Unsurprising but nothing to worry over as Malaysia labelled "flawed democracy", says experts

22 Feb 2024 09:09am
Malaysian ranked as 'flawed' democracy in 2023 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index is not surprising, yet it's not something significant to worry about at the moment, says expert. (FILE PIX)
Malaysian ranked as 'flawed' democracy in 2023 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index is not surprising, yet it's not something significant to worry about at the moment, says expert. (FILE PIX)

SHAH ALAM - Malaysia's democratic standing has once again come under scrutiny with the recent release of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index. The report classified Malaysia as a 'flawed democracy,' prompting discussions among experts regarding the nation's democratic trajectory.

Despite the questionable and what-seemed-to-be a negative labelling, experts have described it as "unsprising" and "nothing to be worried about" as the country was still a developing nation.

Speaking to Sinar Daily, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) political analyst Dr Abdul Aziz Azizam said Malaysia's position in the EIU report was not unexpected, considering the complexities involved in achieving high ratings across crucial democratic indicators.

Firstly, he said the EIU report was conducted annually, and they have outlined five crucial elements as follows: Electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.

"These five elements are highly sensitive to the composition and administration of government, especially in developing countries," he said.

However, Aaziz said developing countries like Malaysia often face hurdles in meeting these criteria due to the dynamic nature of governance and societal demands.

For countries striving for economic and social development stability, he said achieving high ratings in these five categories was challenging thus preventing Malaysia from meeting the criteria for full democracy.

Aaziz further points out the impact of Malaysia's unique unity government composition on its democratic performance.

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"Secondly, the factor of a unity government composed of a unique composition makes the government's position vulnerable due to unclear directions or goals, which also affects the measured indicators.

"The findings from the EIU, I believe, are not definitive but rather indicative of the current status of the democratic system's handling," he said.

However, he said these levels were subject to change over time and do not signify a static state of affairs.

"These levels are dynamic and will change over time. The power and strength of democracy are somewhat compromised not only in Malaysia but also globally, as overall democratic countries in the world are currently not fully functioning for the benefit of all humanity," he added.

Aaziz believes that report was not significant worry at the moment. Instead, he urged the government to focus on addressing the burdens of Malaysians facing in the nation.

"Democracy, once considered superior to dictatorship, no longer holds that value. For example, in the recent scenario democratic countries are among those engaging in genocide, and democratic nations are supporting ongoing genocides.

"Therefore, I believe that this report is not something significant to worry about at the moment.

"Instead, it is more important for our government to focus on addressing the burdens of the cost of living, weaknesses in the currency value, and many other crucial matters related to the welfare of the people immediately," he said.

Universiti Utara Malaysia Resource and Environmental Economics Professor Dr K. Kuperan Viswanathan echoed similar views stating that contrary to the labelling of Malaysia as a 'flawed democracy', Malaysia should be viewed as a developing democracy.

"Malaysia is not a flawed democracy, it is a developing democracy. For a country based of multiple ethnic groups with diverse religions, languages and cultures, I will say Malaysia is an admirable democracy.

"Nowhere in the world that there is perfect democracy," he stated, emphasising that democracy is a continual journey.

He praised Malaysia's ability to navigate the complexities arising from its diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural landscape.

Kuperan also commended the country's progress in maintaining peace, cooperation, and economic growth over the years, attributing it to the nation's values of liberty, equity, and economic progress.

"We are making progress in our ability to maintain peace and cooperation and realise economic growth in an equitable and sustainable way. In that we have succeeded over the past 66 years, we can continue to succeed if we value liberty, equity and economic growth," he said.

However, political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun voiced out a more concerning perspective touching on Malaysia's poor performance in the civil liberties category.

"Flawed democracy means a regime which has yet to attain a high degree of democracy," he said, citing restrictions on freedom of expression and prohibitions on the outward expression of certain identities.

He highlighted restrictions on freedom of expression and issues related to LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) rights as contributing factors.

"This is no surprise at all considering the draconian curbs on any freedom of expression on the much vaunted race, religion and the royal institution (3R) issues, as well as the prohibition on outward expresssion of LGBT sexual orientations," he said.

Despite being the best performer in the region, he said Malaysia's democratic aspirations cannot be fully realised without substantial improvements in civil liberties.

"Is it relevant for Malaysia to want a real democracy? Sure, the country cannot claim itself to be advanced or developed unless it is also a truly democratic one," he said.

On Feb 15, the EIU Democracy Index released a report showing Malaysia ranked as 'flawed democracy' scoring only 7.29 out of 10, a minor drop from last year’s score of 7.30.

In the index comprising five criteria—electoral process and pluralism, government functionality, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties—Malaysia achieved its lowest score in civil liberties, scoring 5.88, while its highest score was in electoral process and pluralism, reaching 9.58.

Countries scoring eight and above are classified as "full democracy" by the EIU, while those scoring between 7.99 to 5.99 are labeled as "flawed democracy".