Malaysian Elections Represent Step Forward for Democracy | Page 71 | Freedom House

Malaysian Elections Represent Step Forward for Democracy

Washington, D.C.
Malaysia’s elections this past weekend should be heralded as an important gain for democracy in Southeast Asia, Freedom House said today.

Parliamentary elections on Saturday struck a major blow to Malaysia’s long-term ruling coalition, the Barisan National (BN), which has maintained a two-thirds majority in parliament for the last 40 years. Despite attempts by the ruling coalition to suppress opposition voices by arresting activists and restricting public demonstrations , opposition parties quadrupled the number of seats they hold, gaining the capacity to block government efforts to amend the constitution, as it has done frequently in the past.

“The fact that Malaysians went to the polls in large numbers and peacefully expressed their discontent through the electoral process represents an important step forward for Malaysia’s democracy,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House.

Public support for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has been on a downward slide over the past four years and declined markedly in 2007. In part, discontent has stemmed from the growing unpopularity of the government’s affirmative action policies for ethnic Malays, a critical part of the BN's campaign platform. Saturday’s most notable victory—particularly in a country traditionally beholden to race-based politics—was achieved by the multi-racial National Justice Party (PKR), which increased its number of seats from 1 to 32.

“Saturday’s vote marks a dramatic change for Malaysian politics. The results are a real testament to the country’s democratic activists and the ability of the opposition parties to come together, despite their ideological and ethnic diversity” said Camille Eiss, Freedom House’s Southeast Asia analyst. “This time, the very tactics employed to help ensure the ruling coalition’s electoral victory in the past—crackdowns on the media and preferential policies for the country’s Malay majority—only helped fuel its losses.”

In Malaysia’s latest elections, growing public anger fueled by perceptions of rising corruption and crime found an outlet in new forms of media, and helped opposition parties organize. Restrictions on public protests and the arrests of hundreds of activists helped shore up opposition support.

Freedom in the World
, Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, gave Malaysia a downward trend arrow in its 2008 edition, due to a Supreme Court decision that eliminated Muslims’ right to convert along with the government’s crackdown on online media, suppression of opposition-led protests, and use of the Internal Security Act to arrest organizers of minority-rights demonstrations.

Malaysia ranks Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2008. The country received a 4 (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the lowest) for political rights, and a 4 for civil liberties. 

For more information on Malaysia, visit:

Freedom in the World 2008: Malaysia
Freedom of the Press 2007: Malaysia

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Malaysia since 1972.

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