GE15 Manifestos Reveal Promising Institutional Reforms – A Progress towards Strengthening Our Multiparty Democracy

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) applauds the inclusion of pro-democracy reforms in GE15 election manifestos by the four major coalitions: Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Harapan (PH), Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA). Although not as comprehensive as we would have liked, the pledges pertaining to strengthening our public institutions, restoring trust, and providing greater transparency are nonetheless a welcome development.

In particular, the separation of the public prosecution function from the Attorney General has long been a key demand by BERSIH and other civil society organisations to remove doubts of selective prosecution and immunity from prosecution. We are pleased to see that both PH and BN has explicitly promised to separate the roles of the AG and public prosecutor, while GTA was vague and PN did not commit to this.

Another ‘gamechanger’ is the promise to empower Parliament to vet major public office appointments such as the Attorney General, Inspector-General of Police, Chief Justice, Chief of Anti-Corruption Commission, and Governor of Bank Negara. This is an excellent move by BN, PH, and GTA to strengthen parliament’s roles and lessen the concentration of power in the hands of the executive (specifically, the Prime Minister). Again, PN is mute on this reform.

Ideas that were long championed by BERSIH and other CSOs, and in particular the APPG for Political Financing – of which BERSIH is a member of – also made their appearances. All four coalitions pledge to introduce political financing regulations, with three of them (BN, PH, and GTA) specifying the will to create a Political Funding Act, while PN only promised to ban foreign donations to parties.

BN manifesto is the only one that stated its willingness to explore the devolution of power from the Federal Government to the State Governments to increase efficiency and strengthen the spirit of Federalism. While they are little details what this entails, we welcome this long-sighted intention to decentralize power from Putrajaya to the States, and we hope, eventually restore local government elections.

The PH manifesto deserves to be commended for its willingness to adopt a wider range of reforms such as establishing a Fixed Parliament Act, Parliamentary Services Act, a dedicated parliamentary budget office, and enacting term limits for Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers.

PH manifesto also goes a step further to protect freedom of expression by committing to review and repeal the Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Printing Press and Publications Act 1984. Their pledge to introduce a Freedom of Information Act and to amend the Official Secrets Act (OSA) will help bring about greater transparency in governance and enable the media to do their reporting more effectively.

BERSIH believes manifestos are key policy documents that demonstrate a party or coalition’s vision for governing the country. Voters should make an informed decision based on the respective coalitions’ manifestos.

BERSIH also believes that manifestos are an important avenue for public participation in contributing ideas to political and policy discourse. With the inclusion of several pro-democracy reforms by the different coalitions, BERSIH believes this is a vindication of the civil society’s efforts to engage lawmakers and key leaders in various coalitions to lobby for the good of our multiparty democracy.

BERSIH wishes to commend those manifesto crafters who prioritized the inclusion of institutional reforms. This is a step in the right direction towards ‘programmatic party competition’, where coalitions compete based on programmes and policies, not dangerous rhetoric over race and religion. Institutional reforms are needed to achieve sustainable long-term systemic reform and to provide effective checks and balance in our democracy.

Finally, BERSIH will continue to play our role in holding the coalitions accountable for the reforms pledged. Details of the pro-democracy reforms in the four manifestos are attached in the appendix.

Released by:
The Steering Committee of BERSIH


Appendix: List of institutional reforms proposed by four major coalitions in GE15

Institutional Reforms Pakatan Harapan (PH) Barisan Nasional (BN) Perikatan Nasional (PN) Gerakan Tanah Air (GTA)
10 years term limit for Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, and Menteri Besar Yes No No No
Separation of power and functions for Public Prosecutor and the Attorney General Yes Yes No Partial
Reform public appointment process vetted by a Special Parliamentary Committee Yes Yes No Yes
Fixed Parliament Term Act Yes No No No
Establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office Yes No No No
Parliament Service Act Yes No No No
Introducing the Political Funding Act Yes Yes Partial (ban foreign political donation) Yes
Equitable Constituency Development Fund Yes No No No
Review electoral boundary and delineation e.g. address malapportionment and gerrymandering. Yes No No Partial
Absentee ballot for voters outside of constituencies especially Sabah and Sarawak diaspora that are living in Peninsular Malaysia, and vice versa. Yes No No No
Review and repeal Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Printing Press and Publications Act 1984 Yes No No No
Amending the Whistleblower Protection Act, Official Secrets Act, and introduce Freedom of Information Act Yes No No No
Enact the Government Procurement Act and overhaul the Defence Procurement Process to protect against leakages and corruption Yes No Partial No
Empowering the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Yes No No No
Devolution of power from federal to state Partial (limited to Sabah and Sarawak) Yes Partial (royalty payments) No