In fair elections, size does matter

  • Brave New World
  • Wednesday, 28 Mar 2018

WHEN we feel that our rights are being taken away, there is often a sense of outrage. Among the more obvious examples are when a person is not allowed to follow the religion of his choice, when a news story is prevented from being published, and when a person feels that he is denied a fair trial.

The threatening or taking away of other rights may not cause as much indignation.

This may be because those rights are not practised all the time. I am thinking about our right to choose our government.

This is reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948. Article 21 reads:

“(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

“(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

“(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Note the term “equal suffrage”. What does this mean? In short, it means one person, one vote, and that each vote carries equal weight.

When you draw the electoral boundaries in a manner that is imbalanced, what you are doing is, in effect, taking away this element of a fair election.

You are making some votes more important than others. Namely, in smaller constituencies, it is easier for a party to win the election because it will take fewer votes. Thus, each individual vote carries more weight compared to a vote in a much larger constituency.

This happens in Malaysia. A lot. The discrepancies in some cases are ludicrous.

This by itself should cause unhappiness because it is fundamentally unfair.

It is poor constituency delineation like this that allows election victories that do not rely on the popular vote.

But what really gets me is this. As far as I am concerned, the flawed delineation of electoral seats only denies parties that may have won the popular vote.

Having fair elections is one of the best ways to ensure the country can be run in a peaceful manner.

When you know that elections are fair and that you can change governments in a peaceful manner, then there is no need to resort to any other ways to get that change.

How many elections must people endure over the issue of poor constituency delineation?

This is something that those who fail to do a good job when drawing electoral boundaries, obviously don’t think about.

Neither does it seem to matter to them that the right to choose one’s government is a vital element that makes us free men and women.

When our elections are held with imbalances in constituency sizes, it affects our electoral process; the peace of the nation and our dignity is at stake as well.

Many people may not see the undermining of equal suffrage as a blatantly odious crime, but in my eyes, it can be just as harmful.

Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Opinion , "Azmi Sharom" , "Brave New World"


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