Gerrymandering Malaysia

The largest electoral district in Malaysia has 144,369 registered voters, according to the latest electoral roll. The smallest has only 37,390. They are both in Selangor, meaning the state's largest seat is four times its smallest. The Kapar district, the biggest, was won by the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat in the 2008 elections. The smallest, Sabak Bernam, was won by the Barisan Nasional.

The disparity between these two districts fits with the practice of corralling the largest number of potential opposition voters into a single district - as opposed to keeping pro-government districts as small as possible to multiply the number of pro-government seats.

Critics are using such disparities as fuel to allege that the Barisan Nasional government is putting a wide range of other electoral misuses in place in the effort make sure the opposition Pakatan Rakyat doesn't take power after May 5 elections.

Ong Kian Ming, the director of the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project and an official with the opposition Democratic Action Party, told a forum at a Kuala Lumpur suburban library Friday, reported by the website for the KL-based publication The Edge, that the government is also packing voter rolls in crucial pro-opposition districts with pro-Barisan Nasional voters. Voter numbers in Selangor, the country's richest state, have increased by 660,000 since the 2008 elections.

The allegations by Merap, as the organization is known, and a wide variety of other sources cast doubt on whether Malaysia can really put on a fair election. Ong's complaints are a small part of a long litany of objections by neutral and opposition observers of allegations of malapportionment, gerrymandering, falsified voter registration and intimidation of voters and political activists.

What that means is that if the opposition manages to win control of Parliament, it will have to do so by a landslide. One UMNO source confidently said that isn't going to happen.

"Overall, we are not fighting to form the government but to regain the two-thirds majority, which will be tough but possible now," the source said. "Barisan morale is high even amongst the younger generation."

That may well be campaign rhetoric. Polls show a razor-thin margin in favor of the Barisan and most political analysts say the race is so close that the country may well end up with a hung parliament.

Bersih, the election reform NGO, has been pushing for cleaning up the election process for more than two years, with little to show for its efforts. One of the problems stems from the fact that the country's Election Commission, rather than being an independent body, comes under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister's office.

"Irregularities in most general elections until now have been reported quite regularly," wrote Dr. Wolfgang Sachsenroder, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, in the Australian Monash University website New Mandala. "The long list reaches from vote buying, stuffing of ballot boxes, bussing of voters to other constituencies and multiple voting, "phantom voters," "imported voters," "missing voters," manipulated voter lists, to granting citizenship to illegal immigrants (mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines)."

And while Ong represents an opposition body, his complaints echo those made by an international fact-finding body composed of representatives from India, Australia, Germany, Indonesia and the Philippines in a report in November 2012 that quoted critics expressing concern "at the large number of voters in certain constituencies (largely held by members of the Opposition). They suggested that these voters may be allocated to these constituencies in order to enable government candidates to win elections."

Australian Sen. Nick Xenophon, one of the six-member international group, was refused entry back into Malaysia in February 2013 when he was branded a "security risk."

Critics, the report said, "raised allegations of tens of thousands of doubtful voters on the electoral roll." Other allegations from military personnel were that they intimidated not voting for the Barisan because they were certain their votes could be traced by their superiors.

Across the country, Ong said, of 3.7 million new voters in the country, 34 percent were registered by political parties, 29 percent by the Royal Post Office, 20 percent by the Election Commission and 10 percent by the Ministry of Information's Department of Special Affairs (Jasa).

Jasa has come under particular scrutiny, Ong said, "because this organization does not register voters through conventional means... Jasa is a special agency that sits under the ministry of information. The director is no other than Datuk Fuad Hassan. He is a former UMNO assembly member for Hulu Kelang until he lost to Azmin Ali in 1999."

He told local media that Jasa is "basically a propaganda unit for Barisan Nasional. It basically collects intelligence on behalf of the Barisan and tries to push out information on its behalf to win votes. It has more ability and broadest scope compared to the special branch," he said during the forum.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat shocked the Barisan Nasional by winning Selangor, one of the biggest states in the country and the richest, in the 2008 national election. Today, Ong said, eight of the top 10 parliament seats with the most number of new voters since 2008 are in Selangor. The other two are in Johor, where Pakatan Rakyat is making a major push in the election slated for May 5 to take the state away from the United Malays National Organization.

"The reason for such malapportionment is to disadvantage opposition voters," Wong said. "The largest seats are all won by the opposition but smaller ones are won by the Barisan. That makes it quite likely that the Barisan would win a majority of the seats."

"It has gone beyond the ethnic lines, where urban Malays and rural Malays are disadvantaged when they support the opposition," he added.