Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Freedom from tyrants, both foreign and domestic

On the 31st of August, 2007, Malaysia celebrated 50 years of independence from British rule. The British ruled Malaysia for their own benefit, exploiting local inhabitants - Malays, Chinese and Indians - to make Britain wealthy. When they left, the hero of independence Tunku Abdul Rahman became Prime Minister under a constitution which promised Westminster style democracy. It promised that while the Malays, the Monarchies and Islam would be protected, all citizens would be citizens of a new, democratic nation.

Westminster democracy has at its core that the people are entitled to choose those who govern them in free and fair elections. This means not only that elections be held, but that the parliament elected should be broadly representative of the votes taken in the election. People must also be free to vote for who they wish without risking penalties to do so. Another assumption is that all parties will have access to and be treated equally by the media.

Malaysia's democracy has become plainly deficient in each of these respects, despite the fact that elections are held every 4-5 years.

1) The composition of parliament should be representative of the votes cast at the election. This is demonstrably not the case in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's lower house of parliament), which consists of 219 seats. 198 of these (90.4%) are controlled by the government, effectively rendering Malaysia a one-party state until the next election is held. This is despite the government only winning 63.9% of the vote. When one considers the individual parties that make up the government, the unrepresentativeness becomes even more obvious. UMNO (the party of the Prime Minister) won just 35.9% of the vote - yet controls half of the seats in parliament (49.8%). PAS, the opposition party that won the largest number of votes (15.2%), has just 7 seats in parliament (3.2%). Both these parties have mainly Malay Muslim supporters. Looking at the two parties mainly voted for by Chinese, the government's coalition partner MCA won 15.5% of the vote (about the same as PAS) but won 31 seats (14.2% of the parliament, while the opposition DAP won 9.9% of the vote but has just 12 seats in the parliament. The multi-ethnic but mainly supported by Malays opposition PKR won 8.9% of the votes but just 1 seat in the parliament. By contrast the government coalition partner MIC won just 3.2% of the vote, but holds 9 seats in parliament, more than PAS who nearly 5x as many Malaysian's voted for.

This means for every seat in parliament the following number of Malaysians voted for them:
UMNO - 22,782 voters
MCA - 34,652 voters
MIC - 24,616 voters
DAP - 57,278 voters
PAS - 150,211 voters
PKR - 617,518 voters

(Any errors in calculations are typos - source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Parliament)

These figures speak for themselves. They show that UMNO and the MIC are greatly overrepresented in the parliament according to the support they actually received in the elections. The MCA, and the opposition parties who are in fact voted for by more than 1/3 of Malaysians - even in a landslide election like 2004 - are grossly underrepresented. Chinese who vote for the MCA, and even more so the DAP are treated unfairly by getting less representation that their votes deserve. However, clearly the people most cheated in Malaysia's parliament are the 1.7 million (mainly) Malays who voted for either PAS or PKR, who got just 8 seats for their votes compared with 109 for the 2.4 million (mainly) Malays who voted for UMNO. This is despite the claims that UMNO makes that is stands up for the interests of Malays - in fact, it cheats them of fair and honest representation more than anyone else.

Among the reasons for this state of affairs, the most important is the drawing up of electoral boundaries is done so that Malays in UMNO voting areas have electorates with much smaller numbers of voters that those in PAS voting areas. Urban areas which vote for the opposition generally have huge numbers of voters for each electorate. This is called gerrymandering, a term which means manipulating electoral boundaries to favour one group of voters at the expense of others.

2) People should be free to vote for who they choose without fear of recrimination. When Malaysians go to vote, a serial number is recorded on their ballot paper that potentially allows who they voted for to be traced back to their name. This has particular implications for government servants, many of whom believe that if they vote for the opposition this will prevent them from career advancement. I personally know many Malays who have told me they simply don't vote because they don't want to vote for UMNO but are afraid to vote for the opposition because they fear for their government careers. The traceability of votes back to people also encourages vote-buying, something which is impossible where votes are secret and anonymous.

