The Dewan Undangan Negeri (Composition of Membership) Bill, 2014, which has been passed by the State Legislative Assembly, will increase its members from the current 71 to 82.
The re-delineation of electoral boundaries is made by the Election Commission under Article113 (2) (ii) of the Constitution after an interval of not less than eight years between the date of completion of one review and the date of commencement of the next review under this clause.
The last review in 2005 increased the membership from 62 to 71. Hence, the current exercise is within the stipulated period as provided for by article 113.(6) that states “ there shall be separate review under Clause 2 for the State of Malaya and for each of the State of Sabah and Sarawak”.
The Article 14(1)(b) of the State Constitution provides inter-alia that the Dewan Undangan Negeri shall consist such number of elected members as the legislature may by law prescribed. By virtue of Article 14(2) read with the Dewan Undangan Negeri (Composition of Membership) Ordinance, 2005, the current number of elected members is 71.
This increase is principally due to the growing number of voting population consequent upon the accelerating pace of development and expansion of economic activities in the State since the last review of electoral constituencies which was undertaken in 2005. Constitutionally, electoral constituencies are reviewed at intervals of not less than eight years.
The Minister of Housing, Datuk Amar Abg Haji Johari Tun Openg, who is also the Minister of Tourism, in winding the debate on the Dewan Undangan Negeri (Composition of Membership) Bill, 2014 said having regard to the physical size of the State and the vast areas that some Assemblymen from the rural constituencies have to serve, the increase in the number of elected representatives is justified and necessary.
He said the increase in number of State constituencies from the current 71 to 82 is a fair reflection of the rate of increase in electoral boundaries in the State, which forms a third of the country. The increase in number in terms of providing adequate and effective democratic representation for the people in the State Legislative Assembly is reasonable and fair.
He said the increase in number of State constituencies is a fair reflection of the rate of increase in electoral boundaries in the State. It is also reasonable in terms of providing adequate and effective democratic representation for the people in the State Legislative Assembly.
During the first ballot election to the State Legislative Assembly held in 1969- 1970, the number of State Assemblymen was 48. The number was increased to 56 in 1985. Subsequently, during the review in 1995 after an interval of 10 years, it was increased to 62. It was further increased to 71 after the last review in 2005, after an interval of 10 years.
The current exercise is part of the continuous exercise, which can be made after an interval of nine years, to provide effective representation of the people to enable elected representatives to serve the Rakyat better. Some of the constituencies like Belaga is bigger than Singapore. The constituency has rugged terrains and mountainous and the people are scattered in small groups over a wide area.
The new Ordinance will be enforced on the date to be fixed by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri in time for the next State Election. In other words, the new composition of the State Legislative Assembly will take effect at the next State Election when the voters will elect 82 State Assemblymen. The re-delineation of electoral boundaries within the framework of the Federal Constitution as stated in Thirteenth Schedule part 1 and part 2 is the work of the Election Commission Malaysia.
The State government is not involved in the process of establishing or delineating a constituency and it trusts the Election Commission in carrying out the duty to establish the re-delineation of constituencies for an increase from 71 to 82.
The Election Commission, based on the previous reviews, will consider perhaps two issues: population and demography; and fair representation based on the area. However, it is entirely up to Election Commission to decide on how to go about doing the job.
Members of the opposition, during the debate on the bill compared Satok, which is a small constituency to Padungan, a big constituency, as typical of the unfair representation of the people in the State Legislative Assembly based on the principle of one man one vote.
Datuk Amar Abg Haji Johari, who is also the State Assemblyman for Satok, said his constituency may be small but the voters have rejected the Opposition at least eight times in the previous elections. Obviously, members of the opposition are opposing this bill for an increase of 11 state constituencies because the additional constituencies will create bigger problems for them
For example, DAP and PAS are in the process of going separate ways over the insistence of PAS to implement Hudud or Islamic law in Kelantan; DAP and PAS have already got problems among them. On top of that DAP, the backbone of Pakatan in Sarawak, and PKR are quarrelling about the number of constituencies that each should contest in the forthcoming State Election, which will be due in 2016. The additional seats will surely create bigger problem for them.
The members, those from the Government and their counterparts from the Opposition were poles apart in their views and comments on the bill. They were from Pantai Damai, Lingga, Telang Usan, Tamin, Engkelili, Palawan, Padungan, Ba Kelalan, Nangka, Kota Sentosa, Batu Kawah, Semop, Bukit Kota, Pending and Kidurong.
