The dominance of political parties in Malaysian political life is a curse in some way because the failures of politics (making of bad public policies or party leadership tussels)will all be heaped on them. Compare this to other regional countries which had successfully democratised themselves they all have strong, vibrant and independent social movements with wide participation eg Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. The causes for political parties’ dominance are many-no less the parties’ concerted effort to infiltrate and undermine sprouting independent social movemetns and NGOs-where both ruling and opposition parties are guilty. A PR party even suggest that the strength of the party and the strength of the NGOs are a zero-sum game-totally ignoring the reality in regional neighbours where they can have both! Needless to say that political party is most reliant on recruiting NGO leaders and activists into its ranks to make up for its relative unattractiveness to talents/leadership material. Worse this view ignore the vital, supplementary and different roles of NGOs/social movements in articulating views more on a more cause-oriented, principled, people-centric basis and in monitoring the performance of all parties-be it ruling or Opposition. When the political parties managed to eclipse the social movements in the country-the deficit in giving articulation to the people’s sentiment breed cynicism and defeatism-which over time convince the ordinary folks/voters to stay away from politics-especially the party politics, even to the extent that cause them to lose avenues to address their problems.
When political parties are left to their own devices their negative self-interested tendencies may take over to seal a not-too-rosy image of politics and politicians. It is no wonder that politicians score poorly in public image anywhere in the world-more so in Malaysia! In the absence of mechanism to refer to and be guided by public sentiments politicians can do the worst things to outrage the public especially when they think they can get away with it eg when their opponent party is also indulging in such antics eg forced evictions, non-declaration of assets by top position holders in the governments, lack of transparency and participation in administration etc. A new deal between parties and social movements need to be created to revive both sides to play a mutually symbiotic democratic `games’, all for the benefit of the people!
Dwindling confidence in Political parties
The loss of public confidence in political parties was no surprise, said PKR-Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit 2010 democracy index, Malaysia had dipped three places to 71st out of 167 countries.
The report looked into restrictions on civil liberties and the increase of media censorship. The rise of politicking on both sides of the political divide was also a concern in the democracy index.
“The report confirms the fact that all Malaysians already know, which is the deterioration of our civil liberties and our political culture. We do not have true democracy,” Nurul said in a press statement.
“For the past 50 out of 53 years of independence, we have been living under emergency declarations that are conveniently used to maintain anti-democratic laws in the name of national security of an era gone past,” she said.
Nurul added that these laws, as well as the suppression of democracy, only benefited Malaysia’s ruling elite.
She said that both the National Economic Advisory Council and foreign investors stated that the lack of confidence hindered Malaysia from becoming a developed nation.
“Malaysia needs more democracy in order to continue prospering economically, socially, and culturally in this highly competitive borderless world,” she said.
As a solution to uplifting the country’s democracy, Nurul said that Pakatan Rakyat would present the Democracy Rehabilitation Act in the next parliamentary sitting.
According to her, the Bill would involve:
* revoking all emergency declarations;
* repealing laws such as the Internal Security Act, Universities and University Colleges Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act;
* fulfilling all agreements with Sabah and Sarawak;
* a free and fair election process;
* restoring local government elections; and
* guarantee of a free media.
It was her hope that the federal government would approve and pass the Bill.
“This Bill would restore our nation’s confidence and would bring us back on the path towards a developed nation by 2020,” she said.
Nurul added that a campaign to get one million signatures in support of the Act would be conducted from this month onwards. A memorandum containing the signatures would then be submitted to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Public confidence in political dips
Public confidence in political parties, be it from the ruling Barisan Nasional or opposition Pakatan Rakyat, has declined, according to an international intelligence organisation’s 2010 report.
The Economist Intelligence Unit 2010 democracy index ranked Malaysia 71 out of 167 countries, representing a slight deterioration compared with the 2008 index, in which Malaysia was ranked 68.
“The deterioration partly reflects a gradual erosion of civil liberties and political culture in the past year or so. A lack of public confidence in the junior partners within the BN governing coalition, and especially those representing ethnic minorities, persists.
“Voter confidence in political parties has been further undermined by an increase in politicking by members of the opposition alliance as well as by figures in BN.
“Such activity is expected to increase as members of parliament make preparations for a possible early general election in 2011,” the report revealed.
However, it said Malaysia continued to score fairly well in the electoral process and pluralism category.
“Elections are generally free, and voters are not subject to serious intimidation. The transfer of power is orderly between the leaders of Umno, which continues to dominate the political scene and has been part of every coalition government since independence,” the report said.
Malaysia scored 6.19 points out of the maximum 10 indicating weakness in the country’s democracy. In 2008, the nation’s score was 6.36 out of 10 points.
Civil liberties remain a concern
The Economist Intelligence Unit also noted that Malaysia’s restrictions on civil liberties remained a concern.
The report said problems relating to the media persist in Malaysia, with the print and broadcast media being subject to censorship.
Despite the government’s promise not to interfere in the electronic media, in the past year or so charges have been filed with increasing frequency against anti-government authors, it added.
“Malaysia also scores relatively poorly in the civil liberties category of the index, mainly because of the Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial and has been used against opposition politicians and journalists,” read the report.
The report also said that the opposition had pledged to dismantle the ISA if it comes to power, but the current government appears keen to keep it intact.
Malaysia scored 6.10 points on its electoral process, 6.79 on the functioning of the government, 5.58 on political participation, 6.25 on political culture and 5.88 on civil liberties. All points are evaluated on a scale of 0-10.
Pakatan won’t be a credible threat to BN
While Malaysia’s political stability would come under “moderate attack” during the next five years, Pakatan Rakyat, the country’s main opposition pact, “will not be able to offer a sufficiently credible, stable alternative” to the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), the Economist Intelligence Unit report, said.
The international organisation also predicted that the ruling BN coalition, controlled by its largest component party, Umno, would face greater challenge to its grip on power.
“The March 2008 general election revealed that Umno could no longer count on the strong support of the majority of Malays. However, the main opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance will not be able to offer a sufficiently credible, stable alternative to the BN.
“Political intrigues within Umno itself therefore constitute the biggest threat to political stability in Malaysia,” the Economist report revealed.
It further added that since the March 2008 general election, the ability to make or break the BN has been in the hands of political parties from Sabah and Sarawak as BN legislators from these two states account for 52 seats, making up over one-third of BN’s 137 Members of Parliament.
The BN’s Borneo power base, the report said, was likely to be severely tested at the Sarawak state election, which must be held by July 2011.
“Unresolved issues, such as illegal foreign immigration to Sabah, may cause the BN parties based in Borneo, or individual MPs from the island, to defect to the opposition or use the threat to do so to secure greater influence within the coalition in the run-up to the next general election.
“Moreover, the Borneo-based parties will become even more influential if MPs from the island retain their seats at the next election and a substantial number of BN legislators based in peninsular Malaysia lose theirs,” added the report.
The report said although voters in the rural heartland of peninsular Malaysia continued their support for Umno, a significant number of better-educated, liberal middle-class Malays have deserted the ruling party in favour of the opposition.
This shift in support away from Umno, the report noted, could be further encouraged by the greater availability of uncensored information on Internet news sites and blogs.
The Economist report said Umno’s internal leadership elections, which had been postponed to 2012, could be a source of instability, particularly if the party fails to secure a resounding victory in the snap general election that may well be called in 2011.
“Under such circumstances there would be even greater resistance to economic reforms, undermining the credibility of the Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, and potentially placing his position as president of Umno – and hence his role as head of government –at risk. The most likely contender to become Umno’s next leader is Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin,” the report said.
It also predicted Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim, would likely be convicted on a charge of sodomy in the coming months although Anwar claimed that the case against him was politically motivated.
“Without him, the ties that unite the disparate parties making up the Pakatan – the reformist, multicultural PKR, the conservative PAS and the left-of-centre, predominantly ethnic-Chinese DAP – are likely to fray, while the process of choosing a new Pakatan spokesman could deepen divisions within Anwar’s PKR party and also between the opposition coalition’s members.
“Yet the likely sentencing of Anwar to a prison term could also facilitate a realignment of the opposition and elements of the BN, thus offering an alternative to the current political groupings,” the report added.
The Economist Intelligence Unit also believes that the country’s general election would be held sooner than the end of the current five-year term in April 2013.
“Traditionally, the BN has preferred to call elections about a year before the end of its term of office, and this makes early 2012 a possible date for the next election. However, developments in recent months, such as the postponement of internal Umno elections, suggest that BN may consider holding a snap poll in 2011.
“We still believe that Najib will set a general election date after the Sarawak state election, which must be held by July 2011 and is the main event on the political calendar before the next national poll,” the report said.
It said the Sarawak election will provide a good indication of the level of public support for the government and its reform plans.
It said speculation had intensified that the Prime Minister and BN head would call for a general election in the first half of this year, nearly 48 months ahead of schedule.
“This view is based in part on the likelihood that the confidence of the ruling BN had been boosted by victories in two recent by-elections, one in peninsular Malaysia and the other in Sabah, which may have marked a turning point in terms of voter support for the governing coalition.
“Adding further fuel to the rumours about an imminent election, at the end of November the BN’s largest component party, Umno, announced that it was postponing its branch, divisional and central leadership elections by 18 months,” it said.
However, the report mentioned that Najib has denied he was planning an early parliamentary poll, but twice in the past when Umno has postponed its supreme council elections a general election has then been held within a year. Recent speculation has focused on a possible election in March or April.
The Economist Intelligence report noted that having witnessed splits that had arisen in the main opposition PKR as a result of its internal elections in November, Umno is probably keen to avoid any kind of internal party contest that could harm its public profile.
Another possible reason behind Umno’s decision to postpone internal elections was the party’s desire to minimise the risk of defections to the opposition – an option that is likely to be considered by disappointed candidates for Umno party posts, the report added.
Since the March 2008 general election, Anwar, the de facto leader of Pakatan alliance, has attempted to increase the Pakatan’s representation in Parliament by encouraging BN lawmakers to defect. But this has not worked so far.