Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Pakatan Rakyat Won the Election but Lost Parliament

Deciphering the Numbers behind GE-13:
Why Pakatan Rakyat Won the Election but Still Lost Parliament

Barisan Nasional (BN) – 133              Pakatan Rakyat (PR) – 89

These two numbers will forever be etched in the memory of many Malaysians, and years from now, we will still remember how they emerged against all odds to defer our hope for a better Malaysia. However, these two numbers representing the number of parliamentary seats won by each side are in fact a façade that oversimplifies the election result and masks the reality of an inherently flawed electoral system.

On the surface, the distribution of parliamentary seats suggests that BN has won the election with a 60% majority while the remaining 40% goes to PR. Yet if winning an election means getting the most votes, then with a total of more than 5.6 million votes for parliamentary seats, PR has actually defeated BN, which has garnered a total of only 5.2 million votes.

The Puzzling Distribution of Constituencies

            While all eyes are trained on the delible “indelible ink”, the imported voters, and the blackouts, BN strikes out with a hidden dagger (or keris, in the case of UMNO)—the uneven distribution of constituencies, or in a fancier term, gerrymandering.

            Studying the election results, I was surprised at how many parliamentary seats there are in Sabah and Sarawak. The two states may be geographically larger, but they are also less densely populated. With a little more than 1 million (1,083,972) voters, Sarawak has 31 parliamentary seats while Sabah, with a little less than 1 million voters (981,814), is represented by 25 parliamentary seats. Hence, it makes little sense that a densely populated state like Selangor that has over 2 million voters (2,048,828) is given only 22 parliamentary seats.

            What this then translates into is smaller constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak and larger ones in dense states like Selangor. The sizes of constituencies in Sabah range from 24,000 to 53,000 voters, and the sizes of constituencies in Sarawak range from 17,000 to 84,000 voters. However, in Selangor, the smallest constituency has more than 37,000 voters while the largest one has more than 144,000 voters. Therefore, the largest constituency in Selangor is almost 3 times bigger than the largest one in Sabah. In addition, there are also 8 constituencies in Selangor with more than 100,000 voters.

The Unequal Weight of Each Individual Vote

            Because each constituency is represented by 1 parliamentary seat regardless of its size, the weight of each individual vote cast varies depending on the size of the constituency in which it was cast: the smaller the constituency, the more weight an individual vote carries.

Let’s consider a comparison of the smallest and the largest constituencies. With only 15,791 registered voters, Putrajaya (P125) is the smallest constituency while Kapar (P109-Selangor) is the largest one with 144,159 voters. Simple mathematics reveals that Kapar is 9 times as large as Putrajaya. But because both constituencies are represented by 1 parliamentary seat each in spite of the difference in their respective sizes, 1 vote in Putrajaya carries 9 times as much weight as 1 vote in Kapar.

            As a result of this uneven distribution of electorates, BN won Putrajaya simply with 9,943 votes, but on the other hand, PR won Kapar with a majority of 69,849 votes. Although PR gained 7 times more votes in Kapar than BN did in Putrajaya, both were assigned 1 parliamentary seat each.

Underrepresenting the Urban Areas

The largest constituencies are often the ones in urban areas. As many political analysts pointed out, the result of GE-13 shows that PR gained the support of middle- and upper-class urban voters while BN retained the votes of those in rural areas. But through gerrymandering, BN has managed to gain more parliamentary seats by winning a higher number of smaller and less densely populated constituencies, particularly those in rural areas. PR, on the other hand, won large amounts of votes from urban dwellers, but these large numbers of voters are often lumped into densely populated constituencies, resulting in a lower number of parliamentary seats for PR.

            Let’s consider the example of Sarawak, the state with the highest number of parliamentary seats. PR has won 4 out of the 5 largest parliamentary constituencies in Sarawak, all of which consist of more than 50,000 voters. BN, on the other hand, won the remaining 21 parliamentary constituencies, all of which (except one) consist of less than 50,000 voters, the smallest constituency having only a little less than 18,000 voters.

In Sarawak, BN garnered approximately 481,000 total votes while PR obtained approximately 304,000 votes. Translated into percentage, the total number of votes cast for each party in Sarawak indicates that BN won with a 61% majority as opposed to PR’s 39%. However, in terms of the distribution of parliamentary seats, BN took 81% of the parliamentary seats in Sarawak (25 out of 31) while PR took the remaining 19% (6 out of 31). There is clearly a huge disparity between the percentage of votes won and the percentage of parliamentary seats taken. Although I understand that, due to the way our electoral system works, it is close to impossible for there to be a one-to-one correlation, but nevertheless there should not be such a drastic difference between the two.

