KL to table changes to electoral map next week

Plan for new boundaries likely to be approved amid talk that polls will be called soon after

KUALA LUMPUR • The proposal to redraw electoral boundaries will be tabled to Malaysian lawmakers later than expected - next Wednesday - as speculation mounts that the next polls will be called soon after the motion is approved.

Critics say the changes, which will affect more than half of Malaysia's parliamentary and state constituencies, will favour the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the next general election, which must be held by August but is widely expected to be held by May.

Members of Parliament received copies of the redelineation report yesterday, reported The Star, but were told by Speaker of Parliament Pandikar Amin Mulia that its contents were not to be shared or published until next Wednesday.

"I want to remind everyone that the document is embargoed until it is tabled for its first reading on Wednesday," said Tan Sri Pandikar.

The motion to redraw electoral boundaries will likely be passed by Parliament, as it requires only a simple majority of MPs. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's BN coalition currently holds 131 out of the 222 seats in Parliament.

Members of the opposition have said the new boundaries worsen malapportionment - the difference in the number of voters between wards - and move voters from marginal constituencies into opposition strongholds to help BN win those marginal seats.

Both the government and the Election Commission (EC) have repeatedly denied any collusion or favouritism in the process.

"Did Selangor, Penang and Kelantan fall to the opposition because the EC helped them?" commission chief Mohd Hashim Abdullah remarked in an interview with Utusan Malaysia in January this year, referring to previous elections.

The redelineation exercise was first unveiled to the public by the EC in September 2016, but was delayed because of hundreds of objections - from both ruling and opposition parties - and more than a dozen legal challenges.

Malaysian electoral law allows the commission to send up any recommendation it desires to the prime minister regardless of what boundary changes were made public previously.

Datuk Seri Najib will also have absolute discretion to present any proposal to Parliament for approval.

According to Reuters, electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003 under the leadership of then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was also accused of manipulating the process in favour of BN.

Tun Dr Mahathir, 92, now leads opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan and will run as the opposition's candidate for prime minister.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline 'KL to table changes to electoral map next week'. Print Edition | Subscribe