TINDAK MALAYSIA: Towards A Fairer Electoral System

Tindak Malaysia is the winner of the ISIF Asia 2016 Technical Innovation Award and the Community Choice Award 2016.

TINDAK MALAYSIA: Towards A Fairer Electoral System –
1 Person, 1 Vote, 1 Value

A democracy is reflected in the sovereignty of the people. They are supposed to have the power to choose their leaders under Free and Fair Elections. Unfortunately, those in power will try to manipulate the electoral system to entrench their grip on power. Attempts to manipulate the system could be…

  • in tweaking the rules of elections in their favour,
  • in the control of the mainstream media,
  • through threats,
  • through bribery,
  • through the pollsters to manipulate public perception,
  • during the vote count,
  • by making election campaigns so expensive that only the rich or powerful could afford to run or win.
  • through boundary delineation either by gerrymandering, or through unequal seat size.

The Nov 2016 US Presidential Election threw up all of the above in sharp contrast. There were two front runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Both candidates were disliked by more than half the electorate,

Both candidates generated such strong aversion that a dominant campaign theme was to vote for the lesser evil. The people were caught in the politics-of-no-choice.
Eventually, the winning candidate won, with slightly less votes (0.3%), than the losing candidate, each winning only 27% of the electorate. Yet the delegates won by the winner was 306 (57%) while the loser got 232 (43%), a huge difference!

The winning candidate won with barely a quarter of the total voting population. 43% of the voters did not vote. In other words, only 27% of the electorate decided on the President.

Consider Malaysia. We are located in South-east Asia. We have a population of 31 million with about 13.5 million registered voters. We practise a First-Past-The-Post System of elections, meaning the winner takes all, just like in the US.

In the 2013 General Elections, the Ruling Party obtained 47.4% of the votes and 60% of the seats. Meanwhile the opposition, with 52% of the votes, won only 40% of the seats – more votes, but much fewer seats.

We had all the problems listed above except that no opinion polls were allowed on polling day. But the most egregious problem of all was boundary delimitation, which is the subject of our project.

In 2013, the Ruling Party with 47.4% of the popular vote, secured 60% of the seats. To hang on to power, they resorted to abuse and to change of the laws to suppress the Opposition and the people. Our concern was that continuing oppression of the people in this manner could lead to violent protests. It was our hope to achieve peaceful change in a democratic manner through the Constitution.

From a Problem Tree Analysis, it was found that the problem was cyclic in nature. The root cause was a Fascist Government maintaining power through Fraudulent Elections. See red box opposite.
Problem Tree Analysis

 

problem-tree-analysis-of-the-rat-race_a

If current conditions prevail without any changes, they can still win power with just 39% of the votes.
50-Year General Elections Voting Trend

historical-ge-records-up-to-ge13_comments

What happened?

Malapportionment! The seats won by the Ruling Party in the chart below are the blue lines with small number of voters in the rural seats. The red lines with huge numbers are in the urban areas won by the Opposition. It was found that they could have won 50% of the seats with merely 20.22% of the votes.
Malapportionment in General Elections – GE213

 

ge13-voter-size-graph_2

The above computation was based on popular vote. If based on total voting population, BN needed only 17.4% to secure a simple majority.

What is the solution we propose?

The solution was obvious. Equalize the seats.
But for the past 50 years, no one seemed to object to the unfair maps.

Why? The objectors never managed to submit a substantive objection because:

  • Biased EC stacked with Ruling Party cronies, who actively worked to prevent any objections being made,
  • Constitution rules of delimitation drafted to make objections difficult, such that the EC had a lot of leeway to interpret it anyway it wished.
  • Very high barriers to objection,
  • Insufficient information offered during a Redelineation exercise. Given the 1-month deadline, it was impossible for an ordinary voter to prepare a proper objection.

How are Constituencies Drawn – Districting?

map-1-selangor-pd2013

We start with a Polling District (PD). The PD is the smallest unit of area in a Constituency. It is defined by a boundary, a name and/ID Code, and includes elector population. Map 1 is an example of PD. To avoid clutter, the elector numbers are carried in separate layer which can be overlaid on top.

Districting is conducted by assembling these PD into Constituencies. In theory, the Constituencies are supposed to have roughly the same number of electors, unless variation is permitted in the Constitution.

