PETALING JAYA: An Orang Asli activist says it would be better for minority communities to be represented at the local government level rather than having Malaysia’s Parliament emulate Singapore’s group representation constituency (GRC) system.
Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator Colin Nicholas said parliamentary representation may not bring as much benefit to minorities as having a representative in the local council, which is responsible for public services and facilities in a local municipality.
“Elections for local government are crucial, as it is where decisions are made regarding the development and master plans in an area.
“If local councillors are elected, they would not go against the community, fearing that they might not be elected again,” he told FMT.
Nicholas also said having local government representatives who understand the struggles of minorities would serve the community well in protecting their rights and welfare.
“Despite the court’s recognition of common law, extensive deforestation and commercial development have broken into indigenous territory. This would have been avoidable if we had representatives in local government.”
On Thursday, Arau MP Shahidan Kassim suggested that Malaysia adopt a system similar to Singapore’s GRC to improve ethnic minorities’ representation in Parliament.
Singapore’s GRC system was introduced in 1988 to ensure that minority ethnicities are represented in Parliament. Its Parliamentary Elections Act requires that at least one-quarter of the total number of MPs must be representatives of GRCs.
Under the GRC system, the electorate in the GRC vote for a group of three to six individuals to be their MPs, who must be either from the same political party or all independents.
At least one of the MPs in the group representing a GRC must belong to a minority community.
Meanwhile, former Klang MP Charles Santiago said while the GRC system would see an increase in the representation of minorities, the real objective of democracy is to have meaningful representation through quality leadership.
“Meaningful representation is when society in general is consulted over policies. The aim should be for representatives to represent and strive for Malaysians as a whole, without being scared of losing votes from any ethnic group,” the DAP man said.
Santiago added that the GRC system might be “cosmetic” and could hinder Malaysia’s progress as a multiracial nation by deepening ethnic divisions.
On the other hand, Bersih welcomed the proposal of redesigning Malaysia’s democratic system to ensure the country’s “unique demography” is reflected in Parliament.
“I believe it is timely for us to have this conversation of electoral system change so that we can find a system that reflects current demographic realities and challenges,” Bersih chairman Thomas Fann said.
However, Fann casted doubts about the GRC system as he said it could potentially be manipulated by the government of the day to its advantage.
“For example, a constituency that consistently votes for the opposition could be grouped together with four or five other constituencies that are pro-government, and the ruling coalition wins the whole GRC,” he said.
“It becomes another form of gerrymandering.”