On Elections: Same votes, different values

What would you do if a shop keeper gives you 50 gram of salt for your RM 1 note but 1 kilogram of salt to the next person who also pays RM 1?

Would you accept the shopkeeper’s explanation that the next person has traveled very far from a very remote village and therefore should be given special treatment?

How about another explanation that “the system is like that-lah” with an “I can’t do much” expression on the shopkeeper’s face?

What would be completely unacceptable and could cause a riot in any economic market is however widely accepted in the political market in Malaysia.

Just like same bank notes having the same values, same votes must also carry same values. That’s what is called “one person one vote” principle, a necessary condition for any democracy true to its name.

In Malaysia, things have changed from bad to worse since 1995.

Mal-apportionment in 2004

In 2004, Putrajaya returned a parliamentarian with only 5079 voters. Just less than 100 kilometers away, Kapar (next to Klang) with 104,185 voters also returned one parliamentarian.

This means one vote in Putra Jaya (far left in the chart) is effectively equal to 20 voters in Kapar (far right).

Such inequality is called mal-apportionment of constituencies. At the time of Independence, the Federal Constitution stipulated that seats should be as far as possible allocated equally to every state based on their population while the largest constituency within a state must not be more than 15% larger than the average seat and the smallest not more than 15% smaller. In other words, the largest constituency in a state can at most be 1.35 times (115%/85%) the smallest.

The 1962 Constitutional Amendment repealed such limits and replaced with a much lenient requirement that a rural constituency cannot be smaller than 50% of an urban constituency in electorate size. The ‘rural weightage’ is justified in the name of “the greater difficulty of reaching electors in the country districts and the other disadvantages facing rural constituencies”. In reality, it is no secret that such mal-apportionment aims to benefit UMNO whose power base was in the rural area.

The Federal Constitution was again amended in 1973 to do away the 50% cap. The Election Commission has since had a free hand in redistricting the constituencies.

To be fair, Putra Jaya in 2004 was an extreme case which was arguably excusable on technical ground because the Constitution stipulates that no parliamentary constituency can cross the state boundary and Putra Jaya is a state on its own in this sense.

Mal-apportionment of Constituencies in Malaysia, 1955-2004

Elections

N, seats

N, electorate

Indicators

min

Max

mean

median

Gini Coefficient

max/

mean

Min/ mean

1955

52

7,835

46,221

24,315

25,511

0.23

1.90

0.32

1959

104

10,986

35,549

20,940

20,865

0.12

1.70

0.52

1964

104

12,854

58,261

26,568

25,693

0.13

2.19

0.48

1969

144

18,302

81,086

31,888

30,163

0.23

2.54

0.57

1974

154

9,190

51,534

26,019

26,126

0.20

1.98

0.35

1978

154

9,585

90,611

32,850

30,922

0.24

2.76

0.29

1982

154

10,724

114,704

39,491

36,592

0.25

2.90

0.27

1986

177

12,171

81,005

39,350

37,313

0.22

2.06

0.31

1990

180

14,004

100,488

44,518

41,751

0.22

2.26

0.31

1995

192

15,849

46,909

45,126

0.19

1.83

0.34

The same could not be said on the other end. As you can see in the table above, the largest constituency has grown increasingly disproportionately large compared to the average constituency, for the last three elections.

Gini coefficient is normally used by economists to measure inequality between income, with 0 representing absolute equality and 1 absolute inequality. The concept is borrowed into other disciplines like healthcare studies. I use it here to measure mal-apportionment, which is a better indicator than comparing maximum or minimum to the mean. As you can see, the inequality has grown marginally from 1995, although it is still lower compared to that in seventies and eighties.

What will happen in 2010 when the Election Commission can have its field day again to redraw the constituency boundaries?

The conservative and cynical amongst you may ask: is there any perfect electoral system? No, but electoral system can be better designed to prevent such mal-apportionment. Various proportional representation (PR) systems are invented to ensure fairer representation.

It is important to note that mal-apportionment is different from gerrymandering, a distinction even some political analysts fail to make. You can have mal-apportionment without gerrymandering. You can also have gerrymandering without mal-apportionment. I shall illustrate the difference in future posting.

Both are problems inherent in constituency-based electoral systems like our corrupted version of First-Past-The-Post with the Election Commission serving the interest of the ruling party rather than its own constitutional duty.

***

Again, sorry for the poor quality of the chart and graph. Somehow I can’t find a way to paste directly Excel objects on to wordpress. If you know how to do it, please advice.

3 responses to “On Elections: Same votes, different values

  1. Chin Huat,

    I have the same concern as your chart-width problem, as I am considering creating a table-intensive blog.

    There are several possible, partial solutions. Only a combination of these approaches will resolve the problem.

    First, check if WordPress allows you to alter the blog column widths. You can make the right column narrower, and the left column wider. Or the whole blog wider.

    Currently, your blog is set for the 800px width screen, the minimum. Many people can handle at least 1024px width now, and if they still have 800px, they can just scroll right a little.

    Second, try to narrow the Excel columns as much as possible while you are still inside Excel. One way is to break/wrap the long words in table title, such as “Election” and “Coefficient” into 2 lines. Second is perhaps to use font-size 7. Third is to eliminate any unnecessary paddings inside cells.

    If you press Ctrl-U (view source) on this blog page, and search for the HTML element, I can see that your direct transfer of Microsoft Excel table has introduced very complicated style codes and width settings, such as this: . See if you can find some way to clean up this html code, and create tables that are more flexible.

    Third and very useful is ChiaKC’s suggestion to use image. JPG of GIF will do. But you will still need to plan carefully before hand.

    Images are best displayed in their original size. If you squeeze it a little when displaying it, numbers and lines will lose integrity, like what happens to some of the tables at Merdekareview.com.

    Let say your blog’s left column is 600px wide, then you need to play with your Excel file, try to adjust and narrow the columns as much as possible first. Such that once you capture and convert it to JPG or GIF, it will come out as 600px. Otherwise, if you create a, say, 700px image, and use attribute to forcefully display that at 600px, your image will not be as clear. On the other hand, if you leave that image at 700px, it will distort your blog column relation a bit, but hopefully still not too disruptive for reading.

    You can make this image linkable. Then even if it is too small on your main article, people can link to its original, larger, table image and view it comfortably.

    The problem with image is that the users cannot easily reuse your statistics to push for the activism you hope for. With your current html table, they can copy, post to their own email or Excel worksheet, and start doing something about it.

    With images, you also will need to upload it somewhere, and point/link to it.

    I am considering putting the charts in separate Excel sheet for download, but believe this will hamper reading.

    It is a real problem. Most people solve it with linkable images. But if you also want people to be able to reuse your data easily, then wider columns for your blog under WordPress may be the way to go.

  2. I like this kind of article, it sets you thinking, thinking about your future. If you want to go forward, you havye to continue thinking. The government will want you to stop thinking so that they can do anything they want.
    http://rightthinking123.blogspot.com

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