KUCHING: There are numerous potential benefits of implementing an electoral reform at the federal level turning the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system into a proportional representation (PR) system, including paving the way for more progressive politics.
“Such a system could in theory steer Malaysia towards a moderate, less ethnically biased, and more centripetal system of electoral outcomes, allowing for more progressive politics,” said Professor Dr Johan Saravanamuttu.
The Adjunct Senior Fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said that the PR system could reduce the issue of gerrymandering.
“The system implements more correctly the cardinal principal of ‘one person, one vote, one value’ (OPOVOV) through strict proportionality of party lists,” he added.
He said this in his talk on ‘Power Sharing in a Divided Nation: Reflections on Electoral Reform’ held via Zoom on Saturday (Aug 28), part of a series of lectures organised by The Sarawak Initiatives (TSI).
He said that implementing such a system at the federal level first could also allow for a learning curve as state-level elections would still remain under FPTP.
“If we find that the PR system at the federal level is good to follow, we get used to it, and it is producing the kinds of outcomes that we want, then in time we can switch the state-level system to a PR system or a mixed system,” he said.
Johan, who is also Professor Emeritus of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), said that a simple PR system would be less complex than other proposed mixed systems, as Malaysian voters would still get their two votes which they are used to.
“Another possible positive consequence of the PR system is the elimination of vote banks such as Felda seats,” he said. He noted that this would thereby break the grip of patronage politics.
He pointed out that the PR system could also allow for better gender balance and greater diversity if political parties implemented a 30 percent quota of women candidates and quotas for minorities.
Providing some background, he said that Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) member Dr Wong Chin Huat had earlier advocated an electoral system combining FPTP and PR in the interest of having a fairer and more reasonable system.
“Wong proposed that Malaysia’s Parliament should comprise 222 PR seats — meaning you are voted on the basis of the popular vote that you get — and 111 single member seats which are based on the current FPTP system. This is a two-level system,” he said.
He said that early last year during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, ERC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman submitted his interim report to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for a switch to a PR electoral system at the federal level.
He noted that, as per the proposal, nothing would be changed at the state level.
He said that Abdul Rashid had stated that this proposal was to address the flaws of the current FPTP electoral system, including gerrymandering and malapportionment.
Nevertheless, Johan said that one of the early criticisms of the PR system was that all states regardless of population will retain their present number of parliamentary seats — thereby not addressing the issue of disproportionality among states.
“Thomas Fann, chairperson of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), has pointed out that the proposal still does not address the issue of disproportionality among states.
“For example, he notes that Selangor has 22 parliamentary seats or one for every 100,000 voters while Johor, with 64,000 voters on average per seat, has 26 seats,” he said.
During his talk, he said there were still many questions and concerns tied to the idea of electoral reform.
“In fact, we should have much more debate and discussion about such things among civil society, intellectuals, and politicians,” he urged.