Singapore Management University associate professor Dr Bridget Welsh said the votes of Malays living in urban areas are now worth less in value than those of Malays who live in rural areas because of disproportions between voter populations in rural and urban seats.
She was among speakers in the "Towards a Fairer Electoral System" forum that pointed that more Malays are moving and living in urban areas specifically in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and that their votes, with those of other urbanites, would be worth less if the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) continues to influence drawing election boundaries according to ethnic lines.
Their argument refutes claims, particularly by former Election Commission chief Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, that the commission had drawn up electoral boundaries, called redelineation, to protect Malay political power.
When he was in charge, Abdul Rashid had overseen four redelineation exercises.
Welsh said that Malaysia's unequal electoral constituencies – where sparsely populated rural seats have more parliamentary representation than densely populated urban seats – have led to a situation where different Malaysians have different sets of political power.
"So you have Malays who go and live in Butterworth (Penang) for example, whose vote is one third the value of their parents who live in the kampungs," said Welsh who has wide experience studying Malaysian politics.
"This discriminates against people who migrate to urban centres. It discriminates against the middle class and the young. This is not an issue of discrepancies between ethnic groups anymore," she said.
Abdul Rashid's statement concerning redelineation was made last year well after he had retired from the EC.
His statement on what occurred under him had proved claims by electoral reform groups such as Bersih 2.0 and Tindak Malaysia and political parties such as those in Pakatan Rakyat that the redelineation exercises were flawed and biased.
In her presentation to the forum, Welsh argued that Malaysia was moving away from the five international best practices that are supposed to underlie any redelineation exercise, namely, impartiality, equality, transparency, representativeness and non-discrimination.
She said redelineation was becoming more motivated by ethnic sentiments than by citizenship, and this was dividing Malaysians.
But the ruling coalition's use of redelineation to cement its power eventually backfires down the line.
This is seen in how the aim of creating seats with diverse communities or mixed seats in the last exercise in 2003, supposedly because non-Malays were then solidly behind BN, cost the ruling coalition in the 2008 general election.
"Political players will adjust according to their situation... So if the ruling coalition continues to try and use redelineation to strengthen their power and polarise Malaysia, it will only weaken its own position," Welsh said. – February 15, 2014.