Saturday 28 May 2011

Sabah: KDM BN Parties Must Be Firm On Gerrymandering

It had recently been announced that the Election Commission is planning to change yet again the boundaries of the state and parliamentary constituencies throughout the country. And so far, strangely, nobody has made any statement about the matter although we are all very much aware of the serious ramifications of such an exercise.

As a Kadazandusun voter and leader, I see this new redelineation as another opportunity for the Election Commission to indulge into another gerrymandering ? the manipulative shifting of the election boundaries. For all we know, this exercise will be the all-important one in which BN will do its utmost to secure maximum political advantage through various ways.

There is no question in anyone’s mind that Umno will play its part in ‘helping’ the Election Commission to determine how the new boundaries are going to be. Umno/BN’s most important consideration will be on how to ensure an increase of its electoral advantages in the states by maximizing the new number of pro-BN areas and reducing as much as possible the so-called pro-opposition areas.

In the case of Sabah, this will mean increasing the Malay/Muslim-majority areas and reducing the Kadazandusun & Murut (KDM) majority areas. Small Malay/Muslim areas will be further divided while super-large constituencies like Kinabatangan and Kiulu may remain as they are. As such, the percentage of the KDM-majority areas will be significantly reduced, thus further reducing the KDMs’ political advantage. This therefore means that the redelination exercise can be a lot more important than the general elections, because if the BN have secured its leverage with the new boundaries, the general elections’ results will be foregone conclusions - well, at least in theory.

In view of this, the KDM-based parties in the Sabah BN (Upko, PBS, PBRS) must make a strong stand to ensure that the redelination exercise will be conducted in the most reasonable way and with justice and fairness. It must never be seen as a manipulation for electoral advantage by Umno which already has more than half of the constituencies in Sabah. It is time for the KDM-based BN parties to voice out their concern over the strong possibility of gerrymandering and do whatever they can to ensure they are duly consulted in the proceedings towards a final decision.

As members of the ruling coalition, they cannot be seen as weaklings who would simply go along with whatever is decided. The issue for them is clear - the securing of equitable representation of the KDMs in the government. This, cannotcontinue to be reduced. As the 60 constituencies now stand, the KDM-majority can be increased significantly as many areas, like Kinabatangan, Kiulu and Moyog, clearly need to be split further. The KDM-based BN parties must see this transition as very critical for the KDMs, a turning point which may seal forever the fate of the people. They must speak out and mobilise their administrative muscles to intervene because they need to prove to the people that they are not mere traitors, proxies and stooges of Umno.
They must also remember that the balance of constituencies along racial/religious lines must reflect the true racial composition of the population of Sabah. The KDMs (including the Orang Sungais), numbering about one million or one third of the population must have one third of the constituencies! They must also be aware that the present number of the Muslim-majority areas, far exceed the proportion of the Muslim population in Sabah, and that this is a serious case of injustice and electoral misrepresentation.

The other consideration that must be taken into account is the fact that the Peninsular has a disproportionate number of parliamentary constituencies when we consider the sizes of the Peninsular as compared to the larger areas of the Borneo states. Even Sarawak alone is bigger than the Peninsular. Of course we also need to consider the population size. Hence, to be fair the Peninsular should have 50 percent of the seats, while each of Sabah and Sarawak will have 25 percent. Remember that when Singapore was separated from the Federation, the seats allocated for Singapore were all re-allocated to the Peninsular without any being give to the Borneo states.

Note also that in the redelineation exercise, the new Bumiputeras (immigrants given Mykads) are heavily factored in. They are now residents of the more urbanised areas and so, are being used as excuses for splitting the "densely populated" areas, whereas the bona fide Sabahans in many interiors regions are too few to justify the splitting of their constituencies.

It is therefore, important that the KDM-based BN parties should now form a joint Redelination Consultative Committee to create more credible weightby involving their parties in the decision-making process of this redelination exercise. Of course, whatever BN does now to maximize its advantages through racial polarization of the constituencies will not necessarily help in all circumstances in the future. The Malay areas will not necessarily be supporting Umno forever, because the political tides will keep changing. But the leaders of the KDM-based parties will still have to be involved to constrain Umno from getting the lions shares of seats.

Daniel John Jambun is the President of CigMa (Common Interest Group Malaysia), an ad hoc apolitical human rights movement in Sabah.

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