Correction: We previously mentioned that the Federal Constitution stipulated that no constituency should exceed the ±33.33 percent limit of the national average number of voters. We apologise for the error.
The number of voters has significantly increased following the implementation of the policy of lowering the voting age to 18 years old and the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system which came into effect on Dec 15 last year.
Based on the EC’s electoral roll as of February 2022, the total number of Malaysian voters has now reached 21,056,108 with an increase of 40.90 percent (6,115,484 voters), compared to the total number of voters in the 2018 general election.
As many as 26 parliamentary constituencies have gained more than 50,000 voters each. Most of these are located in Selangor and Johor.
How do these numbers affect the vote value of urbanites compared to others? Let’s check it out...
What is appreciation/depreciation of vote value?
Electoral gerrymandering has been a long-existing issue in Malaysia, resulting in a huge disparity of voting powers in different constituencies. It goes against the principle of “one-person, one-vote” and equal representation in the democratic electoral system.
In the meantime, the National Census 2020 report data showed that Malaysia’s urbanisation rate had reached 75.1 percent while Selangor recorded the highest rate of urban population which was 95.8 percent. For federal territories like Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, the urban population had already reached 100 percent. Johor also had 77.4 percent of the population living in the city.
It is undeniable that the high opportunities for employment and development in cities have led to rural depopulation and a fast-growing urban population. However, when the number of constituencies did not adjust accordingly, the population in urban areas will definitely become several times larger than in suburban and rural areas.
Therefore, the implementation of the AVR system without adjusting the number of parliamentary seats would only worsen the situation of malapportionment.
According to the EC’s data, Malaysiakini found that there are 24 constituencies with more than 150,000 voters, all of which are urban constituencies located in the peninsula. Their value of votes is also the smallest compared to other constituencies, which is more than 4.5 times compared with Igan.
Among the 24 constituencies, 15 were located in Selangor, followed by Johor (4), Negeri Sembilan (2) and one each in Kedah, Malacca and Perak.
In terms of states, Selangor has the highest number of voters and the population is still growing rapidly. Before GE14, Selangor had 2,415,074 voters - 16.2 percent of the total voters in Malaysia.
As of February 2022, the percentage of Selangor voters has increased to 17.3 percent (3,643,381 people), followed by Johor (12.4 percent) and Perak (9.7 percent).
In other words, these three states already make up 39.4 percent of the nation’s electorate.
Bangi's new voters greater than total voters in 177 constituencies
After looking at the comparison of each constituency with Igan, let us zoom out a little bit into the overall changes in the electoral seats after the implementation of the AVR system.
Based on the analysis above, the problem of malapportionment not only worsened after the implementation of Undi18 and AVR, but also mainly happened in the densely-populated urban areas which caused these areas to be severely underrepresented.
'Punishment' against urban voters?
Political scientist Wong Chin Huat opined that the depreciating of vote value in urban constituencies is a form of “punishment” against the urban voters, especially the B40 groups.
“Of course, for the rich who stay in Bangsar or Sri Hartamas, their lives would not be affected by the depreciation of vote value. They can solve their problems with just a call. But for the middle and lower class, they do actually suffer more,” he said during an interview with Malaysiakini.
He pointed out that the low voting power in urban constituencies meant that the voters could not maximise their votes to seek equivalent welfare and benefits in their living areas.
Wong suggested that the disparity in the number of voters between the constituencies must be narrowed down in order to have a fairer electoral delineation. However, this could not be done by just creating new constituencies, the electoral system must adopt changes as well.
“The seats in the House of Parliament and state assemblies cannot be increased indefinitely. There must be a limit on the number. The more the representatives, the less the efficiency (of legislative),” he added.
Wong viewed that the number of constituencies should be reapportioned by the average voter numbers in each state, and that the high population areas should have more constituencies while the depopulation areas should be aggregated into smaller numbers of constituencies.
Based on the idea of reapportionment suggested by Wong, Malaysiakini calculated the number of seats each state should have by dividing the total number of voters by the average number of voters.
The calculation showed that Selangor has the highest addition of constituencies among the states while Perak needs to cut down five constituencies.
How to resolve the “unemployment” of representatives?
Wong admitted that reapportionment may not be an acceptable idea for the local politicians because once the number of seats is reduced, not only causes the respective representative to “lose job”, but the political parties will also lose a seat that they can control or cultivate.
“But if the population is the only standard, will Malaysia one day have thousands of parliamentary seats? Politicians always have a myth that the number of seats cannot be reduced no matter the level of depopulation.
“In fact, this would only make the House more and more bloated, making the process of legislation more inefficient. When there are more people who want to talk, the time to talk is lessened. This is totally unnecessary,” he said.
He pointed out that the electoral system in Taiwan and the United States both practice the idea of reapportionment based on the change of population in each constituency. Therefore, for them, it is acceptable to reduce the number of constituencies.
In order to overcome the risk of “unemployment” of representatives, Wong suggested that the EC should adopt the party-list system by having proportional representation in each state so that “unemployed” reps still can have room to become a candidate in their party’s seat apportionment.
“If the number of constituencies is reduced, for sure there will be complaints from the current representatives about losing jobs. But with the party-list system, you still have the chance to persuade your party to become the candidate for the party-list system,” he added.
However, Wong admitted that there is still a long way to go for the electoral system in Malaysia.
In a written reply to Malaysiakini, the EC did not respond directly to the above-mentioned issues of malapportionment.
However, the commission stated that the revision of federal and state boundaries are based on the provisions provided under the Article 113 of the Federal Constitution, in accordance with the regulations and principles under the Parts I and II of the Thirteenth Schedule.
In October last year, de facto Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said any review or study on redelineation can only be done once every eight years as per Article 113 of the Federal Constitution.
Therefore, he said Sarawak will not be able to redraw constituencies until 2023 at the earliest, while redelineation in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia can only be done in 2025 and 2026 respectively.
Voters aged below 21 less than 5pct
Although the policy of Undi18 and AVR has led to a significant increase in the number of voters in Malaysia, the EC data showed that voters aged between 18 and 20 are less than five percent of total voters.
Voters aged between 21 and 39 make up the largest number of voters, at 44.28 percent, followed by voters aged between 40 and 59, accounting for 32.02 percent.
The map below illustrates the age distribution of voters in each constituency.