Challenges of Malaysian democracy in 2024 – Part II

Rayner Sylvester Yeo

This year will be a vital one for democracy, and here’s to hoping Putrajaya delivers on the institutional reforms it promised. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 1, 2024.

HAPPY New Year to all Malaysians and other readers of this column!

In the first part of this article, published last year, it has been mentioned this year will be a vital year for democracy worldwide as seven out of the world’s 10 biggest countries by population will hold their general elections, as well as a few countries in regions under risk of war or already at war.

It was also mentioned that by contrast, the Malaysian political scene will be quiet as this will be the first in five years in which there will be no national or state election held in our country, barring any early dissolution of parliament or state assembly.

Our democracy is not perfect despite the huge progress in recent years, and 2024 should be a year in which we consolidate our gains by seeking improvement in a few aspects that we are still lagging behind.

The restoration of local democracy is one area we should focus on.

With our country not having any national or state polls to deal with in 2024, this is an opportunity for us to focus on local governance and representation.

This is especially important for the people in Federal Territories – Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.

Unlike people in Malaysia who could at least still vote for state representatives despite the lack of local elections, the lack of elected local assemblies in the Federal Territories means their people only had one vote to cast in the national election.

Next month, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Federal Territories.

While the government will be expectedly celebrating it in a triumphant manner, we should not forget this is the 50th year in which the people of Kuala Lumpur only a single vote.

Last month, a debate ignited when it was suggested by DAP’s Kuala Lumpur chief to have the city become the first to reintroduce local elections, which as usual, has attracted racialised remarks.

Some civil society actors have voiced support for the idea, including the new chief of the electoral reform group, Bersih.

The new Federal Territories minister, who was appointed following the cabinet reshuffle, has also said she will discuss the matter with the housing and local government minister. Hopefully, this will lead to a renewed progress in our quest for local democracy.

Aside from local democracy, another matter we should focus on in 2024 is the principle of constitutional monarchy in light of the ascension of the new Yang di-Pertuan Agong this month.

The last few years under the outgoing king’s reign was without a doubt a turbulent time for Malaysia and we have been fortunate to have His Majesty’s wisdom to guide us through the storms.

During his reign, two prime ministers had to resign because they lost their governing majority.

In the 2022 general election, we had our first hung parliament and the king worked hard to ensure a new prime minister was appointed.

We cannot take for granted having those guiding hands if similar instability recurs in the future.

We could be served well if we have clearer and more transparent procedures for dealing with events such as a hung parliament and loss of governmental majority in the midterm.

Any attempt that can undermine our constitutional monarchy, such as to put more power into the hands of unelected institution, especially those that are supposed to be politically neutral and stay above the actual matters of governance, should be resisted by politicians and civil society actors who must realise such moves will not contribute to bringing good governance to our country.

This also takes us to the last point of this article, which is to ensure institutional reforms are continuously carried out and not lose steam in 2024.

We should all remain vigilant and ensure the government delivers on reform promises, such as separating the role of attorney-general from public prosecutor, strengthening the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, empowering parliament, and carrying out political financing reform.

Let us hope 2024 will be a robust year for Malaysian democracy. – January 1, 2024.

* 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.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.