3) Fairness in the media. The Malaysian mainstream media is dependent on the government to issue licenses to allow them to keep publishing. One former NST journalist (a friend) told me that although the papers uncover many scandals about the government - including corruption on a grand scale at the highest levels - they dare not publish for fear of using their license. In the political context this means that not only are the press highly restricted in criticizing the government, they are expected to not give air to the views of opposition leaders. This usually means that while the views of government ministers are presented mostly without comment, opposition leaders are seldom quoted in the newspapers and almost never seen on television. This press bias is evident to anyone who has ever seen the media operate in a genuine democratic environment - elections are not free and fair if the government controls the main means by which ordinary citizens gather their information.

All these reasons explain why more than 40,000 Malaysians braved road-blocks, chemical-laced water-cannon and tear-gas to peacefully present a petition to their Ruler (the Agong, the leader of the nation's Sultans and constitutionally the government's boss) asking for a chance to have their votes count. This blogger believes that ALL people regardless of ethnicity, religion or place of birth deserve to have their votes count. The Malaysian government has been in power for 50 years, and frankly, some of their members are taking the people of Malaysia for fools. I believe they are reading Malaysians wrong, and that the people are starting to realize that they deserve to have a real choice in who governs them, not have that choice made for them in the back-rooms of UMNO. Malaysia's independence heroes did not fight to be liberated from British tyrants to see their great-grandchildren made fools of by locally-born tyrants such as those who now appear to control UMNO.

To those 40,000+ who showed their love for Malaysia by standing up for true 'merdeka', I salute you.

To borrow from Shakespeare's Henry IV:

And gentlemen in Malaysia now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That struggled with us upon Malaysia's day


Anonymous said...

Nice one. I think, the only way this can be done is by splitting areas with strong BN supporters to give more seats when they win and merging BA areas to give less seats if they win.

Odd that people doesn't bring this up. BA & DAP garnered total 34% of 6.9 million votes but only represents 9% of the parliament lower house based on the 2004 results.

Didn't realise there's such a disparity. Good catch.

Anak Bapa said...

Talk about loopsided democracy. 34% votes should translate into 34% seats but instead only 9% seats. As such, we do not have 1 person 1 voice kind of situation. The syatem is a failure and need to be changed. Only rakyat can do that ......

alancheong7 said...

this explains why malays and indians are the biggest samsengs around?

with apologies to my better brethren.

Don'tPlayGod said...

UMNO has been ruling this country for so long that, to them, UMNO is Malaysia and Malaysia is UMNO. And that is the reason why they ask those who are not happy to leave. Most of us bought this argument, including me, until it dawned on me that if we are not happy with how the country is run or with their policies, UMNO MUST leave, and not us. And to do that, we have to vote UMNO out!!

Dan01 said...

In the UK, the last general election.

Only 25percent of voters vote for Labour. And yet there are in power.

Go figure..

While I do support democratic effort and free speech and assembly. I think this gathering is abit more complex than that.

Mind you, the majority of the demonstraters dun know the meaning of democracy or right to privacy. These people who support leaders who brands others as infidels if they do not support them.

//you said
Talk about loopsided democracy. 34% votes should translate into 34% seats but instead only 9% seats. As such, we do not have 1 person 1 voice kind of situation. The syatem is a failure and need to be changed. Only rakyat can do that ...... //

Change the system? How la? You have all the plan, material, resources and skill? Does anybody?

Nobody in the world does that..
Total up everyone, percentage out. Come back down divide among party members, and give to whom the seats? Random pick among party members, a sub election in party members by party members?

Or follow US style or French, vote for president. But then they would me no Monarchy..

If we were invaded by French, that probably we have that system.

Yahya said...

Dan01 said...

"In the UK, the last general election. Only 25percent of voters vote for Labour. And yet there are in power."

Well, this site said it was 35% http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election%2C_2005
but your point is a good one. The difference is of course is that that happens because there are usually multiple candidates in each electorate in the UK election, whereas in Malaysia its usually only 2, maybe 3. This should produce a more representative parliament if gerrymandering was not occuring.

BTW, the quote you gave as "you said" is not me, it is 'anak bapa'.

