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Critics in Malaysia accuse government of ‘gerrymandering’

  • Wed, 14 Feb 2018 19:13

Proposals to change certain constituency boundaries in Malaysia before this year’s general election have come under fire

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is looking to change certain constituency boundaries Photo Fazry Ismail/EPA

Malaysia’s political opposition and an election watchdog group have criticised plans to redraw certain constituency boundaries in the country in the run up to the general election this year.

The Election Commission, which is appointed by the government, has been charged with the task of reviewing the boundaries in more than half of Malaysia’s 222 parliamentary seats. Its month-long public review began on 15 January, Reuters reported.

On Tuesday, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, leader of the Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, and electoral watchdog group Bersih submitted 200 objections to the commission. They claim that the reshaping of the boundaries could work in favour of current ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), Reuters reported.

Opponents of the proposal feel that the new boundaries could lead to opposition supporters being incorporated into seats where the opposition already holds a majority.  A ‘first-past-the-post’ system is used in Malaysia, so grouping opposition voters into fewer areas would prevent them from voting in more contested seats.

“There is no meaning for the commission to proceed with the inquiry if it rushes through the process without taking measures to address issues of malapportionment and gerrymandering,” Reuters reported Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah as saying.

The government has denied the accusation, and officials of the Election Commission have previously said that the process is being carried out “in a transparent manner and in accordance with the law”, Reuters reported.

Once the plans are finalised it is expected that they will be given to Prime Minister Najib Razak before they are presented to parliament.

The Barisan Nasional is a grand coalition made up of 13 right-wing and centre parties, and was formed on the back of its predecessor, Alliance, which came to power in 1957.

Former BN leader Mahathir Mohamad was the last prime minister to redraw the constituency boundaries, back in 2003. The 92-year old is now opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for prime minister.

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