the final report, 98 out of the 165 parliamentary seats had changes to their boundaries, which means almost 60 percent of the parliamentary seats in the Peninsular Malaysia were affected. Of these, Johor had the most changes at 19 seats, followed by Selangor (18), Perak (16), Kelantan (1), KL (10), Kedah (7), Melaka (5), Negeri Sembilan(4), Terengganu (4), Penang (2) and Pahang(2). Only Perlis had no changes to its parliamentary constituencies.

Of the 98 affected seats, 35 constituencies are currently being held by BN, 23 by DAP, 21 by PKR, 11 by PAS, 5 by Amanah, 2 by Independents and 1 by Bersatu.

Although 98 constituencies were affected, on a deeper analysis, we find that for 30 constituencies redelineation was done at the state seats level or resulted only in name changes, with their boundaries remaining the same as before. As such the actual boundary changes only affected 68 out of 165 seats (41.2 percent).

To determine if the new redelineation exercise favours BN, we need to conduct hypothesis testing to check verify if,

1) The change in the number of voters exceeding the winning margin in the last election; and

2) The change will help BN either to defeat their opponents or consolidate their existing positions. Only If a majority of these changes passes both tests, then we can conclude that the redelineation indeed has been engineered with a political agenda to help BN to win the upcoming GE.

Testing for hypothesis No 1

Let’s look at the 68 affected seats to see if the changes in boundaries has resulted in increase/decrease in the number of voters exceeded the winning margin in the last GE. Based on this test, we find that a total of 22 seats pass the test (that is the change is more than the winning margin).

Of these, seven seats are located in Selangor, followed by four seats in FT, three seats in Perak, two seats each in Kedah, Kelantan and Melaka and one seat each in Terengganu and Johor.

Testing for hypothesis No 2

In this test we dive deeper into each of these 22 seats to determine if the changes were made with the objective of providing an advantage to the ruling coalition (BN).

The finding of our in-depth analysis of the 22 seats can be summarised as below.

We find that the new electoral boundaries potentially would enable BN to win eight more parliamentary constituencies. These seats are P023 Rantau Panjang, P035 Kuala Nerus, P101 Hulu Langat, P109 Kapar, P116 Wangsa Maju, P121 Lembah Pantai, P124 Bandar Tun Razak and P137 Hang Tuah Jaya.

On the other hand, these changes also potentially help PAS to win an additional seat at P022 Pasir Mas. This means on the overall a net gain of seven seats for BN.

Final conclusions

1. We observe that the EC has a solid logic for each and every one of these boundary changes. Their primary objective was to balance the number of voters among different constituencies within the same state. This can be clearly seen from each change made by the EC as they have provided detailed data on how they did the voters’ rebalancing. The EC was open suggestions and accepted hundreds of feedback and adjusted their final recommendation accordingly.

2. We observe that these changes can indirectly help BN to gain seven additional seats assuming the same level of support as was in the previous GE. However, it doesn’t make any sense to claim that the redelineation exercise was done with a political agenda as the gain for BN is minuscule (seven out of 195 seats or 3.6 percent). If providing clear electoral gain to BN was the agenda, then the EC would have changed far more seats and concentrated on marginal constituencies rather than initiating a sweeping and lengthy exercise.

3. The major complaint from the opposition and the civil society groups was malapportionment where the gap between the number of voters between the rural and urban constituencies is large. This is indeed a valid complaint but unless the total number of seats are increased, such balancing would not be possible. Also, such move would elicit strong protests from Sabah, Sarawak and other smaller/less dense states. As such, the EC wisely stayed clear of such move.

4. The accusation that the redelineation is the game changer and that the ruling party had planned this to provide them an unassailable advantage for the upcoming GE cannot be supported by data and facts. Those who made such claims are either ignorant of the facts or deliberately using it to undermine their political opponents (BN).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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