Our Voting System
A non-partisan voting GUIDE FOR first-time / young voters: PART 2
You asked: "Where did we get our voting system from?" "How is it possible to win the elections and not win the popular vote?" "What does winning a seat even mean?
Let's talk about our voting system.
We use First Past The Post (FPTP) used in British elections. It's the second most popular voting system in the world, and like many other countries, we inherited it from British colonialism.
In FPTP, you cast only ONE vote per seat.
The candidate with the most votes in the area wins the seat and will represent the area. Each party only offers one candidate to choose from. Voters then mark X next to the name of the candidate they choose.
This image shows what it'd look like if every seat in both West and East Malaysia were represented by a square.
The pros and cons of FPTP
The PROS: It's easy to understand. Votes can be quickly counted. A winner is easy to declare. In FPTP, a candidate will represent the area if they win the final tally by three votes or 30,000 votes. We'll come back to this shortly, but this is why every vote counts!
The CONS: In the case pictured, when many candidates run for a seat, a person could still win and represent the area even if 80% of the area's voters did not choose them.
The biggest downside to FPTP?
Over time, two major 'sides' are bound to emerge. Then voting becomes about which side you dislike the least. Both sides will actively try to get you to dislike the other. Sound familiar?
CPG Grey explains in detail in this YouTube video where the gifs are from. He talks FAST, so turn on CC and slow down the video in its Settings!
Don't like FPTP?
Many former British colonies have switched to other voting systems (or a combination of), but for now, this is what we Malaysians have to work with.
And since FPTP benefits two major 'sides', it's unlikely either will propose a change. It would have to come from external pressure by the people (like you!) outside of the election year.
Protesting during voting itself won't magically change our voting system to another.
Malaysia's situation is unique!
For over sixty years, our voters have elected only ONE political coalition into power since independence— a coalition of parties differentiated by race.
We may not be a one-party state (like China, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea), yet we're very used to having one coalition govern most of our resources for all of our post-colonial history.
Obviously this has effects on our social and political landscape that we can't go into here!
Did you know it's possible to form a government even if half the voters didn't choose your candidates?
This happened in Malaysia in the 13th general elections. How did it happen? Well, it's important to know that the FPTP voting system is NOT a popularity contest.
Here's an elections example to demonstrate.
So in FPTP, 30,000 votes against you in one seat carries the SAME weight as three votes for you in another seat. Confusing? Imagine voting results like these, but with more seats and millions of voters.
Party Triangle is more popular (170 more voters chose them), yet Party Circle wins 2 of 3 seats.
FPTP is NOT a popularity contest because a party / coalition forms a government by the number of SEATS won, not the number of VOTES their candidates got in winning those seats.
It could have been 10,000 votes or 200 votes!
One victory, one seat.
So even if a party has several Members of Parliament (MPs) in Parliament, it doesn't mean they received the most votes.
As long as you win 112 out of 222 seats in Parliament (simple majority), you can form the government.
Win 148, and you can amend the constitution.
There is more complexity to these kind of results if you want to read up on gerrymandering and malapportionment. Concerned citizens can affect how these lines are drawn, and if you decide to do so too, it's a normal and healthy part of your citizenship.
If only one coalition has been in power since independence, why have elections at all?
Because our permission is needed to form the government. We the citizens give this mandate every five years. With one X, we assign them the power to decide how our resources are allocated.
This is why elections matter, and why we can still call ourselves a democracy instead of a one-party state.
We need elections, we need young people who registered to vote, and we need voters who will show up to vote.
Thanks for reading! Want more?
Now you know the system, but what comes before and after voting? What about the actual voting process? Who observes the elections?
We have a series of non-partisan first time youth voter content to get you covered before election fever peaks. Each episode takes only a few minutes!
If you find this series useful, share it with another youth voter or future voter. We do this work for you, and for us the youth!