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

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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.

Why you should apply for the ISIF Asia Awards: advice from past award winner

By Robert Mitchell, APNIC

With nominations for the ISIF Asia Awards 2016 now open, we thought we’d check back with some of our previous award winners to understand how the award benefitted their projects and get some advice on what to include in your nominations.

Khairil Yusof is the cofounder and coordinator of the Sinar Project, which received an ISIF Asia Grant in 2013 in recognition of their work using open source technology and applications to systematically make important information public and more accessible to the Malaysian people.

Established in 2011, the Sinar Project aims to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian government more open, transparent and accountable.

Sinar project in action

Sinar project in action

What are the benefits of these kinds of Grants/Awards?

Here’s what Khairil had to say about ISIF Asia’s Grants and Awards:

These awards and grants recognize the difficult and highly technical work that a few civil society organizations do, which is often not understood or appreciated by other traditional awards or grants (for Rights) programs.

Also, being invited to an award ceremony at large event such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), provides you with lots of exposure in an environment where you can meet potential partners and donors that understand your work.

 

What were three key outcomes that the ISIF Asia Grant allowed you to achieve?

  1. The money from the Grant helped our part-time/volunteer effort to register as a proper organization.
  2. It also helped one of our founding members to work full time on funding applications.
  3. Attending the IGF in Turkey provided us with the opportunity to speak with potential donors, which eventually led to initial funding for the establishment of Malaysia’s first fledgling civic tech NGO, and allowed us to continue our work full time.

How has your project progressed after receiving the Grant?

The opportunity to showcase our work to donors led to further funding, which helped with consolidating open standards government data. In turn, this provided open data via REST APIs.

Other achievement include:

  • Powering Malaysia’s Open Parliament efforts [1,2] and the same in Myanmar [1, 2, 3]
  • Uncovering corruption and promoting transparency [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
  • A civil society led open data approach, combining civic tech and open data with traditional social audits
  • Starting a Digital Rights initiative backed by a team with technical capacity, and funded by Access. We are now building partnerships with the TOR Project to collect and report on network interference data and build Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) like alerts for digital rights incidents. We are also providing policy input on Internet and digital rights issues such as trade agreements

What should nominees include in their applications?

  1. Don’t be shy with sharing your methodology and the insights you’ve learned along the way, even if you might think it is trivial. If you’re a very technical team, run your methodology by non-technical friends or family members to get their insights. What you think is mundane, might be inspiring to others.
  2. Review all the outputs you have done; blogs, reports, software, photos, etc. If you’ve been passionately working on your ideas and project, you will be surprised at how much you have achieved. List the highlights in your proposal and reference the other outputs in an appendix or link.
  3. Do Google alerts for mentions and links to your project. It might feel a bit narcissistic, but again you might be surprised at who is referencing or mentioning your project internationally or is inspired by your project work.

Google for Nonprofits Expands to 10 Asia-Pacific Economies

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Congratulations to non-governmental organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. In partnership withTechSoup, Google is now expanding its Google for Nonprofits program to ten new economies: Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Nonprofits can now apply to join the program to access a suite of free Google products and tools, including:

  • Google Ad Grants: Free AdWords advertising to promote their website on Google through keyword targeting.
  • Google Apps for Nonprofit: A free version of the Google Apps business productivity suite, including Gmail, Docs, Calendar, and more.
  • YouTube Nonprofit Program: Build their online presence with YouTube and overlay cards on their videos that link directly to their website.

Personally, I’ve used the Google for Nonprofits platform at two different organizations and it was a game-changer at both, specifically Google Apps.

The service can power enterprise-grade email services with a few clicks, giving organizations a legitimate yourname@NGOorganization.org email address (ie. not Gmail.com or Yahoo.com) and powerful email support systems that are actually easy to use. Google Apps also comes with their Drive, Sheets, Docs, and Forms tools, which can totally replace the Microsoft Office software suite and I find far superior to Microsoft’s online software products.

Nonprofits organizations can also leverage One Today, Google’s fundraising platform for Android devices. The app highlights cool projects from different organizations each day, and users can donate if they want to support the cause.

So if you have an NGO in the 10 new economies, get Google for Nonprofits today. You’ll be so glad you did!

ECHO: Improving Organizational Communications in Indonesia with Automated SMS and Email

Echo_Infrastructure4

eHomemakers (eH), a Malaysian social enterprise with a vision to empower disadvantaged women, innovated and developed ECHO from the grassroot perspective. Necessity being the mother of invention, eHomemakers created the ECHO concept for non-profit organizations to save staff time and telecommunication resources as a means to overcome a lack of funding to market disadvantaged women’s ecobaskets.