What happens when the Election Commission presents a map without any PD as shown in Map 2 below.
MAP 2 – EC’S SELANGOR REDELINEATION PROPOSAL 2016

map-2-selangor-redelineation-proposal-2016-syor1

This was gazetted by the EC on 15th Sept 2016 for public objections. No Polling Districts are identified. In reality, the EC had all the information in digital format under an Electoral Geographical Information System (EGIS) but they kept it from the public.

An elector faced with such a map, is stuck. He would not know where to begin. Neither did he have the technical knowledge to carry out the redistricting even if he wanted to, all within the time limit of 1 month.

This has been the case for the past 50 years. No one could object effectively.

So we had a situation where electors wanted to object but were unable to do so because of insufficient information and lack of expertise.

Studying the problem, we decided that the solution was to bridge the Digital Divide through Technical Innovation as well as to bring the matter out of the jurisdiction of the EC.

Technical:

  1. Digitize all the PD in Malaysia, about 8000 of them. This took us 1 year.
  2. Learn how to redistrict using digital systems. We used QGIS, an open source GIS system,
  3. Develop a plug-in to semi-automate and speed up the redistricting process.

Legal:

  1. Bring in legal expertise. Collaborate with lawyers to bring the matter out of the control of the EC and into the jurisdiction of the courts in order to defend the Constitution.

We started this initiative in July 2011 and by Dec 2015, we had digitised all the PD and redistricted the whole country twice, sharpening our expertise and correcting errors in the process. We got the Bar Council (Lawyers Association) to team up with us to guide the public on how to object when the Redelineation exercise by the EC is launched.

Redelineation, 1st Gazette:

On 15th Sept 2016, the EC published the First Gazette of the Redelineation Proposal. For the State of Selangor with 22 Parliamentary seats, they published one map only – MAP 2. We analysed their proposal and found glaring disparities in the seat sizes with elector population ranging from 39% to 200% of the State Electoral Quota (EQ) – MAP 3

MAP 3 – SELANGOR MALAPPORTIONMENT OF PROPOSED PARLIAMENT SEATS 2016

6d-selangor-malapportionment

At a more detailed level, it looks like MAP 4 below. We can see the densely populated central belt (brown columns) sticking out in sharp contrast to the under-populated outlying regions around the perimeter – ochre areas). Clearly the EC has not addressed the inequalities in the voting strength among the various regions.

MAP 4 – SELANGOR VOTER DENSITY

map-4-selangor-voter-density-danesh20161107

Trial Run: We conducted a trial run on the EC maps for a local council in Selangor – MPSJ. See MAP 4. It was found that we could maintain local ties with 6 State and 2 Parliamentary Constituencies, with the elector population kept within +/-20% of the mean. This was much better than the EC’s range of -60% to +100%.

MAP 5 – LOCAL COUNCIL MPSJ

map-5-mpsj-redistricting_1

We have submitted objections for the First Gazette and await the call for a public hearing by the EC. Our lawyers are monitoring the EC to ensure they comply with the Constitution and preparing lawsuits in case they don’t.

While conducting our research on how to object, we uncovered yet another area of abuse. The boundaries of the polling districts and electors within, had been shifted to other constituencies unannounced. This was a surreptitious form of redelineation outside the ambit of the constitution and a gross abuse of authority. As part of our next project, we intend to focus on this, to prevent such gerrymandering.

In conclusion, we feel like we are peeling an onion. As we unfold one layer, a new layer of fraud is exposed. It was a never-ending process. But we are determined to keep on digging until we reach the core and achieve our goal of Free and Fair Elections.

Myanmar Will Be the First Smartphone Only Country

Today, Myanmar has the same mobile phone usage as North Korea, Eritrea, and Cuba – less than 10% – with only the urban elite owning smartphones, and mobile networks limited in scope and functionality. Yet technology restrictions are ending, and three mobile operators are racing to roll out services to 60 million across the country.

Ooredoo aims to have 3G coverage for 50% of the population by year’s end, with Telenor and Myanmar Post and Telecom with their own ambitious targets. By the end of 2015, most of Myanmar’s population will live within range of a 3G or better mobile network system.

The people of Myanmar will not be connecting to this network with basic or feature phones for three reasons:

1. Smartphones are cheapWhile new iPhones are still several hundred dollars, there is an explosion of cheap Android handsets available in Myanmar already. $50USD can buy a Karbonn Smart A50S, Spice Smart Flo Edge from India or one of many no-name Chinese-made phones. And that’s today.

With the $25 Firefox phone coming out soon, we’ll see even cheaper, full-featured smartphones flooding the low-end market. By the end of 2015, expect smartphone prices even in developed markets dropping to sub-$100 prices.

