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Feb 14, 2008

Young and restless? A snapshot of Malaysia's voters


MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi called a snap election on Wednesday, at a date to be fixed by electoral authorities.

Here are some key facts on Malaysia's voting public:

* Who?: Relatively young, and mostly Malay. Voting age is 21 and the median age in Malaysia is 25 years. The ethnic makeup of the country of 26 million is Malay 50.4 per cent, Chinese 23.7 per cent, indigenous 11.0 per cent, Indian 7.1 per cent.

* What?: Some 222 federal parliamentary seats in 13 states are up for grabs, as well as seats in each state legislature except for Sarawak which held its state election in 2006. Under the winner-takes-all system, voters choose one candidate for parliament and one for the state assembly, with the majority-winning party forming the federal or state government.

* How many?: Around 10.3 million voters registered for the 2004 polls. The electoral commission said in January it wanted to sign up 4.5 million eligible voters, mostly youths, before the next polls. At the same time it is purging about half a million 'phantom voters' - who use the details of dead or double-counted voters to vote outside their constituency - from its rolls, the election chief said.

* Where?: Twenty-one million of the country's 26 million people live in peninsular, or West, Malaysia's 11 states and three federal territories, and the rest on the Malaysian portion of Borneo island, in East Malaysia's two states - Sabah and Sarawak. Critics accuse the government of gerrymandering through contentious constituency redelineations, which saw Barisan Nasional strongholds such as Johor and Sabah gain extra seats, while opposition controlled areas did not.

* Fair?: Opposition parties complain that the electorate is gerrymandered in favour of mainly rural Malays, who have limited access to independent sources of information and tend to support the main ruling party. In the 2004 election, the governing coalition won 90 per cent of parliamentary seats with 64 per cent of the vote. The mainstream press is also pro-government and gives opposition statements relatively thin coverage.

* How enthusiastic?: Voting is not compulsory, and turnout fluctuates. Holidays are declared when the election day does not fall on a weekend to encourage participation.


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