A major change of our electoral system?

In a short span of 18 months, we have had 10 by-elections in our country. And the latest one at Kimanis, Sabah whereby the previous results were nullified for election process discrepancies. I am not writing about the details of the Kimanis by-election, but rather about our political system in Malaysia.

Throughout the 10 by-elections, the focus has only been on two major political coalitions in our country, as everyone knows, Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. In fact, most of the time it has been the contest between these two forces. There might be some changes of the member organization in the political coalition or changes of name throughout, but more or less, it is still the similar political groups.

A third force or an independent political party hardly grows into a major force.

Other than the general political mindset of Malaysians, I believe that the Westminster political system in some way has prevented a new political party to grow in a major force.

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system that was developed in England that is now practiced in many former British Empire colonies. Since Malaysia earned its independence in 1957, we have since then used the Westminster model.

Traditionally, the Parliament members are elected using first-past-the-post from single-member districts. Some new hopeful political parties may garner significant support from the voters, but probably not enough to past-the-post to win in the constituencies. In the end, despite getting votes, they are still nothing if they couldn’t win any seats.

Even if they do win, the amount of seats that these smaller parties obtain may not be significant to make an impact in the Parliament. With such difficulties, the political parties do not have the stamina or resources to survive, and they end up joining forces with either one of the coalitions.

In many parts of the world that practices Westminster or similar model of elections, there will only be two major parties struggling for power.

Malaysian politics has been a struggle between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional, while in the United Kingdom, it is between the Conservatives and Labour. 

Couple of months back, I heard about the Malaysian election commission putting into discussion the possibility of making major changes in our election system. One of them is to introduce the idea of proportional representation.

For those who are hearing proportional representation for the first time, it is an electoral system in which an electorate is reflected proportionately in the elected body. It can be elected through a party-list, single transferable vote or mixed-member proportional representation.

In short, a voter will vote for an individual candidate in his or her constituency and also another vote for a political party. 

The members of Bundestag, the Parliament of Germany is a nation that uses mixed systems. 

598 of them are elected from party lists proportional representation. 

In Germany’s proportional representation, parties that gain more than 5% of the votes are allocated seats in the Bundestag, with the number of seats depending on the votes that the party gains. For example, if the party gains 10% of the votes, that means the party will have 60 members in the Bundestag.

I would say it is a good initiative by the Election Commission to bring up the idea, although I still have doubts that it will happen anytime soon.

To see it happen will need a huge political will, as if it is implemented, the two big coalitions will have to risk their seats being taken by smaller parties.

To move the nation forward is not only about the change of government policies, but perhaps our political and electoral system.

This article is published in Kwong Wah Yit Poh in Chinese dated 28 January 2020.