MEDIA STATEMENT (17 SEPTEMBER): Port Dickson: A wider debate needed on electoral system and candidacy selection


In response to public sentiments on the upcoming Port Dickson by-election, Bersih 2.0 calls for a wider debate on both the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system and the top-down and opaque candidacy selection process.

Bersih 2.0 says, it is high time for Malaysians to consider, and PKR candidate for the by-election Anwar Ibrahim to take a stand, if we want to continue having all our parliamentarians and state lawmakers elected through the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system, or if we should move to some Mixed Member systems with some lawmakers elected through Party List Proportional Representation (List-PR).

Because FPTP mandate is personal, the current system necessitates by-elections whenever vacancies arise, whether the incumbents succumb to illness or accident, becomes incapable or disqualified or resign.

The resignation of the Port Dickson MP Panglima Muda Dato’ Danyal Balagopal Abdullah to pave way for PKR President Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to return to the Parliament shows the rigidity of the FPTP system in allowing party’s altering their leadership lineup.

Admittedly, Anwar’s case is unique – unqualified to contest because of a politically-motivated imprisonment yet being named as the next Prime Minister in a pre-election pact which elected in 55% of parliamentarians – and will not have easy solution under any electoral system because of his sentence.   

However, the inflexibility for parties to adjust their leadership line-up – necessary for parliamentary governments – has wide implications beyond this case and beyond by-elections to replace deceased incumbents.

The practice of appointing lost candidates or unelected technocrats as senators before their appointment as ministers or deputy ministers is one such consequence, making Senate even more a rubber stamp. The PH administration now has 5 senators.

More idiosyncratically, Anwar’s Kajang Move in 2014 was triggered because his party could not name him as a back-up candidate as Menteri Besar without a by-election.

Anwar Ibrahim who has triggered three by-elections – twice due to political trials – so that he can lead a government has the moral responsibility to make clear if he wants to keep the rigid system and conveniently bends it to his interest.

Bersih points out, beyond the question of dynastic politics directed to the Anwar family, the bigger question is top-down and opaque candidacy selection process across almost every party in Malaysia.

The GE14 saw many new candidates fielded by both BN and PH on last-minutes arrangement or against the will of local branches. Such undemocratic practices often cause local discontent, boycott or even sabotage. In fact, the resigned parliamentarian for Port Dickson was such a last-minute pick.

By right, FPTP candidates should be selected bottom-up by local branches, not party headquarters, as in the UK where the FPTP system is born and still applied. Nomination of candidates by party headquarters is only justified in List-PR.

When candidacy selection is top-down and opaque, can allegations of nepotism or cronyism be avoided even if a son, a daughter or an unrelated protégé of a prominent leader is qualified to be a candidate in their own right?

Bersih 2.0 calls upon Malaysians to be critical of the Port Dickson by-election, but their scrutiny must cover the systemic defects and not end with personalities.

Released by,

Steering Committee of BERSIH 2.0