It is a great honour for Bersih 2.0 and Malaysia that the Asia Democracy Network (ADN) has chosen to hold its Democracy Consolidation in Asia Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this year. I believe it is a recognition of the momentous change that has taken place here last year when we saw a democratic and peaceful change of government.
Against a backdrop of pushback against democracy in Asia in several countries in recent years, Malaysia stood out as a beacon of hope for the region that change through the ballot box is possible even when the odds are stacked against democracy.
Despite the regime change that saw the fall of a coalition that has ruled this country for over six decades, we still face an uphill task to effect sustainable structural reform to the institutions that protect democracy in this country. Reviews of the conditions that allowed a regime to cling on to power for so long must be taken. We need to promote and strengthen multiparty democracy by reexamining our electoral system, delineation, freedom of media, voters education, political funding and voters suffrage, just to name a few. There is no multiparty democracy without free, fair and clean competition between political parties.
It is commendable that the new government under Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir, soon after taking office, administratively released key institutions like the Election Commission, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Judicial Appointment Commission and National Audit Department. Most importantly, our Parliament is being restored to its intended role as a legislative body and an effective check and balance to the Executive.
However, legal and constitutional amendments are needed to ensure that the reforms are institutionalized and that the democratic change achieved thus far is sustainable and hopefully, irreversible by future Prime Ministers.
Apart from the urgency to reform our institutions, the new government still need to hold this country together from the challenges of identity politics that uses race and religion. The government has to rise above populist tendencies that is polarizing the people of this nation and stay the course to craft a new narrative for New Malaysia that is inclusive, harmonious and equitable for all. It is not an easy task as we are dealing with entrenched mindsets that view society through lenses of race and religion but with a new narrative, we do not have a New Malaysia.
As a civil society organisation in Malaysia, Bersih 2.0 is cognisant of the enormous responsibility it has to push for democratic reforms, not just for Malaysia’s sake, but also for Asia. As Asians, we must show the world that democracy is not just a Western concept of governance but a universal one. Democracy has its flaws but no other systems of government places a higher value on the dignity of an individual human being, where every adult citizen has a right to choose their government.
Bersih 2.0 would like to stand together with all our partners in the region who are still fighting for democracy in their countries. What we can say to you is, “Don’t lose hope. Sometimes, hope shines brightest in the darkest moments.” There were many moments when the ambers of democracy were very dim in Malaysia. Kleptocracy replaced democracy, we were ruled by draconian and unjust laws, we faced constant intimidation and prosecution, we had a weak and disjointed opposition, but we did not lose hope. We kept prodding on until the light of change came like a new dawn. Don’t lose hope.
Once again, Bersih 2.0 is honoured to co-host the Democracy Consolidation in Asia Conference with Asian Democracy Network (ADN) and we will be eager to hear the many valuable experiences to be shared in this conference, to learn from both the good and bad, so that we can fan the flames of democracy together in Asia. Thank you.