From an integrated tool for middle class volunteers to use email to coordinate activities at the least cost possible to a message recipient platform for the poor, ECHO has developed into a cloud-based organizational management system using internet-mobile. ECHO enables organization to reach out to large groups of people in diverse locations through email and SMS via a centralized database. Its latest technical feature enhancement provides user friendliness to the visually impaired persons in full compliance with international guidelines.

With the help of a few national and international funders, 35 non-government organizations (NGOs) in Malaysia are now able to utilize ECHO and make substantial cost savings on their communications resources. Recent ECHO developments include deployment in Indonesia through HomeNet Indonesia (HI) for the purpose of increasing homeworkers’ fair wages. In alignment with Fair Trade concepts, HI uses its business center to bring homeworker members’ products directly to the market without recourse to middlemen.

ECHO Technology

ECHO technology involves 3 components –

  1. An application server (Web server)
  2. Mobile app causing phones to act as SMS gateways
  3. Target recipient’s mobile phones to receive and reply SMS.
  4. The mobile app was developed to allow android phones to act as SMS modems and thereby overcome the expense of renting SMS gateways from national telecoms providers. It represents a minimal cost solution to NGOs.

    ECHO Functionality

    The ability of this powerful planning and organizing tool to send either email or SMS in bulk, as well as auto-summarizing replies with reports, provides a proven means for increased productivity (instant replies) and substantial savings on total admin staff costs. ECHO can be utilized for activities such as, but not limited to:

    • Invitation and confirmations from members for upcoming events, meetings, trainings, seminars, volunteer activity placements
    • Conducting surveys on groups and target segments
    • Group sourcing of raw materials
    • Organizing production chains
    • Consolidation of sales items from marketing networks
    • Bulk marketing of goods and services produced by beneficiaries and members

    ECHO and HI Indonesia

    HomeNet Indonesia (HI), also known as Mitra Wanita Pekerja Rumahan Indonesia (MWPRI), is a national network of NGOs that addresses concerns regarding the welfare and socio-economic well being of home-based working members. These workers generally are poor women with low education or literacy levels, live in rural and urban areas, and struggle to earn a livelihood through jobs issued from sub-contractors, middlemen or brokers. HI, in collaboration with eH, is currently paving the way for poverty alleviation through Fair Trade with the use of ECHO.

    In order for HI to pay a Fair Trade wage to its members, there must be cost reductions in administration, marketing, and procurement of raw materials. The use of ECHO allows for savings of up to 98% in costs associated with organizing. As an example situation, an HI business center staff member receives an Internet order of a product. This staff member then distributes a single ECHO message to 100 makers, whereby they are requested to each provide their own production number for this product. These makers revert to confirm their production amount, and the staff member next checks the cumulative total of quoted units against the number required in the order. The staff member can subsequently revert to the customer with a very fast turnaround to accept or decline his/her order, and initiate production activities. Admin costs without ECHO are much higher due to the necessity of phone calls, one-to-one SMS, or face-to-face meeting.

    The business center method provides efficiency gains that effectively enable Fair Wage (under Fair Trade principles), which allows the poor to receive better remuneration and lessen the trappings of poverty.

    Hurdles

    Hurdles in deploying ECHO in HI can be categorized into either 1) technological, or 2) human aspects.

    Technological hurdles within Indonesia include unstable mobile signal coverage, latency in sending and receiving SMS (5 mins to 12 hours), and unstable Internet that delays SMS response. These drawbacks will be increasingly diminished in coming years, as Indonesia’s high economic growth spurs greater investment in telco infrastructure and a consequent better technology performance.

    Resistance to change is commonly found during organizational development phases. The ease of acceptance of ICT is far higher for younger home workers than for the older generation. Women home workers who have limited education often feel that they are too old to learn new technology, and some of them cite difficulty as the reason behind their reluctance to use SMS (send and reply). Calling from a phone kiosk is much faster for them, albeit at a far higher cost.

    An entrenched manual-based organizational work culture presents a barrier in implementing ICT, wherein a considerable amount of time is typically required for workers to internalize training session information and apply new ICT basic skills. This gap of understanding was found to exist among office workers above 40 years of age who were familiar with a paper-laden office culture, wherein decision-making was centralized and dictated by the top management. In such environments, lower level staff would print emails for senior staff to read, and transcript electronic replies on behalf of these senior staff.

    Changing from an NGO management style into one more suited to a social enterprise resulted in HI coming under considerable pressure to deliver: HI needed to get the business center moving as soon as possible and adequately organize homeworkers to produce quality products for sale. The staff of HI found themselves pushing to improve the prevalent mentality towards work and communication efficiency.