2. Burmese are savvy

Mobile phones are also more than just a communications device; they are an aspirational status symbol. And Myanmar is not some remote backwater. Wedged between India and Thailand, with trade and cultural links to both, Burmese are quick to pick up innovations and aspire to join the ranks of Southeast Asia’s elite countries. They are not going to be satisfied with feature phones. Only smartphones will matter.

In fact, looking around Yangon today, I haven’t seen a single feature phone. Even the bus drivers and market sellers have smartphones of some type. They may be used or cheap Chinese knock-offs, but they are not basic phones. Offical surveys say that Android smartphones are 95% of the Burmese market already.

3. Services will be smart

Talking with Ooredoo and Telenor, they are focused purely on smartphone applications for their networks, as is the nascent technology start-up sector. None are looking at feature phone applications nor are they considering SMS text messages or even USSD as their communication system.

Even the international NGOs are moving quickly to develop smartphone applications for their constituencies. And once mobile money becomes widespread, they will even move “cash” payments from physical to virtual currencies.

What does this mean for you? First, adjust your perception of what a developing country looks like. The 60 million people of Myanmar are rushing into the future, practically overnight, and they will have the same technology in their hands as you do.

Next, realize that there will be big money to be made in multiple little niches. With almost 60 million people coming online, there will be massive opportunity to satisfy consumer and business needs – both obvious ones we are familiar with in other countries, and those unique to Myanmar.

Finally, what are you waiting for? The people of Myanmar are not waiting for you.

The Telecentre Movement in Bangladesh: Ups and Downs From 1987 to Present

bangladesh-telecentre

Telecentres are known to ICT4D professional as a popular ICT4D initiative to bridge digital divides and build an information society, one aspect of the WISIS 2003/2005 agenda. Being influenced by the WISIS Geneva and Tunisia summit, International donors prioritised telecentre projects in South Asian and African countries. As a result, the telecentre movement was at its peak during last decade in Bangladesh, however telecentres started in Bangladesh in 1987.

Because of my involvement with the telecentre movement in South Asian and African countries during that period, I am in a position to reflect their history and impact. In this post, I am describing the ups and downs of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh from my own experience.

Inception of telecentres in Bangladesh

In 1987, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) launched Gonokendra (people’s centres), which is considered as the first generation telecentre in Bangladesh. The services of Gonokendra includes facilities to read newspapers, exchange experiences, learn from success stories, get information about innovations to improve livelihoods, etc. using mainly hard copy materials as only 5% of them had computers, none of which had internet connectivity.

After several years, in 2001, organisations like Amader Gram and Relief International started their telecentre projects. With other factors, availability of GSM based internet connectivity (GPRS, EDGE), played a significant role in boosting telecentres during 2005. After 2005 several organisations including corporate organisations like Grameen Phone started telecentres for their commitments to society.

Telecentre as a movement in Bangladesh

Telecentre.org supported the inception of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh which was started with ‘Building Telecentre Family in Bangladesh: A Workshop for the Social Entrepreneurs and Practitioners’ held in Rangpur Bangladesh during August 27-29, 2006.

I am fortunate to have first-hand experience of the workshop where participating organisations in Bangladesh decided to consider telecentre as a movement to fight against poverty and carry it forward. Telecentre.org provided support to learn from the experience in India, Sri Lanka and Uganda to ensure sustainability of the movement.

Birth of Bangladesh Telecentre Network (BTN)

After much though about the modalities to make the initiative sustainable, the momentum created in Rangpur continued with the financial support of telecentre.org to develop a network organisation for telecentre activist in Bangladesh. As an ICT4D professional, I was proud to lead the development of the website, mission2011.net.bd and tools like GIS Based National Telecentre Database and Telecentre Reference Desk which was aiming to help BTN members.

Unfortunately, the member organisations were not encouraged enough to take over those tools after the network start-up funding from telectetre.org ended.

Mission 2011: Pledge to establish 40000 telecentre by 2011

Inspired by the ‘Mission 2007’ of India, BTN declared an ambitious ‘Mission 2011’ to establish 40,000 telecentres in Bangladesh by the 40th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh adding up the commitments for new telecentres of the members. Gradually, BTN started to realise that it is impossible to reach the target. Despite of efforts to convince people BTN could not stop some of the critics. Unfortunately, like many other development projects BTN’s influence becomes weaker with the phase out of donor funds.

I had access to the complete list of telecentres in Bangladesh as the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies. According to my analysis Mission 2011 was able to achieve less than 10% of its target, however my colleagues claim that it played an important role to include telecentre as an agenda in the Digital Bangladesh declaration of the Government of Bangladesh.

Government take over telecentres and scale them up

The Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the Government of Bangladesh took over the idea. As a result, on November 2010, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh inaugurated one Union Information and Service Centres (UISC) in each Union Parisad (4,501 telecentres in total). However, all of them were not operational at the beginning.

Recently, Bengali newspapers published several articles criticising the quality of UISC services. During my visit to Rangpur and Barisal region in November 2013, I found that among 60 farmers I talked to, only three know about the centres and one used their services. The farmer seems not so happy, but he mentioned it is better to have something than nothing.

Sustainability of Bangladeshi Telecentre

As we know, the sustainability of telecentre is a widely debated issue. A significant number of ICT4D professional and academics claims telecentres are not sustainable. However, there is another group who claims some of the telecentres are sustainable. The case of Bangladesh is not an exception.

As the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies, Survey my observation is, on an average only 5 people visits a telecentre each day which is not enough to earn enough revenue for sustainability. However, there may be some exceptional cases.

Mixing WiMAX and UHF TV for Rural Internet Access in Vietnam

wimax-tv-vietnam

Recent statistics show that the majority of Vietnamese who frequently use the Internet are located almost exclusively in Vietnam’s big cities, such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hai Phong, Hue, and Da Nang. This is due to three barriers to rural Internet access faced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using conventional cable-based technology:

  • Geographic accessibility: dense forests and mountain areas cause difficulties in setting up networks and operating equipment;
  • Demographic indication: low population densities require large network coverage, hence increasing initial setup and operating costs; and
  • Economic development: low demand and purchasing power reduce profit and increase investment return period.

But what about a new, innovative approach to bring Internet access to rural areas in Vietnam, like combining new WiMAX wireless technology with the existing TV over-the-air broadcasting infrastructure? This approach could enable the delivery of last-mile access to many end users over a large coverage area with a much lower cost.

That’s the idea that Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang and his colleagues at Bac Ha International University tried recently to turn rural areas into an attractive investment for ISPs and bridge the digital divide in the rural areas of Vietnam.

WiMAX + UHF TV Technology

As you can see from the diagram above, they sought to allow WiMAX to be “piggy-backed” on the existing UHF TV broadcasting in the frequency range where TV programs are not available and frequency channels are not currently used. This promises an operating cost sharing between television industry and ISPs, eliminating the initial setup cost of network equipment (i.e. base station site construction and/or leasing), which ISPs normally incur. Operating at lower UHF bands allows a larger coverage area per base station and a smaller number of base stations over a similar coverage area.

In his WiMAX/UHF TV trial, Dr. Hoang found a sub-GHz WiMAX system with transmitting antennas mounted on a TV broadcasting station between 30m to 60m in height can reach a maximum distance of 37km in line-of-sight condition. In both cases where directional and omnidirectional antennas are used, a sub-GHz WiMAX system operating at 450 MHz increases the range of coverage four-fold, compared to a typical WiMAX 2.5GHz system.

This translates to a reduction of 4X to 16X number of required base stations for the same coverage. As a result, the capital expenditure to deploy and operate such system in a given area reduces proportionally by 4X to16X. So while the technology worked, the business model had a major problem.

Business Model Barriers

Dr. Hoang verified a high level of demand (88%) for broadband WiMAX Internet service in Bac Ninh city, a rural area in Vietnam, with an affordable rate of VND 150,000 (approximately USD 7.80) per month for residential and VND 300,000-500,000 per month for commercial Internet service.

Yet, the total equipment cost of such a sub-GHz WiMAX system consisting of 1 base station and 4 subscriber stations (used for a sample calculation) is less than USD 30,000 and the base station equipment represents 90% of this cost. Under an agreement with a TV broadcasting provider, it may be possible to share other costs, such as tower and maintenance. Larger coverage areas and lower capital expenditure are highly attractive to service providers.

Still, a subscriber station (end user) modem currently costs almost USD 690 and this high price remains a technological and economical challenge for this technology from the user’s point of view. Even if service providers gave incentives or provided flexible renting plans to users who sign up for broadband service, the cost is out of range for rural users this system targeted.

This post is derived from Innovative WiMAX Broadband Internet Access Final Technical report by Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang of Bac Ha International University.