Call on Elections Commission to respect the ‘one man, one vote’ principle in the redelineation of electoral constituencies and not to be swayed by UMNO influence as in the 1974 delineation

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, when declaring open a one-day seminar for Penang DAP state leaders at Hotel Malaysia, Penang, on Sunday, 8th May 1983 at 10 a.m.

Call on Elections Commission to respect the ‘one man, one vote’ principle in the redelineation of electoral constituencies and not to be swayed by UMNO influence as in the 1974 delineation.

For parliamentary democracy to work, one of the vital perequisites is that there should be an independent Elections Commission to be responsible for the conduct of elections, whether in delimitation of electoral constituencies, or the registration of voters or the holding of elections itself.

This is why the 1957 Merdeka Constitution provided for an ‘honest, competent and non-partisan’ Elections Commission which is independent of the Government as well as enjoying public confidence.

However, ever since Merdeka, the Elections Commission, except for the initial five years from 1957-1962, had given more than ample grounds to create doubts about its impartiality, independence and non-partisanship seriously affecting public confidence.

This issue has come out the fore of public attention again because the Elections Commission is presently conducting a review to delineate now electoral boundaries which would be used for the next general elections.

The way electoral constituencies are delimited has a critical influence on the electoral performance of political parties, and it is essential that in this important task of delineation of electoral constituencies, the Elections Commission must be guided by well-known democratic principles like the principle of ‘one man, one vote’; and avoid being influenced or even dictated to by ruling political parties to redelimit constituencies to perpetuate their political interests and advantages.

Unfortunately, the Elections Commission in 1974 review and delineation of electoral constituencies had not distinguished itself as being free from political influence and direction.

The 1974 redelineation of constituencies gave the Barisan Nasional, and in particular UMNO, added political advantages, making a mockery of the Constitutional principle of an independent, Elections Commission.

The same thing seems to be happening in the current review and redelineation of electoral constituencies, and even before the Commission had completed and made public its recommendations, Barisan and in particular UMNO Ministers and leaders are already publicly talking about the number of new constituencies each state would have.

Although the Elections Commission claim that it could not prevent Ministers and government leaders about giving their views as to the number of new constituencies the various states should have, Malaysians can only be fortified in their doubt about the independence and non-partisan nature of the Elections Commission in redrawing electoral constituencies.

To strengthen the parliamentary system and increase public confidence in a ‘honest, competent and non-partisan’ Elections Commission, I call on the Elections Commission to demonstrate that it is not in any way influenced or directed by the will or wishes of the ruling parties, in particular UMNO. The Elections Commision should respect the ‘one man, one vote’ principle in the Merdeka Constitution of 1957, and provide for the maximum equality of votes between different constituencies.

There is a report that the Elections Commission proposes to increase two Parliamentary and six State Assembly seats for Penang State, all to be created in Province.

If this is true, then the Elections Commission would be compounding the wrong it did in the 1974 redelineation, it further stacking the political odds in favour of UMNO, and rejecting utterly the principle of ‘one man, one vote’.

The Penang island had all along had more voters than the Province, and until the 1974 redelineation, the island had more state constituencies than the province, namely 14 on the island as against ten on the province.

However, in 1974, for the sake of UMNO, the 14 seats on the island were slashed to 2 while the 10 seats on the province were increased to 15, although the island’s electorate exceeded the province’s,

As a result of the 1974 redelineation, we have the situation in Penang where the Gerakan is actually a minority party, with only eight Assemblymen as compared to UMNO’s 10 Assemblymen.

The 1983/84 redelineation should undo the wrong of 1974 by restoring to the island the position of having more state assembly seats than the province. However, if the report that there would be six new state assembly seats in the province is true, then clearly the whole purpose is to establish UMNO pre-eminence against the other component parties in Barisan, whether Gerakan or MCA, and to pave the way for an UMNO Penang Chief Minister.

A study at the following electorate figures will show how unfair is the present delineation in the distribution of seats between the island and the province.

Number of Votes

Island Province Total

1964 145,512 (14 seats) 107,943 (10 seats) 253,455
1969 159,347 (14 seats) 123,054 (10 seats) 282,401
1974 156,218 (12 seats) 132,933 (15 seats) 289,140
1982 249,574 (12 seats) 210,813 (15 seats) 460,387
1984 (12 seats?) (21 seats?)

If the Elections Commission increases another six state assembly seats, then the province with some 45% of the state’s electorate would have about 65% of the state Assembly seats, which is grossly unfair to the island electorate.

What is shocking is that the 1974 redelineation, which slashed the political rights of the island electorate, was supported by Gerakan and MCA, which showed that they were not sure of their own political strength and prefer to depend on UMNO’s political influence. If the Elections Commission decide to create sic more State Assembly Constituencies on the province, slashing further the political rights of the island electorate, I have no doubt that the Gerakan and MCA would be there again to give their support, even if it paves the way for an UMNO Chief Minister in Penang for the first time in history.

To undo the injustice done by the 1974 redelineation and to ensure parity of political representation, the Elections Commission should create two new parliamentary seats and six state assembly seats on the island instead of in the province, so that the island would have 18 seats as compared to 15 on the province.