On the trail of parliamentary defectors after Malaysia’s 14th general election

Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Malaysia

Organisation: Malaysiakini

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 15/02/2019

Credit: Lee Long Hui, Sean Ho, Syariman Badrulzaman, Andrew Ong

Project description:

The balance of power in the parliament of Malaysia is constantly changing due to a string of floor crossings after a historic general election in 2018 which saw the country experienced its first-ever regime change.

Our project focuses on changes in party allegiances by members of parliament (MPs) in the lower house of the Malaysian parliament. The special tracker page we created is to record all MPs defections since the general election.

It aims to help Malaysians and journalists keep track of changing allegiances, the current balance of power, and changes in the number of lawmakers for each political party.

Impact reached:

The story has accumulated 126,000 page views within five weeks since its publication, from Feb 15 to March 22, 2019. It has over 115,000 unique page views.

There are always spikes in traffic to the page when a defection by a Member of Parliament occur, indicating readers are using the page as a reference to understand political developments.

The project was published in three languages – English, Mandarin, and Malay – in order to reach as many Malaysians as possible. The three pages have been shared a total of 4,500 times on Facebook.

Techniques/technologies used:

The page was created with HTML, CSS and Uikit front-end framework.

The changes in the political allegiances of lawmakers were recorded in a CSV file. They were based on the announcements made by the lawmakers when they quit their party to join another, or become independent.

The data in the CSV file include their original political party, their new allegiances, and the dates of them switching camp. The timeline and waffle charts were drawn based on the CSV file with JavaScript and D3.js library.

There is another CSV file that records the changes in the number of seats in the lower house of Parliament held by each political party. The data is presented in a table on the published page.

The timeline, waffle charts and table can be updated easily by changing the data of the CSV files.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project is to find the best way to show the chronology of the changes of party allegiances by each of the members of parliament (MP). We spend quite some time debating on how the data should be presented.

Initially, we only thought of creating just a waffle chart, which has been used by many newsrooms to present the balance of power of the parliament/congress of different countries, to show the latest status of the Malaysian MPs. However, since the page is about tracking the movements of the defected MPs, waffle chart is not the best chart to identify those MPs and to reflect the changes of their party allegiances over time.

As such, we decided to use a timeline to present the changes and two waffle charts to display the latest balance of power in the lower house of the parliament. One shows how many seats are needed for the ruling coalition to gain a two-thirds majority in the lower house. Another waffle chart shows the changing composition of the opposition.

We think we should be selected because there are not many similar journalism projects in tracking political defections. Our project does not just track when a lawmaker quits a party, but also which party he or she joins next.

We also provide an option for readers to compare the composition of the government and opposition based on the general election results, versus the latest scenario. Given that the loyalties of Malaysian lawmakers are constantly changing, the information, timeline and chart on the tracker page can be updated accordingly.

Sufficient text narrative is provided to help readers understand the context behind the series of events. It also shows the bigger picture in the consolidation of power over time.

What can others learn from this project?

We think that using a timeline to track the changes of allegiances of the lawmakers over time could inspire other newsrooms as there are not many similar projects. It is a good way to identify individual politicians who cross the floor.

Another import aspect is the way of using of waffle chart to show the balance of power of a parliament/congress. Oftentimes, we see newsrooms use a single waffle chart to show an election result.

However, we see there is room for improvement as a single waffle chart may cause confusion for the readers. It is because a waffle chart could be viewed from either side and the way the readers interpret the chart might not be the same with what the newsrooms intended the readers to.

As such, we decided to present the data with two waffle charts to show the number of seats the ruling parties and the opposition have respectively. As to guide our readers to interpret the charts as we intend to, we only partially coloured the parts of the charts to make them more focused and be understood easily.

Project links: