Challenges of Malaysian democracy in 2024 – Part I

Rayner Sylvester Yeo

With no national or state election expected to take place in 2024, the people of Malaysia – particularly its political and civil society actors – should focus on improving aspects in which the country is lagging behind. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 25, 2023.

THE year 2023 is coming to an end. In a week’s time we will ring in the New Year of 2024.

And 2024 will be a very important year for democracy worldwide as seven out of the world’s 10 biggest countries by population – India, United States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia and Mexico – will hold their general election to elect a new term of government.

While there is no general election in China, the world’s biggest country by population, a general election to elect a new president and parliament will be held in Taiwan – which China claims as its own – which will likely add to the tension across the Taiwan Straits.

Taiwan is not the only place where elections will be held amid the shadow of war.

Both sides in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war are scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024, though in the case of Ukraine the elections would be most likely postponed till a further date as the country is still rampaged by the war.

In Latin America, Venezuela, which had recently raised the possibility of invading neighbouring Guyana to claim the Guayana Esequiba region, which Venezuela insisted is theirs and which has recently discovered oil, is also scheduled to hold a presidential election in 2024.

In fact, it has been speculated that the Venezuelan government’s aggressive posture is intended to shore up its re-election prospects as it is losing support due to the country’s fallen economy.

By contrast, the Malaysian political scene will be a lot quieter in 2024. Barring any early dissolution of parliament or state assembly, next year will be the first in five years in which there will be no national or state election held in our country.

Malaysians who have political fatigue due to political instability in the last few years can take the opportunity to take a rest from political news.

Although Malaysia has been plagued by political instability in the last few years, this is the growing pain that we have to endure in our path in maturing into a stable democracy.

In recent years, democracy worldwide has suffered setbacks as more and more countries fell into democratic backsliding.

Malaysia, which saw the long-ruling Barisan Nasional ousted in 2018, is perceived as a rare example of democratic progress in an otherwise grim prospect of global democratic governance.

The coalition’s loss also led to the chaotic 14th term of parliament.

Of the 17 political parties which were elected to the Dewan Rakyat, all have taken turns to be part of the government during the 2018-2022 term.

All but one had also sat on the opposition bench. The only party that had not been in opposition for the entirety of the 14th parliament was Bersatu, which became opposition following the 2022 general election.

A record of more than 20 political parties were elected to the 15th Dewan Rakyat in 2022.

By comparison, India – the world’s largest democracy, which has a population more than forty times ours, has only more than 30 parties in their lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha.

Of course, despite all the progress, there is still room for improvement. With no national or state election standing on the way in 2024, the people of Malaysia – particularly its political and civil society actors – should focus on the few aspects where we are still lagging behind.

First, we must continue to fight for the restoration of local elections.

Second, we have to uphold the principle of constitutional monarchy in light of the ascension of the new Agong.

Third is to ensure that institutional reforms are carried out.

The second part of this article will explore in more detail the few aspects above. – December 25, 2023.

* Rayner Sylvester Yeo is a member of Agora Society. He was born in Sabah and is currently residing in Kuala Lumpur. Having grown up in a mixed-ethnic, multi-faith family and spent his working life in public, private and non-profit sectors, he believes diversity is the spice of life.

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