Way forward to full democracy

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Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) wishes to congratulate the people, the Electoral Commission and the Malaysian government for achieving the highest score in the election process category.

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released a report on the Democracy Index 2019 in 167 countries around the world. The Democracy Index was based on the evaluation of the five main categories – ie electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.

Malaysia obtained an overall score of 7.16/10 with the highest score in electoral process and pluralism (9.17/10) and the lowest score in civil liberties (5.88). The scores in other categories are 7.86 in functioning of government, 6.67 in political participation and 6.25 in political culture.

Malaysia, ranked 43rd last year from 52nd in 2018, was rated a “flawed democracy”. This is a remarkable achievement by Malaysia despite the decline of democracy at both the Asian and global levels.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) wishes to congratulate the people, the Electoral Commission and the Malaysian government for achieving the highest score in the election process category. This is a positive sign that Malaysia is moving towards a clean and fair election process.

However, Bersih 2.0 also wishes to remind everyone that there is a lot to do to achieve the status of a “full democracy”. These are our calls:

Institutional reform

To become a full democracy, it is important to restore the people’s confidence in key government institutions such as the electoral management body, the anti-corruption agency, the police, the judiciary and of course Parliament, which drafts laws and policies.

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Bersih 2.0 wishes to remind the government that the process of appointing members of key institutions such as the Electoral Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Judicial Appointments Commission, the National Audit Department and the Attorney General’s Chambers must be transparent and not appointed by the prime minister alone to create better checks and balances in government.

In addition, the government also needs to reintroduce the Parliamentary Service Act so that Parliament can appoint its own officials. Civil society organisations are still waiting for the government to change the law to make this a reality in the New Malaysia era.

Freedom of Speech

The Pakatan Harapan government should repeal laws that still restrict freedom of speech, such as the Sedition Act, so that they cannot be used arbitrarily to suppress the people’s criticism of the government. All levels of government should also respect freedom of speech without making it difficult for the people to hold a peaceful assembly.

We also wish to congratulate the government for the repeal of the Anti-Fake News Act. Even without this act, the government can stop fake news and prosecute those who disseminate such news using existing laws.

Local government elections

The PH government should re-introduce elections at the local government level to increase the process of participation of the people in making policies that will benefit them. The holding of local government elections, as the third vote of the people, is a very important democratic process because it is the closest institution to the people. Local governments also need to be given more autonomy to create policies that benefit the people.

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Prime minister’s power

The PH government should reduce the executive power in the hands of the prime minister to prevent misuse of power as happened before during the Barisan Nasional era. The PM’s term needs to be limited to prevent politicians from holding power for too long, which could lead to abuse of power and corruption. Limiting the PM’s term will also provide a more level power structure and a more stable political environment.

Political participation

As of 2019, there were 33 women in the federal Parliament (14.9%) and only five female ministers (17.8%). Transformation can only happen with greater inclusion and leadership of women in this country. This should be a core aspect of Malaysia’s commitment to gender equality by reflecting it in the cabinet. Judging from the numbers, Pakatan Harapan’s promise of 30% women’s representation in the state and federal governments has not been fulfilled.

The improvement as reported shows that our country is heading towards a better and mature democracy, but none of this will succeed if there is no political will from the government to guarantee that reforms, especially institutional reforms, are implemented immediately.

Bersih 2.0 also hopes that the government, opposition parties and all Malaysians can work together to achieve “full democracy”.

Bersih 2.0 steering committee



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H.H. Lim
H.H. Lim
15 Feb 2020 12.35pm

I feel congratulations are definitely premature. The better marks for electoral process and government functioning suit the promised improvements more than the “too little and too slow” actual improvements. The electoral system, especially the drawing of electoral constituencies, remains very unfair, even with better administration by the new and thus far “nuts and bolts” focused Election Commission. Most institutional reforms to restore accountability and to limit and separate powers, including those concentrated in the hands of the PM, have not been effectuated. Efforts are under way, but it remains unclear and unsure whether and when the promised reforms will occur.