The disenfranchisement of Kuala Lumpur

Parliament meets today to amend the Malaysian Constitution the second time in three months, and the third time since the reconvening of Parliament in February 1971.

Thanks to the Alliance Government, the Malaysian Constitution has won international renown as one of the most amended and tampered written constitutions in the world.

The history of constitution-gerrymandering by the Alliance Party has rightly given rise to questions about the true intentions of the present move. The history of the changes to the Malaysian constitution is a history of intolerance, the subordination of national interest to petty party considerations, and the lack of a democratic spirit among the top government leaders of the country.

Thus in 1966, the Malaysian Constitution was amended to enable the Alliance Party to overthrow the independent-minded, strong-willed but recalcitrant SNAP Chief Ministerof Sarawak, Dato Stephen Kalong Ningkan. In 1962, the Malaysian Constitution was amended to cut down the powers of the independent-minded Elections Commission which had faithfully followed the Constitutional provisions for redrawing constituencies but which had displeased the Alliance leaders. And of course, most recently, in February 1971, the Malaysian Constitution was arbitrarily amended to remove the parliamentary privilege and immunity of elected Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen.

It is precisely because the people wanted to put a check on the continuous Alliance tampering with the Malaysian Constitution for its own partisan ends, that the voters in the 1969 General Elections denied the Alliance the two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Unfortunately, what the Alliance failed to get form the electorate, it got from a combination of political blackmail and political buying-and-selling. Those who had campaigned vigorously in the 1969 General Elections to deny the Alliance the two-thirds majority to alter the Malaysian Constitution at their whim and fancy were among the first to provide the necessary two—third support in the most blatant tampering with the Constitution in February 1971. Others who had presented themselves as stout defenders of the Constitution have today become the most snivelling apologists of the Alliance.

It is however incumbent for those of us who still hold true to our pledge to the people to oppose Alliance tampering with the Constitution to examine with care every proposed Constitution amendment, and to seek out the political motivations.

Despite the loud protestations and denials by the Prime Minister and other Alliance leaders, the ulterior political motive of the present Constitution Amendment is apparent.

This is not the first time that the people of Kuala Lumpur have suffered in the hands of the Alliance, and have their basic democratic rights violated and trampled upon.

Over a decade ago, the people of Kuala Lumpur possessed the democratic right to send their elected representatives to Parliament to be their spokesmen in national matters, to Selangor State Assembly to safeguard their rights in State matters, and to the Kuala Lumpur Municipality to run the local government affairs in accordance with the needs and wishes of the people.

The first casualty was their right to have an elected Kuala Lumpur Municipality. The Alliance Government abolished elected Municipal Government because the people of Kuala Lumpur had long ago been disenchanted by Alliance policies and consistently repudiated Alliance candidates and personalities.

In retrospect, it cannot be said that the abolition of an elected Municipality Council and the Federal takeover of the Kuala Lumpur Municipality had significantly improved the administration or quality of life in the Federal capital.

Kuala Lumpur today teems with a myriad of socio-economic problems and grievances, many of which were aggrayated by over a decade of neglect and indifference. The housing of the poor is one good example of the Federal Government and the Municipal Authority’s indifference to basic social and economic problems of the inhabitants of Kuala Lumpur.

A Kuala Lumpur Authority which is solicitous of the welfare of the people of Kuala Lumpur would in the last decade have launched a crash programme to build tens of thousands of low-cost housing units for the workers and the low-income brackets, instead of spawning slums and hovels in the Federal capital. In fact, it would not be far wrong to say that the housing policy of the Municipality and now launched a crash programme to the City Council is to have no housing policy.

Housing is not the only ill of Kuala Lumpur, after Alliance takeover of its affairs. Other major ills are the transportation problem, the perennial traffic congestion, the flooding of the city after a slight shower, the squatter problem, the hawker problem, etc.

Each one of these problems would require extended treatment as they are all major problems for the people of Kuala Lumpur.

