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Friday, June 9, 2017

Increasing women’s representation in Malaysian politics



As the 14th general election approaches, will there be any significant change to the under-representation of Malaysian women in political office?
Will women continue to form 50 percent of all voters? Will all women’s wings of political parties be dutifully mobilized to win the hearts of the electorate? And yet, when the election is over and done with, only a very small number of them will hold any leadership positions.
Malaysia numbers 156th out of 190 countries in terms of women’s representation in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The number of women elected to the Malaysian Parliament ranged from 1.9 percent in 1955 to 11.3 percent in 2008. Currently, only 10.8 percent of parliamentarians are women.
The federal cabinet has only three women ministers, while state cabinets only have one woman member in each of their executive councils with the exception of Selangor, Kedah and Perak with two women, while Terengganu does not have a single woman on its state executive council.
Based on the official websites of political parties, women’s representation in party leadership is highest within PKR at 26.7 percent, followed by Parti Bersatu Sabah at 21.4 percent, DAP at 12.5 percent, and Umno at 12.3 percent.
Gerakan is at the lowest spot with only five percent of women in its highest governing committee. Obviously, not much is being done to redress women’s under-representation within internal party structures themselves.
Malaysia’s obligation
Malaysia is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which obliges it to set up temporary special measures to accelerate and increase the participation of women in decision-making positions. In this regard, women’s political representation is an issue too important to be left to the unmediated forces of electoral competition for their numbers to increase.
There is a need for a more impactful mechanism to hasten women’s entry into politics, one that will create a dent in the vicious circle of male and/or party gatekeeping and allow more women leaders to serve society and function as role models for other women to enter politics.
The fewer strategic leadership positions occupied by women, the fewer new women leaders there will be in the party. On the other hand, more women in politics beget more women into politics.
Proposal for a system to nominate women MPs
Legislation which allows for a non-constituency-based and/or party list system for women representatives may be one of the most feasible options to accelerate women’s entry into politics. In this system, each party nominates up to a certain number of women candidates to fill up the posts of nominated parliamentary representatives.
There are several variations to the above system within the current constraints of the “first past the post” (FPTP) voting system, such as the following:
1. Implementing a voluntary quota list at the party level for internal and external elections
This measure must be implemented through the will and initiative of individual political parties. The party’s internal leadership election can impose a 30 percent women’s quota, while candidacy for external elections can also abide by a minimum 30 percent of women being nominated. The electorate, in the form of women’s NGOs, can insist on knowing the party’s position on this issue in their manifesto during the election campaigning period.
2. Retaining Malaysia's FPTP system with a minimum 30 percent quota of female candidates
This measure can only be taken through an amendment to the federal constitution, which legislates that there should be a quota of at least 30 percent of women nominated as candidates for state and federal elections.
3. Enacting a post-election provision which allows for women-only additional seats (WOAS) at the state assembly
This measure can be undertaken with an amendment to state constitutions, and can be debated and passed at the state assemblies. The proposed bill need not be tabled as a federal parliamentary bill.
WOAS (women-only additional seats) as the most viable option
On balance and without superseding the existing FPTP system, the third measure or WOAS is the most feasible, fastest and least contentious way of accelerating women’s participation in formal politics.
Currently, there is an existing model of state constitutions allowing for this special position. Article 14 (1c) of the Sabah state constitution allows for “nominated members, not being more than six” to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri.
The clause above is an example of how “nominated members” may be able to sit in state assemblies without being elected. The number of additional seats to be allocated can be calculated on the basis of achieving 15 percent or 30 percent women’s representation in the state assemblies. Such a system will not threaten the seats of incumbents.
As practiced in proportional representation systems, party candidates can be nominated on the basis of popular votes won in the election. An agreed number of women representatives will be based on the proportion of popular votes won by their parties in the state election.
This nominated category provides some compensatory balance to the “winner takes all” outcomes of the FPTP system, wherein the size of popular votes by party are not proportionately considered in the final election of the people’s representatives.
The above proposal is by no means a radical measure that will greatly erode the male bastion of politics. It will nonetheless bring about some necessary gender balance in the electoral system. A more gender-equal society will make for a society of higher quality.

An effort to raise the number of women in politics could be in synchrony with programmes that improve the quality of their representation and expertise. As we approach the 14th general election, it is incumbent upon all political parties to state their position on this proposal.

MAZNAH MOHAMAD is an associate professor in the Department of Malay Studies and Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. She is also a member of the steering committee on gender and electoral reform convened by the Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC).- Mkini

2 comments:

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