In an article on Malaysia’s upcoming elections, The Diplomat said: “Opposition candidate Mahathir Mohammed is just as guilty as current Prime Minister Najib Razak.”
It said in many countries in Southeast Asia, having elections is a meaningless exercise; in the end, the same party always ends up ruling the state and Malaysia is a prima facie example.
The highly acclaimed foreign affairs and geopolitical publication also highlighted what it calls the poor quality of elections in the country, primarily because of gerrymandering, misuse of institutional tools, elite cohesion pacts, and malapportionment have been used to retain power in the past.
It cited a scholar, Kai Ostwald, in his article “How to Win a Lost Election,” who argued that methods such as gerrymandering – the manipulation of district boundaries to advantage one party — have been used by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to win elections.
“The fact that, as Ostwald points out, there were only 104 districts in Malaysia at the time of independence compared to 222 in 2013 speaks volumes about gerrymandering and the resulting quality of elections,” said the publication.
Ostwald highlighted the use of malapportionment by the ruling coalition, which is the manipulation of electoral district boundaries to the ruling party’s advantage, wherein the pro-government districts have fewer voters and pro-opposition districts have many more.
It said its excessive use by the UMNO has made the people lose faith in free and fair elections and derided the quality of it. In 2013, the use of malapportionment led to the incumbent BN winning 54 percent of parliamentary seats while losing the popular vote by a margin of around 4 percent.
Gerrymandering, malapportionment, and the misuse of institutional tools are all methods used by the ruling coalition to manipulate the electoral process.
This has directly as well as indirectly degraded the quality of elections and has eroded the faith of scholars in the Malaysian electoral system.
With Mahathir as the opposition candidate now, it will be interesting to see if this year’s elections will be fair and square or whether the Najib Razak government will degrade the electoral practice to a new low.
NOTE: The article expresses the views of The Diplomat