I have no doubt that an elected Kuala Lumpur Municipality and now City Council would do very much better, for such an elected council would respond more readily to the needs and wishes of the people, as compared to a Council which is answerable only to a distant Federal Government.

Today, the Alliance Government has decided to take another retrograde step to disenfranchise one million people by abolishing nine State Assembly seats in Selangor by declaring Kuala Lumpur a Federal Territory.

Although we are told that we should be honoured and proud that Kuala Lumpur is to become a Federal Territory, I do not see what there is to rejoice about in the progressive limitation and restriction of the democratic rights of Malaysian citizens.

We all remember that in the last general elections in 1969, the Selangor State Government was nearly captured by the Opposition, ending the uninterrupted rule of the Alliance in Selangor State.

The declaration of the Federal Territory, and the bolition of the constituent nine state assembly seats, is clearly an Alliance meanoeuvre to prevent any Opposition capture of the Selangor State Government in the next general elections.

The disenfranchisement of one million people is a momentous decision and neither the Federal Government nor the Selangor State Government has the mandate of the people to take such and undemocratic action without reference and consultation with them. My Party reaffirms our stand that there must be a referendum of the people of Kuala Lumpur to ascertain their views and consent on their disenfranchisement and the abolition of the nine State Assembly seats.

The Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, has said that there is no provision in our constitution for a referendum. Firstly, let me state that there is no prohibition in our Constitution against the holding of a referendum either.

A simple motion tabled in this House is all that is necessary to hold a referendum over this matter. There is no need even to amend the Constitution. Thus, such an argument coming from a government which has not hesitated to tamper with the constitution at the slightest excuse is most unbecoming.

Here, I want to stress that there are who questions involved here. One, the declaration of Kuala Lumpur as a Federal Territory; and Secondly, the disenfranchisement of one million people in Kuala Lumpur.

With the brute majority that the Alliance commands in Parliament, this Constitution Amendment Bill is bound to be passed in this House. However, I would like to ask the Prime Minister, if there is no political motivation behind this move, why is it that there is no provision to have an elected Federal Capital Council in Kuala Lumpur.

The capital cities of other democratic countries like Tokyo, New Delhi, London and Copehhagan are run by elected councils, and not by nominated bodies. Although Canberra is not in this list, I understand that it is the policy of the Labour Government of Australia to introduce an elective council, with minority nominated members, to administer the Australia capital.

Every time the Alliance Government departs form democratic practice, their leaders would plead in justification the need to develop democracy in our country ala-Malaysia and not ala-Westminster.

It is no coincidence that in the multitude of amendments to the Malaysian Constitution since 1957, there is not a single amendment which has broadened the areas of freedom and liberties of Malaysia citizens. In every amendment of consequence, the citizen’s rights have been conscribed and confined.

I invite the Prime Minister to rebut this, and tell the House instances of constitutional changes which had broadened the horizons of freedom and liberty in the country.

It had been said that the people, apart from the DAP, are happy about Kuala Lumpur becoming a Federal Territory, and that they realise that this is to the best national interest. To buttress their argument, they pointed to the fact that in the local press of all, language media, there is no protest or objection apart from the political opposition.

Such a glib argument deceives no one. It is like Hitler in his time boasting that no one in Nazi Germany opposed his inhuman and expansionist policies for the simple reason that those who opposed him before had ended up on the execution block or victim of assassination squads.

Although in Malaysia, dissent does not cost one his life yet, it is no less suppressed. The press in Malaysia has long ceased to be a reliable guide of the state of public opinion in Malaysia.

Malaysia press editors are subjected to an unceasing barrage of interference, warnings and dictation from government censors as what to report and what not to report, through telephone calls and censorship briefings.

A good example was in connection the MCA power struggle, following the forced resignation of Dr.Lim Keng Yiak from the Cabinet and his expulsion from MCA.

