Brookings says Malaysians are still too conservative to look beyond elderly leaders, making it unlikely for voters to choose a new generation of leaders in the next general elections.
In an article, ‘Democratization on hold in Malaysia’ written by Sophie Lemière, the institution says Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s successful reinvention in 2018 is a perfect example.
Mahathir’s successful reinvention from autocrat to democrat in the 2018 campaign suggests that Malaysians voters remain conservative and unlikely to call for a new generation of leadership, despite the controversies of the past.
The institution says the silence of a new generation explains the resilience of old leaders.
The institution says the silence of the new generation explains the resilience of old leaders
While younger democratic leaders have emerged elsewhere in Southeast Asia, this is not the case in Malaysia, it says.
“Malaysian voters appear more willing to trust older leaders and father figures. Najib, Anwar, and Mahathir have been at the forefront of Malaysia’s political scene for decades and a new generation of leaders has not yet emerged,” it says.
On the influence of the royal institution, Brookings compares the situation in Thailand, where the status of the king is under threat to that of the Malaysian king.
“While the status of royalty is under threat in Thailand, the Malaysian king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, is subtly crafting a new role to himself, far from the political tradition and his constitutional prerogatives.
“In this highly volatile political context, the king is portraying himself as a neutral arbitrator and a guarantor of stability.”
Nevertheless, the institution believes the Malaysian civil society lacks strength and independence or external support.
It calls on external support to NGOs to be made with more diligence, “as they sometimes direct it at the wrong organization or short-sighted initiatives.”
Brookings says general knowledge about democratic values is poor in Malaysia amid widespread contestation of the universality of these values.
“Malaysia’s democracy would also benefit from stronger support for outside voices such as journalists and academic researchers.
“Malaysia’s low levels of civic awareness and the absence of public debates about democratic principles is partly because of censorship and self-censorship, but also to the limited training offered to journalists and/or political commentators,” it concludes.
Read the full report here:
Democratization on hold in Malaysia