What’s next in Malaysia’s democracy sequence?

Urwah Saari

International Development Analyst

Malaysian democracy entered a new phase after the appointment of a new government promising the restoration of justice and rule of law in place of 61 years of Barisan Nasional rule. What model will shape our democracy now? Will it be a better democracy? The word democracy, from demos means “common people” and kratos means “strength”. It is no surprise then that “people’s power” or “from the people to the people” is one of democracy’s buzzwords. Despite the intriguing definitions, critics say democracy was built upon enslavement and discrimination when Athens’ aristocrats denied slaves, women and foreign residents from taking part. For approximately 1.3 million Indian soldiers who served the British Empire during the First World War to fight tyranny and depression against Germany occupation, it was paradoxical that India had been under colonial British rule for nearly 200 years!

A possible pathway for an emerging democracy is democratic sequencing, an idea to increase the likelihood of democracy being a success, consists of 2 prerequisites: state-building and liberal constitutionalism; rule of law. This idea advocates that for democratisation to succeed initially the rule of law must be upheld and state institutions must be stable and neutral. In the past, political disagreements often provided ample opportunities for political extremist groups to emerge and take action against others with different political ideologies using violence, threats and physical abuse. The response from the authorities were often late and selective. Groups like the Red Shirt group and political stunt master Dato Jamal Yunos must no longer be allowed to take the law into their own hands. State institutions such as enforcement agencies must work within the boundary of the Constitution. Unlawful detention and hostile techniques that cost the lives of Teo Beng Hock and Ahmad Sarbani should never be part of interrogation tactics in the future . Intellectual discourses on various political and social issues must be allowed from the bottom to the highest level especially in academic environments such as universities.

With these, together with mechanisms and features such as clean and fair elections, the segregation of powers, political plurality and diversity in civil society entities only then will it bring true democratic substance and results. The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and the  opposition parties in Parliament, mainly UMNO have a huge tasks to make this a reality and it is hugely important that every leader is enlightened and committed to democracy and respect for the rule of law. On a final note however, we must also remind ourselves that there are many others posing as reformers and paying tribute under the name of democracy as a means to pursue personal gains.

# @Urwah Saari