For over a week, the press, especially the Chinese press, was fullsome with pages after pages of deunciations of the leadership of Tun Tan Siew Sin and Lee San Choon by MCA rebel branches and youth sections, when suddenly the whole cascade of repudiation of the MCA presidential leadership halted.

This was not because the MCA power struggle between the old guards and the rebels had been settled, for if one should go round the country, one can find fierce banners being strung outside MCA buildings throughout the country denouncing the decadence, imcompetence and importance of the leadership of Tun Tan and Lee San Choon.

The press blackout was the result of warnings and directives issued by the government to the press. At first, Tun Tan warned the press to black out the news about the challenge to his authority and leadership, but when this failed to have effect, all the press editors were summoned before the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Home Affairs and told in no uncertain terms to toe the line or face the consequences. The government used as justification for such press muzzling the much-abused tern “National interest”.

It is no extra generation to say that the term “National Interest”, which has also be used for the conferment of Kuala Lumpur the Federal territory status and the disenfranchisement of one million people, has been so abused that it has ceased to have any meaning.

Thus, what is the “National Interest” that the press cannot publish and report the power struggle in a political party in the country, the MCA? Will Tun Tan’s downfall spark off a blood bath, as he had threatened to his members?

It is interesting to note that the MIC’s power struggle did not deserve the label of “National Interest” and the press were given full freedom to report about the fisticuffs, the chair-throwing the free-for alls, and banner protests the free- for all, that typify MIC gatherings.

It is also pertinent to note that when Opposition parties, like the DAP had a minor, internal problem, the press were told “in the national interest” to blow it out of all proportions, even giving front-page treatment to the fulminations of a branch official who after his undreamt of publicity, had been sacked, applied for re-admission, and refused a new membership. Of course, this particular person’s attempt to re-apply and his refusal, and confession of his errors, were blacked out by the press which gave him front page treatment.

There is no denial that the Malaysian press has never been so cowed and intimidated as today, and they are swiftly become more propaganda tensions of the Alliance Government against their own free will and better judgement.

In a climate where the press dare not publish the dissent and contrary views of the public to Alliance positions which have attached to them the omnibus label “National Interest”, it is all the more necessary that a referendum should be held to ascertain the genuine wishes of the people and get a mandate from them on the question of making Kuala Lumpur a Federal Territory.

To sum up, therefore, my party proposes firstly, the holding a referendum to ascertain the views of the people of Kuala Lumpur; and secondly, the Federal Territory should be run and administered by an elective Federal Capital Council which will be more responsive to the needs and wishes of the people.

Otherwise, my party will not be able to support the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1973.

DAP calls for a fair and equitable delimitation of electeral constituencies to uphold the democratic principle of “One man, one vote”

I come now to Part II and Part III of the Constitution amendment Bill affecting the number of House Representatives Members and proposed changes to the basis for delineating electoral constituencies.

One of the cardinal principles of representative democracy is that one man is entitled to one vote, and not more. But in Malaysia, our parliamentary democracy ala Malaysia enables one man to have one vote which is equal to six other’s men’s votes.

Thus, during the 1969 general elections, the parliamentary constituency of Johor Tenggara had an electorate of 13,821, while the Bungsar parliamentary constituency has an electrorate six times as large, viz 81,086.

This means that one vote in Johor Tenggara is equal to six votes in Bangsar, and that the Bangsar electorate are under-represented politically and deprived of having another five members of Parliament to represent. The Alliance talks a lot about imbalances in the country, but this political imbalance is conveniently ignored and forgotten.

That a system which gives to one person the voting power equal to six others is undemocratic is recognised and conceded by the Alliance Government. Unfortunately, with every passing year, they tend to forget what they have stood for in the past, and for their own self interest, began to adopt more and more illiberal and undemocratic attitudes.

Thus in the 1957 Constitution, it was provided that in drawing up constituencies, there shall not by more than a difference by more than 15 per cent in the number of electors of any constituency to the electoral quota. The “Electoral quota” was defined as the number obtained by dividing the number of electors in the Federation by the total number if constituencies.

This 15% difference was not satisfactory to the Alliance Party, and in 1962, the Constitution was amended. It is in eresting to note that when introducing the 1962 Constitution Amendment Bill 1962, to redelineate electoral boundaries and approve a new basis for redelineation, the Prime Minister, at that time Deputy Prime Minister, sought to argue that the one-man one vote principle was being scruouleusly observed.

He said, and I quote:

“These are known and accepted principles and were taken into account when delimiting the present constituencies. There is therefore no new principle which has been brought in. One of these principles is the weightage of rural constituencies for area. Basically, the number of electors in each constituency ought to be approximately equal except that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in country districts and other disadvantages affedting rural constituencies, weightage for area may be given to rural constituencies may contain as little as half the number of electors in an urban constituency.”

Thus, from the difference of 15% of the voters for one constituency to the national average, we have the Constitution to enable difference of 100% in the electorate between an urban and a rural seat.

But in practice, as pointed cut earlier in the comparison between Bungsar and Johor Tenggara, the difference had been 300 to 600% difference.

It will not be wrong to say that there are many MPS in this house who will not be here if the Constitution had been faithfully followed as regards the weightage between urban and rural seats.

One of the most far-reaching amendments in the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1973 is the proposed change to Paragraph of section 2 of the Thirteenth Schedule of the Constitution (Paragraph 15 of the present Amendment Bill).

Paragraph (c) of section 2 of the Thirthenth Schedule reads:

“The number of electors within each constituency ought to be approximately equal throughout the unit of review accept that, having regard to the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and other disadvantages facing rural constituencies, a measure of weightage for area ought to be given to such constituencies, to the extent that in some cases a rural constituency may contain as little as half of the electors of any urban constituency.”

It is now proposed to delete the words “to the etent that in some cases a rural constituency may contain as little as one half of the electors of any urban constituency.”

As at present, when there is a review of the constituencies, the parliamentary and state seats must be adjusted to confirm with the requirements of the Thirteenth Schedule, and paragraph (c) of Section 2 permits a rural seat to have an electorate 50% of an urban seat, but not lesser.

With the present amendment, I the check against to great a disparity between urban and rural seats will be removed, and constitutionally, the Elections Commission can draw up boundaries where ten rural seats are equal to one urban seat, heavily overrepresenting rural electorate against urban electorate in the various legislatures.

I want here to seek a clarification from the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to perpetuate the present enormous disparity in the weigtage given to the rural areas, completely without constitutional sanction, whereby one rural voter is equal to six voters.

The DAP is opposed to this constitution amendment for the perpetuation of the enormous disparity in the weigtage between urban and rural elections is not only undemocratic, but a serious imbalance in the country which retardsnational unity and solidarity.
Another major amendment is to reconstitute the membership of the House of Representatives on the basis of allcation to the States in west Malaysia, and the increase from 104 parliamentary seats in west Malaysia to 114 parliamentary seats.

It is proposed to allocate the following number of seats for each of the West Malaysian States:

Perak – 21
Johore – 16
Kedah – 13
Kelantan – 12
Selangor – 11
Penang – 9
Pahang – 8
Trengganu – 7
N.Sembilan – 6
Federal Territory – 5
Malacca – 4
Perlis – 2
Total – 114

I will like to know on what basis the allocation of seats for each State is decided upon. In the case of the Federal Territory, from my calculations, the electorate for the Federal Territory will not be less than the State of Selangor, but there are all Parliamentary seats allocated for Selangor and 5 for Federal Territory, although it is provided under the Constitution Amendment Bill that “for the purposes of this Part, in any review if the constituencies for the purpose of election to the house of Representatives, the Federal Territory shall be regarded as a State.” (Clause 15(2) of Constitution Amendment Bill.

