Despite 5.8 million new voters, EC says re-delineation to be done by 2026 due to constitutional limitations

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An Election Commission personnel delivers a ballot box to the collation centre at Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan December 18, 2021. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
An Election Commission personnel delivers a ballot box to the collation centre at Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan December 18, 2021. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The Election Commission (EC) said a re-delineation of electoral boundaries can only be done by 2026, despite the country seeing a sudden 40 per cent surge in the number of its eligible voters from January 16.

Speaking to Malay Mail, its deputy chairman Azmi Sharom explained that this is due to the Federal Constitution that only allows the process to happen every eight years.

“The last time we did it was in 2018, hence we can’t do it until 2026,” he said in a recent interview.

“Yes, some constituencies that are already very large are going to be even bigger.”

Azmi said he totally sympathises with political parties and elected representatives who have to service such huge constituencies.

“I understand that this means a terrible imbalance in terms of constituency sizes. But I’m sure that the politicians are aware that we can’t do anything until 2026,” he said.

Previously, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Law and Parliament) Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that all Parliament and state constituencies in Malaysia would see a rise in the number of eligible voters with 190 of the 222 parliamentary areas experiencing an increase of between 10,000 and 50,000 new voters.

This comes as starting from January 16, around 5.8 million new voters will enter the electoral roll following the full implementation of the automatic voters’ registration system.

However, Azmi said the imbalance can be sorted out if the Parliament decides to increase the number of seats in the Lower House.

“We can only re-draw the boundaries in two situations,” he explained.

“One is at the end of the eight-year period, or if there is a change in the number of parliamentary seats, which is entirely up to the Parliament.”

Despite the limitations, Azmi said he believes that any increase in population has to be taken into consideration with regards to the boundaries of the constituencies.

“One of the problems we have is that each state is guaranteed a number of seats in Parliament,” he said.

“Perlis, for example, has a much lesser number of voters when compared to megacities like Petaling Jaya. But Perlis has three parliamentary seats, [while Petaling Jaya has only one],” he added.

Azmi, however, claimed that to have similar size constituencies throughout the country is virtually impossible.

He compared Sabah and Sarawak, which have many seats but relatively small populations, with Selangor.

“Selangor, on the other hand, has a highly dense population but not nearly as many seats as it should have,” he said.

To create a balance, Azmi said the redrawing of the boundaries should start from within each state having approximately the same size of constituencies.

But to have a total balance among the constituencies throughout the country, Azmi said political will and constitutional amendments are required.

“[To have that balance], some states have to be given fewer seats and some other must be given more seats. That’s the only way, but it’s not up to the EC,” he said.

Azmi said EC has been working on a reform agenda to make the election process more transparent and fair. However, he said reform shouldn’t be a “one-way street”.

“I agree that any institutions have to evolve into something better. But, one wonders whether there is any political will on the outside for reforming the EC,” he said.

According to Azmi, there used to be a cross-party Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral matters, which was set up by the then Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof.

“For some reason, that select committee is now gone. That’s a shame,” he said.

Azmi said having such a select committee is crucial to ensure MPs from both sides of the house observe and question electoral issues.

“For me that [avenue] is a great thing because it makes us more transparent as we can talk and engage to the elected members of Parliament about electoral issues,” he said.

Azmi said the EC is keen to bear the burden and try to improve but requires political will to help it along the way.

“You can’t expect us to do it all by ourselves. We can do most of it but let’s have some support,” he added.

Last year, Wan Junaidi told the Parliament that according to Clause (6) of Article 113 of the Federal Constitution, there shall be separate reviews for the states of Malaya (including the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya) as well as Sabah and Sarawak.

Therefore, he said the eight-year period to conduct a re-delineation exercise in Sarawak would be in 2023, Sabah in 2025 and for other states in 2026.

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