The Real Issue behind GE-13

            Yes, the delible “indelible ink”, the imported voters, and the blackouts are problematic issues that need to be addressed. They are blatant violations of the electoral laws. But even if the indelible ink had been indelible, even if there were no illegal voters, even if there had been no blackouts, and even if we had achieved 100% voter turnout, the inherently problematic electoral system still ensured that the odds will always be against PR taking over the parliament. Garnering 5.6 million votes as opposed to BN’s 5.2 million, PR has in fact won GE-13 with a simple majority of 51%, but it still lost parliament due to the manipulation of constituency distribution. Ultimately, in order to ensure that each individual vote bears equal significance, the underlying issue that desperately needs to be addressed is the distribution of parliamentary constituencies.
Author's note: The numbers in this article are either taken directly or calculated from the election results as published on www.myundi.com.my and SPR's official website (www.spr.gov.my).

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Death of Critical Thinking

“You will recall how you were inspired to think critically and to question without fear,
to seek out radically different solutions and to voice them without reprisal,
to read widely and deeply, and to examine without end and grow intellectually . . .
What I ask is this: pass it on.”
- Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, June 11, 2009
“If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
I will forgive this city.”
- Jeremiah 5:1b
I heard the toll of a death knell the other day. It announced the death of Critical Thinking in our education system.
The funeral was solemn, but not tearful, because we still did not realize what we had lost. The man who stood up to deliver the eulogy said that, had he lived, Critical Thinking would have fathered a whole new generation of mature thinkers armed with the ability to engage intelligently with current issues, question given propositions, and respond intellectually to problems they encounter. This generation will then transform our nation. But this hope for a generation of thinkers has thus perished along with the death of Critical Thinking.            
“Alas,” the man concluded, “Critical Thinking was too good to be true. He was too good for our education system.”
I found out later that Critical Thinking was brutally murdered. He was attacked by a gang of Machiavellian politicians who only sought to retain power for themselves, while the indifferent and ignorant masses had left him out in the cold to die a slow and painful death.
In spite of the politicians’ efforts to portray him in the pink of health, I remember when Critical Thinking plunged into a steady decline. I was sitting in a Pendidikan Moral class then, holding before me a list of moral values that I had to memorize and regurgitate in all my exams regardless of whether or not I understood them; whether or not I agreed with them; whether or not they reflected my personal beliefs. I was told that, in order to excel academically, I had to accept unquestioningly all that my textbook said. There was only one correct answer: the one that echoed the politicians’ own words. And so, every “correct” answer that was generated struck a blow at Critical Thinking.
I also remember sitting in my Sejarah class on the day when we were supposed to learn about the May 13 Incident. I had heard about the racial riots from my mum who witnessed the riots herself but was too young to comprehend what was going on. I was anxious to discover the truth about what happened on that day so that I can decide for myself who was right and who was wrong. I wanted to see with my own two eyes what was written on that smeared page of our history book. But in class that day, my teacher merely told us that riots were bad, and therefore, we should take care not to approach these “isu-isu sensitif”—issues concerning race, religion, and special rights—lest we stir up yet another round of racial riots. She said those words “isu-isu sensitif” with a scandalized undertone as though they were taboos, and I could not help wondering if she herself knew what happened on 13 May 1969. The deathly silence that followed her comment delivered yet another blow to Critical Thinking.
But the final blow that effectively put an end to Critical Thinking was struck just a few weeks ago. Fearing that the Public Service Announcements on government-owned broadcast channels had not sufficiently demonized Bersih, the politicians deemed it necessary to feature the picture of a Bersih rally in an SPM trial exam, requiring students to conclude, at least on paper, that Bersih corrupted the morals of the nation. Their efforts paid off, because a friend* of mine told me that, in his Sejarah class, the students and the teacher agreed that Bersih was “an immature demonstration that [brought] humiliation to the country.” However, when he asked how was Bersih immature, neither the students nor the teacher managed to justify their conclusion.
Critical Thinking thus slipped stealthily into non-existence. The shrewd politicians orchestrated his death, but the ignorant masses buried his dead body. With the death of Critical Thinking, there is nothing left to redeem our education system from its sorry state. And so, our education system continues churning out generation after generation of robots that do not have the ability to think for themselves.
At the end of the funeral when everyone walked up to the coffin to pay their final respect to Critical Thinking, I turned around and walked out, because I could not bear the sight of a stillborn.

*Special thanks to Calvin Choong, whose brave act of defending the cause of Bersih in his Sejarah class inspired this post.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

On Being Chinese Malaysian

“Are you Chinese?”

Due to the colour of my skin and my features, I have had to answer this question way more often than I would have liked to when I am overseas. Yet every time when I am considering my response, I would pause in an awkward silence, unsure of what my answer should be. Sometimes, I would reply with an ambiguous and prolonged “kinda,” and sometimes, I would hesitantly answer and say, “Well, yes and no.” At other times, especially when I am feeling particularly patient, I would seek clarification.

“What do you mean by ‘Chinese’?” I’d ask.

And this question has never yet failed to elicit a perplexed look.

Having spent four years studying abroad, I have learned to be very patient in explaining my complicated identity to my American friends. They seem to be baffled by the fact that I am both Malaysian and Chinese.