You state:
"Nobody in the world does that..
Total up everyone, percentage out."

Actually this is not true. New Zealand used to have a system like Malaysia's, which meant that the votes for smaller parties are not represented. In 1996 they changed their electoral system to a mixed-member proportional system, which elects half the parliament in electorates but then each party is allowed to appoint additional MPs until they get the representation the voters gave them, i.e. in NZ if Labor gets 35% of the vote, it gets 35% of the total seats in parliament. Germany has a similar system, but NZ is a good example because it shows you can retain a Westminster parliamentary system while making the composition of the parliament fairer. You can read about this system here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_Member_Proportional

It is also not correct to say Malaysia has not changed its electoral system before. For example, the upper house is supposed to have the majority of its members directly elected by people of the states, yet this was changed so that the majority are appointed by the PM (technically the King but on the PM's advice, so...) and none are directly elected by the people. This is a real shame since the upper house is supposed to act as a check on the power of the lower house, not as a rubber stamp. You can read more about this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewan_Negara

I can't answer about the motivations of individual marchers. But I will say that the comments of certain UMNO politicians that 'those (non-Malays) who don't like the way UMNO runs the country should apply for citizenship in Singapore' is effectively just as exclusionary as anything PAS says. Of course, if it were to win power PAS would have to do so in coalition with the DAP and PKR, and therefore would have to compromise some of its more strident ideals, otherwise it wouldn't be able to govern. It should also be borne in mind that Kelantan, which is run by PAS, accepts all its citizens as Kelantanese regardless of race or religion, and has done so since 1969. Do you think the bumi classification suggests that BN accept all Malaysians as real Malaysians, or rather some as 'Malaysia-lite'? The real problem is not who the government is but the fact that in Malaysia it can in practice never change, which explains why they apparently care so little about what the people actually think. If UMNO feared it could be tossed out it would be a much better government, imho.

Anonymous said...

so stupid...
let say they are 5 classes to teach... 1st 20 2nd 20 3rd 10 4th 20 and 5th with 50 students...
you have to teach 4 classes 1st, 2nd, 3rd n 4th with total number of 70 students whereas i have to teach only 2 classes 4th and 5th with total number of 80 students.. would you say that it is unfair because you have to teach more student than i am or would you say that it is just nice... because i have to teach 80 students compare to just 70 for you? stupid comparison...

Yahya said...

Anonymous said:
so stupid...
let say they are 5 classes to teach... 1st 20 2nd 20 3rd 10 4th 20 and 5th with 50 students...

I smell monkey... Well, yes, your metaphor is indeed stupid. More students is a responsibility and a burden because I have to do more marking. However having 2 classes instead of 4 is better because I don't have to teach so much. On the other hand, having more seats in parliament gives me the ability to keep power and land big fat contracts for my family and friends. There's no downside to having more seats that are smaller for me if it helps me get my Datukship.

Since you like metaphors so much, here's another one for you (maybe you can relate to it better):

If you have RM639 and I have RM361 with which we want to start a business, and we put it together in 219 bags. Because my bags have more money in them, I only have 21 bags while you have 198 bags. However, you argue than because you have 90% of the bags you should be given 90% control of the business and receive 90% of the profit.

Would you expect that I would regard that as fair? How much less fair do you think I would say it is if you had distributed the bags before we put the money in?

As I type I can see this metaphor is not perfect, but at least it has some relevance, unlike yours.

Anonymous said...

BN has lost the legitimate and moral right to govern Msia. They divide and rule - much like the colonials. Msia had merely moved from one colonial power to another in the form of the inept UMNO and BN. This one's much worse than the British - using pitting one race against another to plunder and rob the country blind.

Sedarlah Msia. Kita sedang dijajah oleh orang sendiri atas nama membela bangsa. Tenaga yang harus digunakan untuk bersaing dengan negara luar ditujukan BN kepada rakyat sendiri demi memelihara cengkaman kuasa BN. Inilah mutu 'pemimpin' kita. Sungguh mengecewakan.

Two-face said...

In terms of popular votes, Bush lost to Gore but he was still elected president. So how?