In my last post I mentioned that tomorrow the 13th General Elections will be held in Malasysia. Some of my Dutch friends asked me for more information about these elections and why everybody here is so excited/anxious/worried about the outcome.

So this post is meant primarily for my non-Malaysian followers, but of course I hope that my Malaysian friends will also read it. It is now Election’s Eve, so I must publish it fast, hopefully without mistakes…:-)

The present government is formed by BN (Barisan Nasional = National Front). BN is a racially based coalition of basically three parties, UMNO (Malay), MCA (Chinese) and MIC (Indian). BN (and its predecessor Alliance) has been in power from the Independence of Malaysia in 1957. That is more than 55 year and almost all the time they had absolute power ( more then 2/3 majority).

Well, as you know: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

About the corruption and the cronyism in BN, I will not elaborate in this post. Do a Google search for Altantuyaa, Teoh Beng Hock, Rosmah, Taib, Khir Toyo, etc if you are interested.

Was there no opposition? Yes, there was. But Malaysia doesn’t have proportional representation, like we have in the Netherlands (and in many European countries). The country has (at this time) 222 parliamentary seats and is divided in 222 constituencies. In each constituency the winner takes all. So, if in each constituency the opposition gets 40% of the votes, at the end of the day they will not be represented in Parliament at all!

Before the 2004 election, the opposition parties formed an alternative coalition, Barisan Alternatif. Basically consisting of three parties: Keadilan (multiracial, progressive), DAP (Chinese, progressive) and PAS (Malay, conservative). At first not very successful, quite a lot of distrust between the component parties. But under the charismatic leadership of Anwar, they managed to cooperate better in the 2008 election. With a shocking result!

For the first time in decades BN lost its 2/3 majority!

Elections stats

Now, when you study the statistics in this table, you will notice something strange. In these last election the opposition got 47.8 % of the votes, but only 37% of the seats! And in 2004 it was  even much worse, 36% of the votes against not even 10% of the seats!

How can that happen? The answer is: by Malapportionment and Gerrymandering

About Mal-apportionment: If you have an election system with constituencies, each of them voting for one MP, then each constituency should have about the same number of voters, right? In Malaysia that would result in about 49.000 voters for each constituency.

The real situation is stunningly different! Here is a graph of the constituencies in the 2008 election. As you see, there is a huge difference in size between the constituencies. The largest one, Kapar, has more than 100.000 voters, the smallest one, Putrajaya (center of the government!) not even 7000.

constituency size

Most countries with a constituency system (like the UK) have (constitutional?) election rules about which differences in size are allowed between constituencies (for example + or – 15%). Malaysia had those rules, but first they were relaxed and later replaced in 1973 by a vague “a measure of weightage”. Yes! With all due respect to my 2nd home, politically Malaysia is still a banana republic…:-(

But this is not all. In the graph the results of the 2008 elections are represented. Blue for a BN win, red for a win by the opposition. Do I have to explain in more detail? The constituencies with a small number of voters are dominantly BN, the larger ones vote for the opposition! Accidentally? No way. This is gerrymandering, choosing the boundaries of the constituencies in such a way,  that it favours the ruling powers. I find it really unbelievable that this is accepted by the Malaysian population.

Ok, back to tomorrow’s elections.  It will be a battle between a (weakened) BN and Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance), the successor of Barisan Alernatif. The elections are already named the dirtiest in the history of Malaysia. BN is doing its utmost best to remain in power, by any means. They have been flooding the country with flags and banners, rumours are that they are flying in phantom voters from Sarawak and Sabah while I am writing this. But there is a kind of vibrant feeling in the air, that a Malaysian spring might occur this time.

Ubah! Ini Kali lah    =  Change! This it the time

Here are a few pics taken the last few days.

2013-05-04 10.35.49 BN Opposition

Ini Kali Lah

Are people worried? Well, after the 1969 elections, race riots exploded, which are still remembered vividly by everybody staying in Malaysia at that time. Many people died, there was a curfew for several days. However, times have changed.

Will update you soon…:-)

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