The existence of these groups is a hallmark of a democratic society, allowing the people to promote and protect their interests when they are threatened, says W H Cheng.
Interest groups are one important avenue for the people of Malaysia to make their ideas, demands, needs and views known to elected representatives or for proposed legislation to be put forward to the ruling or opposition parties.
People normally find an interest group that focuses on their concerns and daily cares. Not all interest groups are political motivated, but many of these interest groups may try to or campaign to influence public policies.
Interest groups in Malaysia exist in various forms, via formal structure. They may be registered as a society, club or association, which we would usually refer to as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In certain circumstances. some interest groups may also register in a form of a company limited by guarantee, private limited company or as a small business entity. This is due to the government’s registrar of societies’ reluctance to see these NGOs flourish under their book.
The other type of interest groups exist in an informal structure or are unregistered, normally a coalition of NGOs or organisations who have come together to fight for a common objective or demand. Such informal pacts or coalitions are usually decentralised. Decentralisation thus encourage a great variety of interest groups to mushroom.
When interest groups are unable to channel their views and demands or to convince the legislature on matters for action and implementation, the only option is to put forward their demands through litigation proceedings.
In Malaysia, there are many kinds of interest groups that are established to protect human rights, to protect consumer rights, to promote transparency and combat corruption, to champion the cause for an equal and just socio-economic system, to protect workers’ rights and to look into youth and students concerns. There are also legal groupings to assist the public, residents’ associations; journalism groups, and women’s rights group. Then there are groups concerned about animal welfare, those seeking free and fair elections and those promoting interfaith harmony.
The notable interest groups that we can see today are Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Centre for Combating Corruption and Cronyism (C4), Transparency International Malaysia (TIM), the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), the Federation of Consumer Associations in Malaysia (Fomca) and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC).
Others include Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), the Malaysian Youth and Students Democratic Movement (Dema), the All Women’s Action Society (Awam), the Association of Women Lawyers, the Labour Resource Centre (LRC) and Good Governance Penang.
Other interest groups which are political motivated or with interests in public policy, political development and efficiency exist in the form of research and studies outfits, institutions and pressure groups. Among them are Research For Social Advancement (Refsa), Institut Rakyat, the Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet), Inter-Research And Studies (Iras), the Centre for Promoting Democracy and Reforms (Reformasi), and the National Oversight and Whistleblowers’ Centre (NOW).
Other examples include Community Development Centre (CDC), Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit), Solidarity Anak Muda Malaysia (Samm), Anak Muda Harapan Malaysia (AMHM), Persatuan Ummah Sejahtera Malaysia (Pasma), the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), Sisters In Islam (SIS) and the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH).
The existence of these groups is a hallmark of a democratic society that allows the people to create alternative political resources, to seek public awareness of issues and public policies when they observe that private economic corporations, governments or political parties have violated their interests and wellbeing.
In that sense, interest groups, big or small, play a fundamental role. They help and inform the people more effectively, using the resources they have at their disposal: voting, free speech, freedom of assembly, social media and recourse to judicial proceedings.