As far as I can tell the Malaysian election results are now final. (Australians might find this surprising, but most countries don’t wait a fortnight for postal votes to come in.) The Malaysian electoral commission has them all posted here.

It’s in Malay, but fairly easy to navigate as long as you know the party names: Barisan National is the governing National Front, and the other three parties winning seats are the three components of the opposition People’s Front: Parti Tindakan Demokratik (Democratic Action Party, DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party, PKR) and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS). “Kerusi” is seats and “Undi” is votes.

If that’s too intimidating, some kind soul has transcribed the constituency results onto Wikipedia. I’ve checked a selection of them and they all match, although for some reason eleven constituencies in Sabah are missing, so I’ve taken them directly from the electoral commission. (My totals don’t agree exactly with Wikipedia’s, but the differences are not significant.)

The overall result is close but nonetheless clear. The opposition received 50.7% of the vote to the government’s 47.6%, a lead of about 340,000 votes. A sprinkling of minor parties and independents (mostly in East Malaysia) picked up the remaining 1.6%; if you factor them out, the opposition had 51.6% of the two-party vote.

Yet, as we know from this morning, the opposition lost the election by a wide margin, winning only 89 seats to the government’s 133.

How? Well, it’s not hard to work out. The 89 opposition seats had an average of 66,233 votes cast in each; the government seats an average of only 38,760. It’s a classic malapportionment, where the (mostly rural) areas where the government is strong are given more representatives per head than the (mostly urban) areas where it is weak. This paper from the Electoral Knowledge Network a few years back explains how it works.

If you just look at the safe seats it’s even more striking. The government’s safe seats (margins above 10%) saw an average vote of 30,436. In the opposition’s safe seats it was more than double that – 68,630.

Nor is it just a matter of giving extra weight to less populated states, such as with the Australian Senate. In the state of Johor, for example, the government had a moderate overall lead (about 55%-45%) but crushed the opposition in terms of seats, winning 21 to five. That probably had something to do with the fact that the seats with better-than-average government support had an average of 41,342 voters, while those at the opposition end of the table averaged 63,801.

So calls for the opposition to “respect the verdict of the people” need to be seen in this light. The people of Malaysia, despite the government’s many advantages (legal and otherwise), voted for the People’s Front. The electoral system denied them their choice, exactly as it’s designed to do.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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