“Wait, I thought you’re from Malaysia,” they’d remark, utterly confused. “So are you part Chinese part Malaysian?”

This is the usual prologue that leads into a detailed analysis of how Malaysian is my nationality and Chinese is my ancestry.

“So,” I’d conclude, “I am fully Malaysian and fully Chinese, just like Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God.”

As difficult as it was at times to explain the difference between my nationality and my ancestry, I must admit that, deep within me, I found a mysterious pleasure, an inexplicable joy in sharing my unique identity as a Malaysian to my non-Malaysian friends. I was secretly proud of my twofold identity.

However, I never thought that I would have to explain this distinction to my fellow countrymen because I thought they would understand. Recently, a friend* of mine posted on Facebook that he was asked by a Malaysian boy of another ethnicity if he was half Malaysian, half Chinese. Although my friend answered and said that he is a Malaysian, the boy insisted that he is half Malaysian, half Chinese. I know that if I were in my friend’s shoes, I would have been very disappointed that even my fellow countryman fails to understand who I really am. It is one thing to enlighten my non-Malaysian friends about how I can be both Malaysian and Chinese at the same time, but it is quite another to have to explain it to a fellow Malaysian.

I realize that the terms “Malaysian” and “Chinese” are deceptively self-explanatory: we often think we know who these words refer to, but in reality, many who identify themselves as one or the other hold on to very different notions of what they really mean by the use of these terms. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Malaysian,” when used as a noun, refers to “[a] native or inhabitant of the Malay Archipelago, or (more recently) of the Federation of Malaysia.” Since the word “Malaysian” is derived from the root word “Malaysia,” there were no Malaysians until 16 September 1963, the day when Malaysia was born. Likewise, the word “Chinese” is also derived from the name “China,” and the Oxford English Dictionary defines a Chinese as “[a] native of China.” In that case, the terms “Malaysian” and “Chinese” evoke national identities, not racial ones.

So I struggle to comprehend how anyone can be “half Malaysian, half Chinese.” After all, you can only be a native of one place—the place where you were born. Besides, in order to be half-and-half, one must obtain dual citizenship. But as far as I know, Malaysia does not allow her citizens to hold more than one citizenship, and neither does China. Hence, one is either a full Malaysian, or one is not; one is either a full Chinese, or one is not. And since I, and many others like me, were born and bred in Malaysia, could we honestly identify ourselves as anything else but 100% Malaysians?

But just in case any of you are about to accuse me of forgetting my heritage (or, worse yet, betraying my race!), rest assured, for I have no intention of denying the fact that I am of Chinese descent. My elders have taught me the Chinese proverb “饮水思源,” and I have also been warned against behaving like a kacang yang melupakan kulit. I have not forgotten that my ancestors relocated from China to the Malay Peninsula during the First World War, and that is why I spend 15 days every year in January or Febraury to celebrate Chinese New Year; why my family and I still eat dumplings and mooncakes every year in spite of their soaring prices; why I speak both Cantonese and Mandarin fluently, and can read and write in both languages even though I had to stay back for extra classes after school just to learn Chinese. Yes, I can say with no reservations that I am of Chinese descent.

Nevertheless, I am essentially a Malaysian, a Malaysian of Chinese descent—a Chinese Malaysian. However, for generations, we have called ourselves Malaysian Chinese, thus suggesting that we are fundamentally Chinese, and that “Malaysian” is merely an adjective that specifies what kind of Chinese we are. No wonder others are confused if we are Malaysians or Chinese! We ourselves seem just as confused! “Malaysian Chinese” and “Chinese Malaysian”—an inversion of the two words makes a whole world of difference. For instance, “sky blue” is a colour, a shade of blue, but “blue sky,” on the other hand, is a sky that is neither grey nor white. Therefore, I proudly call myself a Chinese Malaysian because I am a native of Malaysia with a Chinese ancestry. I am first and foremost a Malaysian, and Chinese is an adjective that describes my cultural heritage. Since multiculturalism is that which makes Malaysia so unique, using an adjective to complement my national identity as a Malaysian is a celebration of this diversity.

Why should I be deprived of the right to call myself a full Malaysian? And why must I be forced to identify myself with the nation of China when I have never even set foot on Chinese soil? I pledge my allegiance to no other flag but the Jalur Gemilang. To those who frequently tell us Chinese Malaysians to balik kampung, let me tell you that my kampung is Kuala Lumpur because I was born here and I have spent 20 years of my life here, with many more to come, Lord willing. I believe that I have every right to call myself a Malaysian, and I will certainly not give in to anyone who attempts to rob me of my proud identity as a Chinese Malaysian.
*Special thanks to Chua Woon Chen, whose Facebook status inspired this post.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Silver Lining

Sometimes finding that silver lining is not that difficult.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What I've Been Surviving On

Presenting my proud creations...

I think I am on my way to becoming a world-renown chef . . . or not.