Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Eliminate Geographical Political Constituencies?

Written by johnleemk on 2:16:26 pm Aug 24, 2007.

A common feature in many democracies around the world is single-member constituencies for at least one chamber of the legislative branch.

Voters in individual constituencies elect a representative to speak for the constituency. This system has prevailed for centuries in the two models for democracy around the world — the United Kingdom and the United States.

Of course, there is an obvious problem with this system. Some people have a louder voice than others; as long as the population of each constituency differs, some votes will count for more.

This was illustrated jarringly and vividly in the United Kingdom prior to democratic reforms in the 19th century. "Rotten boroughs" where there were as few as a dozen eligible voters prevailed, while entire cities went unrepresented in Parliament.

In theory, constituencies are delineated based on geographical and demographical factors, to ensure equal representation and also to provide equal voice to different prevailing interests.

For instance, a constituency close to the coast probably has different issues of concern than a constituency inland. Such geographical factors were likely important when this system of representation first came into being.

However, nowadays, such differences are often irrelevant. In my own parliamentary constituency, I probably have more in common with the voters of the constituency next door than most of the voters in my own constituency. Thank you, gerrymandering!

Gerrymandering is basically the practice of delineating a constituency based not on geographical or demographical factors, but what is primarily convenient to a particular interest. In the US, some constituencies are gerrymandered to provide representation for certain ethnic groups; others are simply gerrymandered to protect the party in power.

Of course, we could fight this unequal representation by appointing independent commissions to delineate constituencies. But fundamentally, the problem of inequality remains. By definition, this system does not provide for one man, one vote.

It seems more logical to me that we focus our efforts on an improved system. This single-member constituency system did not come into being for the sake of equality as we understand it; it came into being for the sake of geographical representation, which is now largely irrelevant in many developed and developing democracies. It is time we look to what can possibly replace this system so as to better reflect the will of the people in our legislatures.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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