The Member for Pantai Damai, Dr Haji Abdul Rahman Junaidi, the first to speak in support of the Bill said Sarawak, which forms a third of the country, has a land surface of 124,450 sq. km. It must make a paradigm shift to accelerate the process of physical development in a more organized manner. Admittedly, the State, in various aspects of development of public utilities and facilities, is still lagging behind other states.
He said the delay in the development of infrastructure like highway, roads, electricity and water supplies is mainly due to difficulties in opening up some of the areas in the hinterland for development. Some of the areas, which need more effective representation, are vast.
The last exercise to review the electoral boundaries was in 2005. A number of things have happened during the last nine years. For example, the population of Sarawak, based on statistic from the Department of Statistics, was 2.31 million. The projection for 2015 is 3.19 million.
The people, who were qualified as electors in 2006 was 892,537. But the people, who are qualified to vote, based on the data of the Election Commission as at 24 September 2014, is 1,108,627. The big increase is very significant and timely in the context of this electoral review.
Logically, the level of services and the process of channeling development projects will be more efficient and beneficial to the people with the increase in the number of elected representatives in the State, which is as big as Semenanjung Malaysia.
The number of members of the State Legislative Assembly has been increased from time to time after the interval of eight years based on the need of time in accordance with Article 113(2) of the Federal Constitution. The State government can request for the review of the electoral boundaries with the view to create new constituencies from the State Election Commission after the interval.
The Membership of the State Legislative Assembly increased from 48 to 52 in 1985. It was further increased to 62 during the review in 1995. During the review in 2005, after an interval of 10 years, the membership was increased to 71. Therefore, the current review with a view to increase the membership to 81 is appropriate and timely.
Dr Haji Abdul Rahman Junaidi considered it very strange that members of the opposition, those from DAP in particular are against the increase; DAP views the increase as unnecessary and a waste of public fund.
The Member for Semop, Abdullah Haji Saidol said whether a constituency has a big population or not is not important in a big state like Sarawak. Obviously members of the opposition, who represent urban areas like Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu have not experienced using boats or motorcycle to visit places in their constituencies.
Abdullah Saidol, who is also the Chief Political Secretary to Chief Minister, reminded them urban areas like Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu owe their progress and advancement to resources from rural areas. They are being developed as administrative, business, financial and educational centers with the revenue and resources from rural areas.
In other words, the urban areas owe their progress and prosperity from the revenue and resources from Native land and revenue from rural areas. It is an act of ingratitude to belittle the contribution of rural areas in the overall development of the State and country.
The Member for Bukit Kota, Dr. Haji Abdul Rahman Ismail, in his speech said the accusation by the Opposition that the re-delineation exercise is a hidden agenda of the government to cling to power or to solve conflicts within component parties of Barisan Nasional Sarawak is being made with malicious intention. Generally, they seem to have negative perception of whatever policies being formulated by the government.
He welcomed the policy to give more focus to rural areas in development in order to narrow the development gap between the rural and urban areas. The aspiration could be realized sooner with better representation from rural areas.
Basically, the State must move forward to attain the development level at par with that in Peninsular Malaysia. The focus must necessarily be to reduce the development gap between the rural and urban areas by the year 2020, which is about six years away.
He requested that the majority of the seats should be located to rural areas because some of the constituencies are as big as some states in Peninsular Malaysia, for example Telang Usan, maybe as big as Pahang.
The Member for Ba’kelalan, Baru Bian said through the years many comments and criticisms had been hurled at the Election Commission in their re-delineation exercises that many are of the opinion that they are not done in accordance with the fundamental principle of equal-size constituencies.
Therefore caution should be made that in any delineation exercise, it must not result in the debasement of urban votes to that of the rural votes or an advantage of one race over the other.
He recognizes and appreciates the vastness of rural constituencies over the others and that there is the greater difficulty of contacting voters. In some cases, there is a real need to reduce the size of large rural constituencies, which may be necessary to lighten the burden of elected representatives in areas with poor communications and transport facilities.
He agreed that a measure of weight age should be given to rural constituencies but cautioned that the weight age should not be so skewed that in some places the value of rural vote is more than double or triple the value of an urban vote. However, the exercise should not be carried out to the extent of nullifying the “one man, one vote, one value” principle.
18 November 2014