KUALA LUMPUR: Major changes to the boundaries of parliamentary and state seats in Peninsular Malaysia were passed in the Dewan Rakyat following a heated debate that lasted just over two hours.
A total of 14 MPs – seven from each side – were allowed to speak for 10 minutes each.
Opposition lawmakers claimed that the debate was very short compared to earlier exercises, when MPs were given two days to debate.
This was also the first time no additional parliamentary seat was created. There are still 222 seats.
However, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, when tabling the motion, argued that the exercise would benefit all affected elected representatives by making it easier for them to serve their constituents.
“The last time there was a redelineation was in 2003 and it was used in three general elections – GE11 in 2004, GE12 in 2008 and GE13 in 2013.
“Seeing that the eight-year period has already passed, the Election Commission (EC) has therefore conducted the redelineation exercise,” said the Prime Minister.
The Federal Constitution states that a redelineation exercise can only be conducted eight years after the last process.
There was a heavy police presence yesterday morning outside Parliament due to a protest gathering by Bersih that was also attended by Pakatan Harapan chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
In the Dewan Rakyat, several opposition MPs argued with the Speaker, Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, in a bid to stop the motion from being tabled.
They claimed it was sub judice since legal action against the redelineation was still pending in court.
The Prime Minister eventually tabled the motion at 12.30pm. The Dewan broke for lunch at 1pm until 2.30pm.
The report was voted and passed at about 5.20pm, with 129 MPs voting for it and 80 against.
Any addition of new parliamentary seats would have required a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat, which Barisan Nasional does not have.
The redelineation will affect 98 of the 165 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia. Of the number, 12 – along with 28 state seats – will be renamed.
The 98 seats are made up of 36 won by Barisan and 62 by the Opposition in the last general election in 2013.
A total of 61 parliamentary seats will become bigger in terms of voter numbers.
The EC was to have done the redelineation in 2011, but it was postponed to make way for the general election in 2013.
In 2003, the EC submitted its final report on redelineation to then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on March 10.
Abdullah tabled the proposal to the Dewan Rakyat on April 3.
The proposal, which involved the creation of 25 new parliamentary seats, was passed four days later.
During the debate yesterday, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (Warisan-Semporna) interjected to question why the exercise did not include Sabah, as the EC had, in a separate exercise in August 2016, recommended increasing the state assembly seats from 60 to 73.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi replied that Najib received the final EC report in February 2017.
“The discretion to table lies with the Prime Minister, in line with Section 9 of the 13th Schedule in the Federal Constitution,” Dr Ahmad Zahid said.
During the debate, Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming said the redrawn boundaries segregated the races further and had reduced the number of mixed-race constituencies, citing Lumut, Sungai Buloh, Kapar and Bandar Tun Razak as examples.
Ong said that after the exercise, the Lumut seat would have a composition of 71% Malay, 16% Chinese, 12% Indian and 1% others. Previously, it had 51% Malay, 35% Chinese, 12% Indian and 1.5% others.
Bandar Tun Razak, he added, would have 58% Malay, 31% Chinese, 8% Indian and 2% others. Before the exercise, it had 52% Malay, 37% Chinese, 9% Indian and 2% others.
Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli (Amanah-Kuala Krai) said the ratio of voters between different state and parliamentary seats was too vast.
Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan (PAS-Kota Baru) questioned the timing of the exercise, saying prior exercises were conducted long before a general election.
Datuk Khoo Soo Seang (BN-Tebrau) said he supported the redelineation report, but there were other factors the EC needed to look into regarding future redelineation exercises.
He also said the EC needed to carefully consider the border between different constituencies, as there were instances when an area was divided between two constituencies, giving the example of Tebrau and its neighbouring constituencies.
After the motion was passed, Opposition MPs started chanting “Tipu, tipu, tipu” (lies, lies, lies) and held up placards which bore the message Bangkit rakyat hentikan penipuan (rise to stop the cheating).