In accordance with the principle laid down in Schedule 13, section 2(c) that “the number of electors within each constituency ought to be approximately equal throughout the unit of review”, the Federal Territory should of right have 10 Parliamentary seats.

In view of the increased electorate in Pahang, Perak and Melacca, there should also be further increased in parliamentary representation to the extent of Penang 11 (increase three rather than one), Perak 23 (increase of three rather than one) and Malacca 5 (increase of one rather than without changes), bringing a total of parliamentary constituency increase to 20.

This will be a fairer readjustment as it will bring the average electorate per seat per state to between 20,000 to 30,000 voters, and not as under the present proposals, where the average electorate per seat per state ranges from 20,000 in Pahang to over 45,000 in the Federal Territory.

This disparity in the weightage will not remain at this ratio, for when the seats are delineated in each state, there will be seats which will have electorate very well below 20,000, while others will have electorates well behond 45,000, perpetuating the 1:5 or 1:6 ratio in the urban-rural weightage.

The Government is seeking a major change in entrenching the number of parliamentary seats for each state in the Constitution. At present, the changes in the number of constituencies for each state can be effected by a simole majority in the House of Representatives.

We are not in favour of spelling out in the Constitution the number of parliamentary seats each State should have as it works for greater inflexibility in constituency alterations to meet changing populations and electorates.

This is probably the purpose in the Alliance intoducing this constitution amendment, to ensure that the rural weightage and the under representation of the urban electorate is difficult to undo.

These undemocratic features therefore cannot be supported, unless there is a built-in clause and mechanism in the Constitution whereby unfair rural-urban weightage can be righted without the need for a constitutional amendment, requiring two-thirds majority vote.

I will like to take this opportunity to ask the Prime Minister whether the next general elections will be based on the proposed new delineations, how long the Elections Commission will need to complete a review of the division of the west Malaysian states into constituencies and recommend changes in accordance with this amendment.

The present boundaries of parliamentary constituencies were drawn up on the basis of the 1947 census, and it is indeed long overdue for new delineations of electoral constituencies to keep abreast with changes of the last two decades.

It can be thus being seen that the constitutional amendments before the House, whether on the question of Federal Territory or increased parliamentary seats or new basis for delineation of electoral boundaries contain many undemocratic features.

I urge all MPs to speak about their minds freely. I do not expect of course the new converts of the National Front to do anything but praise the government for their wisdom and far-sightedness and obediently vote for the Constitution amendment bill, even if it means eating their past speeches.

In this connection, it is worth nothing that the 1962 Constitution Amendment Bill debate, a courageous M.P stood up in this House and asked:

“What democracy is you talking about when so blatantly and so clearly you are giving yourself power to use, perhaps in a crude way, to give double vote to rural folk as against urban population … Surely, there could be no greater violation of democracy as we know it, or as it should be known, in this country.”

The speaker was the intrepid former Member of Parliament for Ipoh, D.R.Seonivasagam. Eleven years later today, we will find his party, his own successor in his seat, giving unthinking support to the very measure he had denounced.

But while I do not expect the new National Front converts to speak their minds freely, as they will be too busy bending backwards to prove their loyalty and fidelity to their new masters, I expect the MCA reformist MPs to act differently.

I would like to see whether the MCA new blood, the self-proclaimed reformists, who are spearheading a movement for a new MCA leadership which dare to stand up in Parliament and the Cabinet to espouse the aspirations of their electorate will have the courage of their convictions to stand up in this debate to criticise and oppose the Amendment Bill to the Constitution, which disenfranchises one million people in Kuala Lumpur and perpetuates a electeral system where the urban seats are perpetually underrepresented in Parliament and State Assemblies.

Or maybe these MCA reformist MPs and leaders are no different from the old guards-all with feet of clay.

Speech by MP for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang in the Dewan Rakyat on the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1973 on 9th July 1973