Saturday, September 23

Electoral delineation proposal – what matters


IT was my turn to suffer a massive headache due to another misendeavour of poor governance.

It was not even 5.30am on Monday and my copy of The Borneo Post published on its front page the statement by the Election Commission (EC) secretary Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh that the EC’s proposal for Constituency Delineation Review for Sarawak is to be publicly displayed for a month, starting that very Monday.

Didn’t the State EC director clarified publicly, on Christmas Eve, that notice of delineation proposal for Sarawak had yet to be gazetted?

Didn’t he explain that the gazette notification would be published in local newspapers before the delineation proposal would be publicly displayed?

Obviously, Alasan dari Atas (instructions from the big boss) overrules the will for good governance, conscience and proper action.

But where is the gazette notification? As usual, the social media were the first to find out that a look-alike “gazette notification” was published in only one local newspaper which unfortunately is not widely circulated in Sarawak.

With the process of producing this Constituency Delineation Review a secret mission, the lack of transparency and accountability is bound to create suspicions, doubts and attract criticisms. It could even attract judicial scrutiny on its rationality, legality, procedural propriety and reasonability on its review and publication.

Naturally, the newspapers were packed with statements and comments from the political leaders and analysts, NGOs and individuals interested in the review.

Newcomers to our electoral system will come to learn and understand the principle of “one person one vote.” Despite it being enshrined in the Federal Constitution, it has, nevertheless, sparked a lively debate.

A lawyer will have the advantage of arguing on the constitutional and legal provisions but a doctor can certainly rely on the variable factors that are to be given weightage and draw on his knowledge of the lack of basic amenities and infrastructural development in the rural regions and argue for better representation.

The argument should be the deviation of the range of difference allowed, larger and smaller than the state average number of voters in a constituency. After 1962, the range allowed was 33 per cent.

There are 1,109,134 voters in Sarawak – the average number of voters in a state constituency is 13,526. With the allowed variance of 33 per cent, the number of voters in the state constituencies should be between 9,018 and 17,990 voters.

The re-delineation proposal now shows the smallest constituency has 6,340 voters while the largest constituency has 31,388 voters. The discrepancy is obvious.

For the record, out of the 82 constituencies proposed by the EC, only 36 satisfy the 1962 standards while 46 fall outside the standards.

The violation of the principle of “one person one vote” in this proposed constituency delineation exercise is really indefensible.

However, party politics aside, discussions through expression of frank and informed opinions on issues concerning this massive constituency delineation review in Sarawak are beneficial for the awareness of the citizenry.

Indeed, the great thinker Plato had taught us that “opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” and a reminder in his words: “The partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.”

Keadilan state chief Baru Bian spoke out on the malapportionment in the delineation proposal.

He was strongly accused of being “insincere to his constituents” as he is the serving state assemblyman for one of the most rural constituencies – Ba Kelalan.

However, Baru kept his cool and reminded his critics all state assemblypersons had taken their oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the State of Sarawak and the Federal Constitution.

“I am ever mindful that we are entrusted to speak up for all citizens of Malaysia, irrespective of race, religion and origin or whether they are of the urban or rural populace,” he said.

This is the oath or affirmation taken by all Sarawak state assemblypersons before taking their respective seats in the State Assembly:

“I,……, having been elected as a member of the Dewan Undangan Negeri of the State of Sarawak, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully discharge my duties as such to the best of my ability, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the State of Sarawak and to the Federation of Malaysia and that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the State of Sarawak and the Federal Constitution.”

Baru was resonating the time honoured statement of the British statesman Edmund Burke in the UK Parliament more than 200 years ago (that speaks a lot for the practice of the principles of parliamentary democracy):

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”

Our members are generally focused on their own constituencies but when political differences are set aside, I do believe we have good reasonable state assemblypersons in our august House who are concerned about the interests of the whole state and eager to institute changes for better governance.

Besides the opposition members, Saidol is always well-versed with administration and development throughout the state; Dr Annuar came out with a motion on security issues faced in the whole state within a very short time and Datuk Abdul Karim can tell you about the low cost housing projects and resettlement schemes anywhere in Sarawak as if they are written on the back of his hands.

Indeed, our members are ready to serve, for the general good of Sarawak. However, the State Assembly only sits for 16 days in a year and members are much constrained to work in their constituencies and voicing their concerns over matters in the mass media. Their roles as legislators and members of the most prestigious State Assembly are much inhibited.

The laypersons are expecting much more from their elected representatives, particularly after the revision of allowances, making our state assemblypersons the highest paid in the country, and now the EC proposal to increase the number of members from 71 to 82.

The new state administration appears prepared to improve governance and the Dewan has the most experienced and learned speaker in the country.

The time is right time to “reconstruct” the Dewan and draw on the wealth in talents and potentials of our elected members to bring Sarawak forward.

Sarawakians in general are more concerned with such institutional changes and how they can benefit from the works of our elected assemblypersons.

But is there political will?