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Sunday, 26 June 2011

National Democratic Institute

Skyline of Kuala Lumpur

Since gaining independence in 1963, Malaysia has been governed by the Barisan Nasional (BN), a coalition of ethnically-based political parties led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that also includes the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), and the Malaysian People’s Movement Party (Gerakan). The government prides itself on maintaining ethnic and religious peace and stability, which sometimes means restricting civil liberties and basic rights.
Political Situation

Ahead of the 2008 general elections, opposition parties and civil society organizations played an increasingly important role in the debate over democratic reform, forming the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) to advocate for electoral reform. On November 10, 2007, tens of thousands of citizens turned out for a BERSIH-organized rally in Kuala Lumpur in support of electoral reform.

The March 2008 general elections were considered a success for opposition parties. Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and Democratic Action Party (DAP) made their largest gains in history, winning five states (Penang, Kedah, Kelantan, Selangor and Perak) and 82 of 222 parliamentary seats, and preventing BN from retaining its long-held two-thirds majority in parliament. These parties formed the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, led by PKR leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

In January 2011, BN managed to regain a two-thirds majority as problems surfaced within the major opposition parties, particularly PKR. Anwar was suspended for criticism of the government’s “1Malaysia” initiative, which he likened to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s “One Israel” political alliance. Three fellow PKR parliamentarians were suspended for six months for contempt after criticizing the Speaker of the House of Representatives for calling a vote on Anwar’s suspension without House debate.
NDI Programs

In February 2005, NDI launched a program in Malaysia to foster open discourse on legislative and governmental matters and to encourage political parties to be more transparent, democratic, and communicative in their relations with one another and with the public. The program fostered dialogue between parties and civil society on issues of reform to improve party constituent outreach, message development, and communication skills.

NDI encourages political party officials to explore improvements in their parties’ internal structures and decision-making processes by sharing local and international experiences and lessons learned. In November 2006, NDI conducted a series of single-party training sessions with ruling and opposition parties on strategic communications and messaging. Together with the Education and Research Association for Consumers (ERA Consumer), a leading Malaysian non-governmental organization known for its neutrality and effectiveness in promoting good governance, NDI supported forums for party officials and members to discuss local concerns and improve constituent outreach. As part of this effort, NDI and ERA Consumer organized a series of grassroots training workshops from 2004 to 2008 for ruling and opposition parties focused on issues such as women in politics and Islam, the constitution, policing and Malaysia’s human rights commission.

In July 2005, NDI organized a national-level workshop for party leaders on election reform. NDI has since conducted workshops across Malaysia to promote electoral reform in collaboration with Research for Social Advancement (REFSA), the secretariat for BERSIH. In 2006, NDI conducted a workshop for BERSIH that focused on improving the action plans of each participating organization or political party. In 2007, NDI and BERSIH conducted a series of workshops in the politically neglected provinces of Sabah and Sarawak to educate previously disenfranchised political aspirants.

The Institute has engaged both ruling and opposition parties through national and state level parliamentary skills workshops. NDI conducted a series of ad hoc consultations with newly elected parliamentarians on parliamentary procedures and constituent outreach. Because opposition parties have had limited experience in government, many of the parliamentarians elected in 2008 lacked a fundamental understanding of parliamentary processes and of representing constituent concerns. State-level parliamentary workshops in Selangor and Penang examined the role and operation of committees and public inquiries. Other workshops aimed to enhance the knowledge of parliamentarians from all parties on issues of parliamentary transparency and accountability, and improve their ability to fully represent public interests. To complement the parliamentary training program, NDI has supported national and state-level civic information fairs for various members of civil and political society to connect and develop new relationships across sectors.

NDI is currently implementing a NED-funded program to encourage electoral reform and strengthen the ability of parliamentarians to act as effective legislators. Through workshops with representatives of political parties and civil society, NDI aims to equip participants with the tools to develop effective public policies and run more effective election campaigns. The Institute is also working with local partner the Merdeka Center on a project to digitalize electoral maps and collate relevant information for electoral reapportionment, while simultaneously raising public awareness of this issue.

NDI programming for Malaysia is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Contact Information

For more information about these programs, use our contact form or contact:

Stephanie Lynn, Resident Senior Program Director
+62 21 310 7154 or slynn@ndi.org

Washington, D.C.
Lorri Carrozza, Senior Program Officer
(202) 728-5455


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