Why we should not celebrate Federal Territories Day

New Sin Yew explains why the creation of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur was the greatest act of gerrymandering ever done.

If you are a resident of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and you celebrate the Federal Territories Day every 1st February, you should stop doing so. The Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur is a product of gerrymandering.

For the sake of clarity, in this article “Kuala Lumpur” refers to the city before the secession of Kuala Lumpur from Selangor, as opposed to “Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory” which refers to the city as it is now.

Federal Territories Day is not a celebration of the formation of the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory but rather a reminder of how, 41 years ago, the voices of the residents of Kuala Lumpur were smothered. It is a reminder that the taking over of Selangor by the Opposition was possibly delayed for another 35 years.

The formation of Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory not only disenfranchised about 1 million residents and 250,000 registered voters in Kuala Lumpur back in 1973, but also all future generations of residents of Kuala Lumpur.

Background

In 1973, the Constitution (Amendment) Act (No. 2) 1973 was tabled in Parliament, which would alter the boundaries of Selangor and form the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory. For the boundaries to altered, consent of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and the Conference of Rulers was required. This is stated under Article 2 of the Federal Constitution. The Selangor State Legislative Assembly passed an enactment to this effect and the then Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, obtained the consent from the Conference of Rulers.

Having the consent of both the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and the Conference of Rulers, the Constitution (Amendment) Act (No. 2) 1973 was passed on 9 July 1973. As a result of the Constitutional amendment, 94 square miles of Selangor was ceded to the Federal Government, forming the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory.

Political Maneuver

The move to make Kuala Lumpur a Federal Territory was politically brilliant. In the 1969 General Election, the Alliance Party almost lost Selangor to the Opposition. The Constitutional amendment ensured this would not happen, not for the next 35 years. The Constitutional amendment removed 9 seats out of a total of 28 seats of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly as those were seats for the lands ceded to the Federal Government. Out of the 9 seats that were ceded, 8 seats were won by the Opposition in the 1969 General Elections.

As a result, not only did the Alliance Party ensure the retention of Selangor by effectively removing almost all of the Opposition’s support base from the state, it had placed all of the areas supporting the Opposition under its control without having to worry about winning elections in those areas because as long as the Alliance Party had control over Parliament, they controlled Kuala Lumpur.

Disenfranchisement

As Kuala Lumpur has been ceded to the Federal Government, the residents of Kuala Lumpur are ruled by the Federal Government with no meaningful representation. There was no elected council and the majority of its residents who supported the Opposition had lost the chance to take control over Selangor and control its own fate.

Back in 1959, Kuala Lumpur had an elected municipality to run its local affairs. This was abolished by the government. The Kuala Lumpur Municipality was replaced with an appointed Commissioner of the City of Kuala Lumpur, also known as the Dato Bandar Kuala Lumpur, and an Advisory Board of the City of Kuala Lumpur whose members are also appointed. This was a partial disenfranchisement of the residents of Kuala Lumpur.

Total disenfranchisement came with the Constitutional Amendment. The Constitutional Amendment took away the right of the residents of Kuala Lumpur to be represented in the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. Instead, only 5 members represent the residents of Kuala Lumpur in the House of Representatives out of 154 total members (back in 1974). As of 2014, the number has now increased to 11 out of 222 total members.

In the latest elections, 10 out of the 11 parliamentary seats in Kuala Lumpur were won by the Opposition – yet its residents are ruled by the Dato Bandar Kuala Lumpur who is effectively under the control of the Federal Territories Minister. Because of the nature of the electoral system in Malaysia, it is a zero sum game. The Federal Territories Minister comes from the government, which is formed by the ruling coalition. Hence, in order for the residents of Kuala Lumpur to decide on how their city is run, they would have to win the general elections, form the Federal government and appoint a Federal Territories Minister of their choice.  An incredibly difficult task.

The greatest gerrymandering in history

The Constitutional (Amendment) Act (No. 2) 1973 was perhaps the greatest gerrymandering done in Malaysian history because it effectively gave political advantage to the Alliance Party in Selangor. There was no referendum done to test the opinion of the residents of Kuala Lumpur about the secession from Selangor.

One would expect that for such a monumental event like a secession, a referendum should have been done. Given that 8 out 9 state assembly seats in 1973 in Kuala Lumpur belonged to the Opposition, the reaction to the referendum would most likely been against the secession from Selangor. That would probably explain why a referendum was not done then.

What happened in 1973 should serve as a reminder to us that politics is about the people, not politicians and their political ambitions. We must be vigilant against incidents such as this, especially with the upcoming delimitation exercise by the Election Commission. The secession of Kuala Lumpur from Selangor is an extreme example of gerrymandering and how it had effectively decided the outcome of the Selangor State Assembly elections in 1974.

Call to arms

The upcoming delimitation exercise would determine the outcome of the 14th General Election. We, the people, must keep a watchful eye over any changes to our own constituency’s boundaries. Any changes to the constituency’s boundaries will be published in the newspaper that is circulated in the constituency.

If we are unhappy about the way our boundaries are changed by the Election Commission, we have the right to object under the Schedule 13 of the Federal Constitution. All that is needed is one hundred of us to send a representation to the Election Commission and a public inquiry will be held. We can then voice our opinions or give proposals in the public inquiry.

So, step up, stay alert, pick up your weapon of choice and start defending your own constituency!

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SYNew is a humourist who is currently practicing law. Unfortunately for him, not everyone appreciates humour, especially judges. He suffers from a bad case of cacoethes scribendi and he is here to relief his itch. Trying to tweet @S_Y_New

Posted on 1 February 2014. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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5 Responses to Why we should not celebrate Federal Territories Day

  1. Nice assertion, and I respect you for it. But you're automatically assuming that there are shared meanings to a holiday –

  2. lynncheang

    We cannot undo the past as of now unless the sitting government is changed. The next best move forward is as Edmond and several other social activists are saying: "The upcoming delimitation exercise would determine the outcome of the 14th General Election. We, the people, must keep a watchful eye over any changes to our own constituency’s boundaries."

  3. Nice assertion, and I respect you for it. But you're automatically assuming that there are shared meanings to a holiday, and that these meanings are static and exist in a vacuum.

    • BrighterTmrw

      Nah, we holidaying peasants mistakenly assumed a shared meaning but New Sin Yew just vacuumed it up now with static.

  4. Pepper Lim

    Nice!