GE13: You can rule Malaysia with only 17% of the popular vote

Susan Tam



It's been more than a week since Malaysia's historic elections ended, and Malaysians are still feeling emotional about it.  Some were relieved that the country went through its electoral processes peacefully, while some were angry with the results tabulated in the early hours of May 6. Some even questioned the way the Elections were carried out in the country.

We discovered on Facebook that many users had taken the trouble to tabulate the results of GE13 to learn for themselves, as well as share with others, about what happened on May 5. The terms blackout and phantom voters literally haunted the pages of social networks for days. But one term that was frequently brought up, was gerrymandering, a term used to describe an electoral practice of delineating electoral seats to favour certain parties.

How does it work? Well, we can illustrate it with a simple example. One of the largest electoral districts in the country has close to 150,000 registered voters while the smallest with only over 37,000. While both in the state of Selangor, it puzzles people why are numbers spread out more evenly. Critics often question the fairness of such delineations, which tend to keep pro-government seats small as possible to so it would be 'easier' for the coalition to multiply their number of seats, and in turn, win enough to form government.

We know this has been the arguments of many organisations, such as Bersih and the Malaysian Electoral Roll Analysis Project or popularly known as Merap, groups like these are strongly calling for electoral reform in the country. 

Opposition politicians had also blamed the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional for packing in pro-opposition seats with pro-BN supporters.  Voters in Selangor had also increased by over 600,000 people since the 2008 polls, to which opposition politicians have not been able to verify, while the election commission reasoned that it was a natural rise as the number of new voters had increased.

Facebook users Jason Lim and James Chong did the hard work by meticulously analysing GE13's results and presented their findings on the social network in detailed spreadsheets.  We knew it was hard work because we took over 8 hours ourselves to verify and double-check the data with official figures from the Election Commission (EC).



Based on their analysis, it was revealed that should any one of the coalitions win in 148 of the parliamentary seats with the smallest number of voters, with just 50.01%, this meant that the minimum percentage of popular vote needed to form a simple majority is only 17%.

And, what's more important, is that even if 83% of Malaysians voted against a particular coalition, the said coalition could still form government with a tiny percentage of the popular vote.

So, simply said, if BN had won all the small parliamentary constituencies with just a minimum 50.01% of the votes, they can still run the country with only 17% of the total popular vote.  And that would apply to PR, of course.  So, all that was needed by a particular coalition is minimum number of seats won, regardless of how many voters are registered in the constituency. 

We looked further into Chong's work, and he pointed another interesting aspect from his analysis. 

He raised this question: How come the number of spoilt votes outnumber the majority votes in seats where BN won by very slim margins?  Let's take a look at some examples here:

In the Cameron Highlands parliamentary seat, BN won with 462 votes and the EC had recorded 877 spoilt votes. The same trend was spotted in the Labis parliamentary seat, as BN candidate Chua Tee Yong won with only 353 votes while EC recorded 689 spoilt votes.

While in the hotly contested Bentong parliamentary seats, 988 spoilt votes were recorded, outnumbering BN's majority of 379. 

In Sungai Besar, BN won with 399 votes, smaller than the 690 spoilt ballot papers recorded and finally in Kuala Selangor, PAS lost 460 votes to BN, but spoilt votes more than double the majority at 934.

Just few days after polls closed, the EC had clarified that it accepted votes that were not specifically marked with 'X', but with checks and dots as well.  This year's elections saw an increase in spoilt votes of 332,297 up from 2008's 324,120 ballot papers.  Spoilt votes, as we know, are ballot papers that are rejected by authorities and not included in the final count.

These are just a couple of interesting leads we found from the analysis on Facebook.  If you don't believe us, just find out for yourselves how Chong and Lim painfully crunched election data, here and here.

One thing's for sure, if the GE13 data doesn't leave you cross-eyed, we hope it leaves you more informed and enlightened about how Malaysia's electoral system works.

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