Extract of Opening Speech by Mr. Thomas Fann, Chair of BERSIH 2.0, at the Electoral Reform Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A very warm welcome to the Malaysian Electoral Reform Round Table for today and tomorrow, from me, the Chair of Bersih 2.0 and on behalf of our co-organisers, namely the House of Representatives Speaker’s Office, the Election Commission of Malaysia, Kofi Annan Foundation, International IDEA, IFES and Global Bersih.

For us, the Round Table is not just about the nine topics of electoral reforms to be discussed, but a key event for ushering in the New Malaysia. New Malaysia should not be defined as a Malaysia with a new government, a new opposition, new ministers and new heads of government agencies, or a series of new policies.

New Malaysia should be rightly be a Malaysia with real, vibrant and sustainable multiparty democracy, especially so when, in my opinion, multi-party democracy has not been a success since the independence of Malaya in 1957.

The first 12 years of multiparty democracy can be characterised as a “consociational democracy” where power was shared among different ethnic groups. But this experiment of democracy was unfortunately ended by a post-election ethnic riot in 1969, after the centrist government suffered an electoral setback to opposition at both ends of the communal spectrum.

For the next 39 years until 2008, we were ruled by an “electoral one-party state” that provided us political stability and economic development but at a price of power abuse, corruption and human rights violation.

From 2008 until this year when we saw a change of government for the first-time, we had ten years of rigorous competition between the ruling coalition and opposition, but the competition in the past five years was lastly shadowed by enormous corruption and deteriorating communal relations.

In this brief revisit of our political history, it is not my intention to discredit the old government or any parties today. Rather, it is a humble recognition of the gigantic tasks ahead of us to re-establish multiparty democracy and a necessary reminder to us that we must not be lost in the euphoria of change. We want to express our resolve to identify and overcome challenges to make political competition work.

Multiparty democracy is not just for the people to decide their government, but it is also to recognise and affirm the legitimate presence of the Opposition, or the political minorities. People are not just those who have supported parties that incidentally win, but also those who have supported parties that incidentally lose.

New Malaysia belongs to all Malaysians regardless of the parties they support, and here, we would like to explicitly thank all parties and coalitions that are represented here – PKR, DAP, Bersatu, Amanah and their ally Warisan in the Pakatan Harapan Government; MCA and MIC in the Barisan Nasional; PAS; PBB and the Gabungan Parti Sarawak; UPKO, PBS, PSM. Thank you for being part of this Roundtable!

There is no multiparty democracy without free, fair and clean competition between political parties. Hence, for today and tomorrow, we are here to exchange views and hopefully, forge consensus on four themes that would be explored in ten important conversations:  first, electoral system; second, suffrage and voting; third, level playing field; and lastly, election management.

This Round Table is the first multiparty platform on how we may strengthen multiparty democracy through electoral reforms. It must not, and will not, be the last. After this Round Table, we hope the conversation continues in cities, town and villages nationwide, and also in the Parliament House through a Parliamentary Select Committee to deliberate on and facilitate constitutional and legal amendments necessary for electoral reforms.

Thank you.