Malaysia’s democratic opportunity can still be squandered


Anwar Ibrahim (second right) Credit: CSID

In a world struggling with resurgent authoritarianism, Malaysia is a bright spot, notes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Joshua Kurlantzick. Yet Malaysia’s government is now in danger of frittering away the momentum of its democratic triumph. Malaysian leaders must act rapidly before the country’s more anti-democratic forces reemerge, the opposition fights itself, and the power and popular legitimacy from winning an election fade, he writes for The Washington Post:

  • Already, some cracks are appearing between the Mahathir government and its supporters in civil society, who back aggressive measures to boost government accountability. As Asia Times has reported, public approval of Mahathir’s performance has fallen by about 20 percent … Mahathir’s government has ruled out allowing local elections, which would give people more say in local affairs. Leading civil society groups blasted the decision.
  • Most important, conservative ethnic Malay groups could slow down reform. These groups are often fearful that Malays, who comprise the majority of the population, could have their power diluted in a democratic era. Conservative groups have already forced the Mahathir government to scrap its plans to adopt a United Nations anti-discrimination convention, which many Malays feared would undermine their privileges….
  • In addition, the former ruling coalition, once led by Najib, retains power in the upper house of the legislature. Wielding its control of the upper house, it is using its power to water down proposed reforms, such as attempting to block the repeal of the anti-“fake news” law.
  • Interfaith tensions also have the potential to absorb the government’s time and stall reform. The shift in control of government has led many ethnic minority groups to advocate more forcefully for themselves. This is a potentially positive change, but ethnic minorities’ advocacy also increasingly provokes a backlash from some Malays, as exemplified by a recent melee at an Indian temple. RTWT

The National Endowment for Democracy request that you save the date for the fifteenth annual SEYMOUR MARTIN LIPSET LECTURE ON DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD

Anwar Ibrahim (above), President, People’s Justice Party of Malaysia

Monday, February 11, 2019. 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The Embassy of Canada

501 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC.

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