Malaysia can lose its democratic momentum...

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | The jingle "Malaysia is truly Asia," does not have to be completely real or empirical. Asia, with its many indigenous cultures and people, is hard to qualify through the prism of one country anyway, let alone Malaysia.

Malaysia is diverse but not that diverse. This is a fact. India has more ethnic groups and sub-groups. Then, there is China. Another behemoth.

Officially, China has 55 ethnic groups, for instance. While the Han Chinese form 90 percent of the Chinese population, Beijing has the claim to be a truly Asiatic power by virtue of its ability to protect the rights of all ethnic minorities too.

Yet, not unlike India, China is unable to do well on all fronts, as Beijing's struggle with Tibetan and Uyghur nationalism seems to be showing. In fact, one might add that China is already wrestling with its governance of Hong Kong too, since many locals resent the surge of the mainland Chinese in an already crowded city.

Since neither China nor India can be truly representative of Asia, what more can one say about Malaysia? Nothing. But then, what is the main characteristic of the region? The issue comes down to one.

The lack, or, the absence of democracy. This is why Malaysia should seize the democratic opening on May 9 to advance its unique profile as a democratic country in Asia.

To be sure, only 4.5 percent of people live in full democracies. Of the 15 million Malaysians who went to the polls on May 9, billions more are trapped in a world where "life is short, brutish and violent", as the classic British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes once put it.

Invariably, Hobbes argued that a strong state, one based on rule of law, which he called a "Leviathan", was needed to maintain (equitable) structure and order.

Indeed, of the 165 countries studied by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2017, 89 experienced a fall in their democratic experience and score.

Only 27 democracies improved, while the rest stagnated. In the EIU score in 2018, Malaysia's standing is bound to improve too. Why?

To begin with, Malaysia has had one of the most dramatic turnovers in democratic governance. The government of Pakatan Harapan, as DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang put it, had ended the reign of "kleptocracy" and "kakistocracy"...

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