BERSIH Launches Report of The Roundtable on Deepening Democracy in Malaysia

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH), in collaboration with The Kofi Annan Foundation and Global Bersih, proudly launch the Roundtable Report on Deepening Democracy in Malaysia at the House of Parliament today.

This bilingual report features insights from a high-level roundtable featuring ministers and senior local and foreign parliamentarians, experts and practitioners from Malaysia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines, as well as media practitioners and representatives from civil society groups and youth, which was held in Parliament in May 2023. The roundtable was attended by over 150 participants and garnered over 10,000 cumulative views online.

The Roundtable Report on Deepening Democracy aims to aid Malaysians – from politicians, civil society and business actors, academics, media practitioners to ordinary citizens – in navigating an unprecedented political landscape: a hung parliament with a post-election coalition government.

These uncharted waters of fluid multipartism have raised questions on the legitimacy, effectiveness and sustainability of the coalition government and the roles of government backbenchers and Opposition parliamentarians in Parliament. The Report addresses these questions in five thematic panel discussions.

  • Panel 1 investigates “political stability in a hung parliament.” It revisits the cross-party contestations and negotiations that produced the federal anti-hopping law (AHL), with insights from a former law minister and a senior government backbencher. It also looks into other constitutional tools including a Constructive Vote of No-Confidence (CVNV) to prevent frequent changes of government in an era of populist discontent.
  • Panel 2 examines the roles of “Opposition and Shadow Cabinet in Parliament.” We learn about the institutional life of Opposition in democracies and the institutional arrangements that make Shadow Cabinets in Canada and Australia functional. A shadow minister and a former minister discuss the recognition and support needed for the Parliamentary Opposition Leader and Shadow Cabinet to provide healthy and constructive competition to the Government.
  • Panel 3 studiesthe challengesin “Steering a Post-Election Coalition Government.” It starts with learning from Germany’s experience, which has always had post-election coalition governments since 1949. Two senior ministers and a senior government backbencher share their candid views on how former archrivals put aside their differences to make their coalition government viable and effective and on whether this post-election coalition may revert back to a pre-election coalition.
  • Panel 4 explores “Empowering parliamentarians.” A parliamentary committee chairperson and a parliamentary expert exchange their views on how government backbenchers and Opposition parliamentarians may provide more effective checks and balances on the government by empowering parliamentary select committees, enabling private member’s bills and creating an independent bureaucracy for Parliament. The Finnish experience in parliamentary democracy is also discussed.
  • Panel 5 asks how an empowered Parliament may benefit civil society, media and youth. A wide range of issues from disinformation and hate speech, identity politics, youth empowerment and exercise of voting rights is passionately discussed. It also learns from the Filipino experience in mobilising the public for democratic participation.

The key challenges and major recommendations are concisely summarised in this report for brevity. As Malaysia’s democracy undergoes transition and consolidation, we intend to observe closely and respond to our democracy’s most pressing needs by learning from both Malaysia’s experience as well as best practices elsewhere in the world.

We are proud to have both the roundtable and its report launch be held in Parliament, which is rightfully the place for such deliberation on the future of our Democracy. Democracy and stability are inseparable. There would be no stability without democracy, and vice versa. In parliamentary democracies like Malaysia’s, Parliament is the key public institution to uphold democracy and uplift the reform agenda.

The three organisers – Bersih, Kofi Annan Foundation and Global Bersih – are extremely grateful and proud to have the full support of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker’s offices, as well as generous support from the Delegation of the European Union to Malaysia, the Canadian High Commission, and the Australian High Commission, to make this Roundtable Report possible.

Released by:
BERSIH Steering Committee