    Engagement and future

    Many ICT-based social development projects are experimental, and therefore new to the providers as well as the end-users. At this point, 300 out of 10000 HI members were selected to participate in the ECHO training course. Deploying ECHO in HI has led to change momentum being initiated, whereby participants recognized the inherent advantages and loosened their embrace of the old style.

    The use of ECHO for HI enabled the organization to realize the extent of their learning curve in order to cope with office ICT. A few key personnel have learnt additional IT-based project management skills and awareness of hitherto unknown tools such as online photo storage for products.

    HI members are becoming more aware of utilizing ICT and SMS, and are thus able to achieve greater reach with less cost and more effectiveness. Campaigns on issues related to women homeworkers are distributed through social media, and so become a source of information for cases, problems, and the needs of women homeworkers in Indonesia.

    It is acknowledged that HI requires more time to increase the capacity and spread the habit of using ICT, since HI staff and its members are not familiar with technology in their daily lives. Nevertheless, positive signs have emerged since the key phase of change momentum has been initiated. As such, the next step of reaching out to the remaining 9700 HI members is anticipated with a sense of optimism to match the altruistic vision of the founders.

    By Yeo Lee Chin, Usability Coordinator (ECHO), eHomemakers

Sinar Project: Promoting Governmental Accountability in Malaysia

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Malaysia has been governed by the same political party, Barisan Nasional, since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. Barisian Nasional’s policies, which strongly favor ethnic Malay’s, have begun to lose support among young and minority voters, culminating in the 2013 elections when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won the popular vote. Despite the polling results, and amid allegations of voter fraud, Ibrahim lost the election.

The 2013 elections were a high-level indicator of the systemic lack of transparency and accountability in the Malaysian political system. According to the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, Malaysia is in just the 37th percentile for “voice and accountability.” These measures indicate an individual’s ability to participate in selecting their government, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and a free media.

The Sinar Project, an ISIF Asia award winning non-profit organization, is seeking to fill the void in governmental transparency and accountability in Malaysia via open-source technology. Sinar is producing platforms which help monitor all levels of government, from local municipalities to parliament.

Corruption Monitoring

In Ernest and Young’s 2013 Asia-Pacific fraud survey, almost 40% of respondents said that corruption and bribery are widespread in Malaysia. That figure is nearly double the average of the rest of the region. In order to bring awareness to the corruption of the Malaysian political system, Sinar launched their Accountable platform in 2012.

Accountable is a web application which actively tracks the people, issues, and organizations related to Malaysian corruption. The data is presented in a searchable, tab separated manner, allowing the Malaysian public to easily monitor the activities of, and allegations against, their elected officials. Sinar will soon add an additional monitoring feature to Accountable, indicating the status of individual cases, including data on the case out come (i.e. false allegation, money returned, and criminal charges brought).

A second anti-corruption tool that Sinar has developed is their Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) database. Corruption in the Malaysian construction industry is at a “serious level”, according to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Utilizing scrapers, the CIDB monitors and aggregates construction project data in real-time, producing a readable CSV document. The CIDB database provides detailed information on all public-private projects, including contact information for company directors, budgets, contractor details, and registration numbers.

Governmental Accountability

Sinar’s most advanced accountability project, AduanKu, was launched in January of 2014. The platform enables users to report problems (think potholes, faulty street lights, etc.) directly to their local municipalities. Problems can be reported through a web portal with a smartphone or computer, and an app-based platform is coming soon. Once a user submits a problem, AduanKu sends an official report via email to the relevant Council. These reports contain mapping info of the problem location, a detailed description, and photographs when available.

The local user is then able to monitor their council’s response, and utilize a feature in AduanKu to publicly comment on whether appropriate action was taken. This interaction makes local municipalities directly accountable to their taxpayers, with municipal performance data publicly available through AduanKu. The Subang Jaya Municipal Council, for example, has had 292 problems reported, fixing 115 of them. AduanKu is currently available in a limited number of municipalities, but Sinar plans to expand the service throughout Malaysia.

Sinar also has a variety accountability projects on the national scale. Their BillWatcher application enables Malaysian citizens to monitor the status of upcoming bills in both the national parliament and state assemblies. Their Malaysian Representatives project aims to provide citizens with background information on all members of Parliament, including contact information, work history, and known assets.

While these applications are informational in nature, they help create transparency in the Malaysian political system by educating the voting public about the actions of their elected officials. For a nation with a voter turnout of over 84%, this sort of transparency can go a long way to bringing about change.

All of the Sinar Project’s code is open source, and can be found on GitHub here.