Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform

April 16, 2017

Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform–Should he?

by Teck Chi Wong

Mr. Teck Chi Wong, a former journalist and editor with, is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Malaysia’s enthusiasm for electoral reform is arguably at its lowest point, after being high on the tide in the past 10 years as reflected by successive Bersih gatherings from 2007 to 2016.

But electoral reform is now more important than ever, particularly after the 1MDB scandal. If the authoritarian and corrupt political system is not overhauled, it will seriously impede the country’s ability to achieve high-income status in the long run.

In Malaysia, growth is never purely about the market. The state has been, and still is, playing important roles in steering and managing the economy. In fact, Malaysia was regarded in the 1990s as one of the successful models of the ‘development state’ in East Asia, which through learning and transferring resources to productive sectors had successfully industrialised the country and lifted many of its citizens out of poverty.

These East Asian developmental states, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, shared some common characteristics. Many of them (except Japan) were authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. But all of them were strong in facilitating policies and learning from others for growth.

On top of that, being authoritarian also helped these countries to stabilise their political landscape and therefore create a business environment which encouraged foreign investment to flow in. However, in Malaysia, it came at a tremendous and bloody price: the racial riots of 1969.

Key to this development model is the quality of the state. But it is difficult for these authoritarian regimes to maintain or improve their quality in the long run. Authoritarian order means that a lack of appropriate checks and balances for those in power leaves the system susceptible to corruption. At the same time, social and economic development gives rise to new needs and demands of accountability and integrity from the publics. As a result, political and social tensions emerge.

The East Asian developmental states approached this problem differently. Both South Korea and Taiwan had since democratised in 1980s and 1990s. Intense political competitions subjected those in power to greater checks and balances, and therefore reduced the most blatant forms of corruption.

Singapore, meanwhile, is an outlier. Despite not much progress in terms of democratisation, the city state has been outstanding in eliminating corruption. Many would point to the tough law and the high salaries of politicians and civil servants for the reason behind low corruption in the country. But exactly how Singaporean leaders could be disciplined despite no strong institutional checks and balances is still subject to debate, although this could possibly relate to their strong desire to guarantee Singapore’s survival in the international market and the region.

Image result for Corrupt Najib Razak and Zahid Hamidi

Zahid Hamidi, Keruak and Najib Razak–Patronage and Corruption is rampant in Malaysia today

Malaysia is stuck in the middle. Not only is it in the middle-income trap, but it is also wrestling between authoritarianism and democracy. The quality of its institutions, including its cabinet system, parliament and judiciary, has been on the decline and they cannot mount any effective checks and balances against UMNO, the dominant ruling party. Resultantly, corruption and patronage are widespread in the government.

This has serious implications for the economy, particularly when the country is seeking to leave the middle-income trap. To entrepreneurs, rent-seeking is simply more profitable, as reflected by the fact that most of the wealth of Malaysian billionaires is created in rent-heavy industries, like banking, construction, housing development and resources.

All of these forces are embodied in the recent 1MDB scandal. Although Prime Minister Najib Razak is accused of embezzling billions of public funds and the scandal has rocked investor confidence, no institutions can hold him accountable and no amount of public pressure can force him to step down. As long as Najib is controlling UMNO, his position is solid, as opponents are eliminated from the government and the party. Zahid Hamidi knows this well since Hishamuddin Tun Hussein has been appointed as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department to hold him in check.

If there is one lesson we can learn from South Korea and Taiwan, that would be democratisation can help to change the underlying political structure and strengthen the quality of the state. Through intensified political competition and appropriate checks and balances, the public can put more pressure on those in power to be more accountable and focus on economic development.

Image result for president park is impeached

In fact, the difference between South Korea and Malaysia is particularly stark now that Park Guen-hye, the former President of South Korea, was impeached. This happened just within months after the corruption scandal involving Park’s best friend erupted in October last year.

In Malaysia, the overhaul in political structure over the long run must be achieved through electoral reform, which includes making the Election Commission independent and reducing gerrymandering and malapportionment. As long as the electoral system is not changed, UMNO can remain in power by holding onto its support bases in rural areas. The recent controversies surrounding redelineation process just again highlight the need for reform.

To many, for Malaysia to regain its shine after the 1MDB scandal, Najib must go. But that would be just a tiny first step on a long journey to reform and democratise its political and administrative institutions.


10 thoughts on “Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform

  1. the word reform is not in his vocab, yg dia tahu hanya transform, jadi dia bapak transformasi (transfomer, bertukar).

    • Actually, he should be called Bapak Inflasi.
      Hawker food which used to cost RM4.50 is now
      RM6.50 to even RM8 in Klang Valley area.

  2. Najib strategy is spewing hate and fear mongering. It’s immoral, any good jurisdiction, disqualified from running for office even jailable offence. Unfortunately he got Hadi’s PAS to do the worst deeds, all wrapped up with religion, can commit even worst attrocities without consequences.

  3. Democracy is a word defined in its own interpretation by the power that are in the countries they are practiced. This is more evident in “developing” countries where democratic practice is in itself dictatorial. Isn’t it absolutely naive to expect electoral reform from Najib when the system let him to perpetuate his dictatorial power?

    It is uncanny but what we see in Malaysia today is like a re-run of the Ferdinand Marcos era in the Philippines, an increasingly oppressive and corrupt government bent on plundering the nation’s coffers until nothing is left. Najib is tacitly using the police and his “Red Shirts” gangsters to cowed citizens into submission. The insatiable wife of Najib has probably outshone Imelda Marcos in terms of her excesses. Malaysia is a classic case-study of how democracy can be abused.

    I strongly believe no system has been created by man can last forever. It’s in the nature of human civilization that things change; that’s the way we progress, constantly in search of something better. UMNO is using lies and false idea of Malay Supremacy to hold onto power. They fool the Malay majority to believe in this, not to give up on that, because that’s the way they sustain it; that’s the way they keep it going. But they’re finding it more and more difficult to fool the Malay masses as the Malay community is getting more and more educated, and more and more people are enlightened. The only question is: Will the Malay mainstream come to realization before the country dies?

  4. Gerrymeandering comes to mind with the Election commission working as an appendage of UMNO/BN. UMNO/BN is already sending truckloads of gifts to the villages. What reform?

  5. Quote:- “If there is one lesson we can learn from South Korea and Taiwan, that would be democratisation can help to change the underlying political structure and strengthen the quality of the state”

    There are no relevant lessons to be learned from S. Korea and Taiwan.

    Over in those countries race and religion play no part in their political or governmental, administrative processes. Here in Malaysia, race and religion are pivotal. Only a Malay Muslim can be the PM and DPM; only a Muslim can be a Menteri Besar, and the chiefs of the armed forces, the IGP and the AG and Chief Justice has to be a Malay or at least a Mamak.

    So what happens in those countries have no relevance here. In fact UMNO has been telling the non-Malays, particularly the Chinese, to concentrate on business and leave politics, and therefore political power, as the sole preserve of the Malays, and any contrary opinion is treasonous or seditious.

  6. When you and your party are winning election after election, why bother with election reform. Remember the saying don’t mess with it if it’s not broken.

    • Sorry, Orang Malaya, I beg to differ. The political system is broken and destroyed by incompetence, complacency, mediocrity and corruption. It is broken and therefore, it has to be fixed urgently. Indifference is not an option. That is really the Melayu Problem. I welcome a rebuttal to my statement.–Din Merican

    • DDM you missed my point. To Jibby and gang it is not broken since they keep winning every election. Once they start losing then they will look at Election Reform. Take the case in 1997 where they lost the 2/3 majority, UMNO scramble for Election Reform.

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