Protests after M’sia approves new electoral boundaries

Critics say changes will lead Najib to victory in a general election likely to be called within days

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia yesterday approved plans to redraw boundaries for more than a third of its parliamentary seats, changes that critics said will help Prime Minister Najib Razak cruise to a victory in a general election likely to be called within days.

Hundreds of protesters marched to Parliament ahead of the tabling of the re-delineation motion and opposition lawmakers raised their objections in Parliament - with one member calling Mr Najib a "thief".

But the motion, which will change the voter demographic in nearly 40 per cent of parliament's 222 seats, was approved by a simple majority within five hours of the tabling by Mr Najib.

Opposition lawmakers chanted "cheat, cheat" as the motion was passed.

Critics said the new boundaries will benefit Mr Najib's Barisan Nasional coalition by assigning larger number of opposition-leaning voters to fewer seats and dividing constituencies along ethnic lines.

"Today, Parliament was asked to pass a motion to save Mr Najib and the ruling government," said Mr Lim Kit Siang, veteran leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party.

He had called Mr Najib a "thief" and was asked to leave the House by the Speaker for disrupting proceedings.

An election must be held by August, but Mr Najib is widely expected to call it in days.

The recommendation to modify electoral boundaries was made in a report by the Election Commission (EC), which has for years been accused by the opposition of taking instructions from the prime minister. The EC and the government have said the recommendation for change in electoral borders was free from political interference.

Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, former chairman of pro-democracy group Bersih, and one of about 200 protesters, said the commission's report was being used to unfairly force through the boundary changes.

"They want to bulldoze the report that contradicts the constitution, ignores the rule of law and manipulates the electoral rolls," she said.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition's choice for prime minister, briefly joined the protesters.

Electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003, under the leadership of then premier Mahathir. He, too, was accused of manipulating the process.

The latest changes will not alter the number of seats in the Parliament or state assemblies, but will modify the size of several constituencies.

Selangor - the country's richest state and one of the few controlled by the opposition - will see voter demographics change in 18 of 22 parliamentary seats.

Johor state, where the ruling coalition is expected to face a tough battle, will see changes to 19 of its 26 parliamentary seats.

The redrawing of boundaries will mean some pro-opposition constituencies will grow to include more than 100,000 voters, while pro-government ones are much smaller. - REUTERS