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Why isn't every vote equal in Malaysia?

“One person, one vote” is a key principle to ensure political equality in a democratic society. In layman's terms, it means every citizen has the same power when it comes to voting.

To many, it sounds pretty reasonable and intuitive but the implementation of this principle has been heavily manipulated in many political systems including Malaysia's.

We know that each Malaysian voter can only cast one vote to elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent him or her in Parliament. However, not every vote carries the same weight under the current electoral system.

For example, in a thinly-populated constituency like Putrajaya, the 17,925 voters there elect one MP, while in a overcrowded constituency like Subang, the 130,211 voters there - seven times the number of voters in Putrajaya - also elect one MP.

Putrajaya MP
17,925 voters
Subang MP
130,211 voters

In other words, one vote in Putrajaya has the same weight as seven votes in Subang. Voters in Subang are under-represented, while voters in Putrajaya are over-represented. This malpractice is called malapportionment, a violation of the “one person, one vote” principle.

One vote
One vote One vote One vote One vote One vote One vote One vote

Let's see how malapportionment affected the results of the 2013 general election

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There are 222 parliamentary seats in Malaysia. Each seat is represented by a horizontal line here.
The length of the line represents the number of voters in that seat.
The number of voters per seat ranges from 17,925 (Putrajaya) to 146,625 (Kapar in Selangor). The national average number of voters per seat is 61,103.
BN won most of the seats with fewer voters. The average number of voters in a BN seat is
The rest were won by the opposition. The average number of voters in an opposition seat is 79,921.
If we only look at rural seats, the difference in voter numbers in seats won by the opposition compared to BN is still big.
It is even bigger among urban seats.
This is part of the reason why BN retained power in the 2013 general election by winning 60% of seats with a mere 47% of votes, while the opposition coalition won 40% of seats with 51% of votes.
Mouse over or tap each bar to see the details of each seat.

Please refresh this page to see the animated charts.

According to the 2016 first quarter voter list, the number of voters in the largest parliamentary seat, Kapar in Selangor (146,625), is over eight times the number of voters in Putrajaya (17,925), the smallest parliamentary seat.

In an extreme case, a party could capture federal power by winning just 17% of the total vote. How?

Out of 222 parliamentary seats in total, it wins 112 seats that have smaller voter numbers to form the federal government. Additionally, it only wins each seat by a one-vote majority. It loses all the votes in the other 110 larger seats. The total number of votes it secures in such situation is only 17% of the total vote.

You might ask if there are laws that prohibit such violations of political equality. There used to be, but they were removed by Parliament.

In the 1957 constitution, the number of voters in the smallest and largest seats were not allowed to exceed 15 percent of the national average. It means that if the national average number of voters in a parliamentary seat was 10,000, the largest parliamentary seat would have a maximum of 11,500 voters; whereas the smallest parliamentary seat would have a minimum of 8,500 voters.

This number was increased to 33.33% in the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1962. It was then totally removed in 1973 through another constitutional amendment, giving the Election Commission carte blanche to redraw constituency boundaries.

What can we do?

You can choose to move to smaller constituencies like Putrajaya and vote there to maximise your voting power, or you can support initiatives to reform the electoral system like the Bersih movement.

Most importantly, register as a voter and vote - else you will have no voting power at all.

Note: The number of votes in each parliamentary seat is based on the electoral roll for the first quarter of 2016 published by the Election Commission. The classification of parliamentary seats into urban, semi-rural and rural is based on the study done by research firm, as the Election Commission does not classify each seat. Read more about the methodology here.

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Parliamentary Seats

Code Seat Voters Party MP State Class
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