Reforming Malaysia: The Big Issues in the 13th General Elections 

The oft-heard argument by political coalitions that they do not want to air their election manifestoes too early because they do not want the opposing coalition to copy them is laughable since it implies that the manifestoes of the two coalitions are inter-changeable. Are we then choosing between two different flavours of Cola?

Dr Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM 

Watching the Prime Minister playing Santa Claus daily, it is evident the 13th general election is just round the corner. And yet the big reform issues that Malaysians want to be met by the political parties and independent candidates are still not being discussed in the mainstream or online media.

We all know that Bersih 3.0 has been an awesome success in bringing about the Malaysian Spring. The Anti-Lynas movement has been just as encouraging. But free and fair elections are supposed to be ensured BEFORE the 13thgeneral election and Lynas cannot be the only other issue in this election!

In other countries which espouse democracy, the contenders debate these issues at least a year before the actual election. Were these issues thrashed out when the MCA and DAP leaders recently held their much publicized debate? Of course not, for their Sino-fistic cat fights invariably deteriorate into who is playing a parasitical role to UMNO or PAS, ad nauseum. These are sideshows to amuse the circus audience. The country needs to see and hear a debate on the big issues facing Malaysia today between the two leaders of the opposing coalitions in order to judge whether their policies meet our demands. We want to know the concrete details of their manifestoes.

The oft-heard argument by political coalitions that they do not want to air their election manifestoes too early because they do not want the opposing coalition to copy them is laughable since it implies that the manifestoes of the two coalitions are inter-changeable. Are we then choosing between two different flavours of Cola? This will be the case if both coalitions are indiscriminately competing for investments using the same neo-liberal policies. It will be too late to pin them down on the details of their policies when the election is called because they will say they are too busy with the campaign and their manifestoes are covered with print too small to read. To them, all that matters is the election tag line. But election taglines (“Time for Change”…) are not election promises!

Malaysian civil society is strictly non-partisan. It exists solely to uphold justice, democracy and human rights and to pursue the interests of the Malaysian peoples. We are in the process of drafting concrete demands to be presented to the political parties and independent candidates contending in the 13th general election for their endorsement. We believe that these demands are reflective of the aspirations of the various sections of the Malaysian peoples and are based on the current state of the Malaysian political, economic, social and cultural society.

We are familiar with BN’s record of the last 55 years but PR must declare their commitment to the concrete demands we have listed below and the people expect them to state the timelines for their resolution of each demand if and when they form the next government.

It is time these big issues are discussed by the Malaysian people if we are to achieve an aware and vibrant democratic society. Don’t let the pre-election hype and slogans hide the real reforms we want to see in Malaysian society. It is time to hear your views on these 17 big issues to truly reform Malaysia:




















Fifty five years after Independence, we still observe the vain attempts at “national unity” with periodic coining of new slogans such as “1 Malaysia”. Honest Malaysians know that we need to start from a position of equality and to expunge racist/populist divisions of “bumiputera/non-bumiputera” and the unacceptable concept of “ketuanan Melayu”. The New Economic Policy that was introduced in 1971 during the Emergency after the May 13 “coup detat” in 1969 has already run its course for more than 40 years, way past its “sell-by” date of 1990. BN looks set to carry on this “Malay agenda” but is PR committed to the termination of the NEP as soon as they gain power? Anwar has said it before but recently he has also said that certain demands are “economically sensible but politically impractical”. Can PR categorically state when the NEP will be rescinded if and when they get into power?

Our concrete demands are:

1.1. Abolish the “New Economic Policy” – corrective action in all economic and education policies must be based on need or sector or class and not on race with priority given to indigenous people, marginalised and poor communities;

1.2. Repeal amendment (8A) of Article 153 that was passed during the state of emergency in 1971 and was not in the original 1957 federal constitution;

1.3. Institutionalize means testing for any access to scholarships or other entitlements;

1.4. Implement merit-based recruitment in the overwhelmingly bumiputera-dominated civil & armed services;

1.5. Enact an Equality Act to promote equality and non-discrimination irrespective of race, creed, religion, gender or disability with provision for an Equality & Human Rights Commission;

1.6. Promote equality & human rights education in schools, unions, institutions;

1.7. Ratify the Convention on the Eradication of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and Economic, Social & Cultural Rights.



Malaysians will not put up with compromises to our basic human rights. Detention without trial is unacceptable and the abuse of these laws by the BN through the years cannot be tolerated any longer. The laws to replace the ISA still sanction incommunicado detention and we know that torture of detainees usually happens in the first days of detention. We fail to see why any country committed to human rights like ours still refuses to ratify the basic international covenants and conventions and to implement essential institutions to ensure justice and personal safety.

Our concrete demands are:

2.1. Repeal all detention-without-trial laws;

2.2. Ratify the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on Refugees;

2.3. Implement the Independent Police Complaints Committee (IPCMC) and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies such as the MACC;

2.4. Establish a law reform commission to restore the independence of the judiciary, review the Federal Constitution and all laws that are unjust and violate human rights and resolve the conflict of jurisdiction between civil and syariah laws;

2.5. Establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry to solve once and for all the problem of citizenship for Malaysians who were born here or have lived here for more than 10 years, permanent residence for foreign spouses of Malaysians who have been in the country for 5 years, as well as the problem of illegal immigrants in the country.



Corruption remains a serious problem in Malaysian society after so many years of Independence. The anti-corruption agencies have failed to solve this problem that has held back investor confidence and dampened the morale of our people for years now. The future development of our country depends on our respectable position in the international corruption index.

Our concrete demands are:

3.1. Set up an Independent Anti-Corruption Commission answerable to parliament with the power to recommend prosecutions for all offences of corrupt practice;

3.2. The Public Accounts Committee in Parliament should be chaired by an Opposition Member of Parliament;

3.3. Eliminate opportunities for corruption such as proscribing the “revolving door” opportunities between the civil/armed services and the private sector;

3.4. Ensure the government ministry/department head accounts for every discrepancy in the annual Auditor-general’s report and pays for any negligence or corruption involved;

3.5. All privatised projects must be openly tendered;

3.6. Carry out effective anti-corruption campaigns in the media, schools and public areas throughout the nation.



There will be no peace for any ruling coalition in this country so long as our elections are unfree or unfair and our electoral rolls are suspect. The Bersih campaign has highlighted the eight demands we want met before the election is called. But ultimately, it is the gerrymandering that allows the BN to win the biggest number of seats despite the sizeable opposition vote at every election. Let’s go back to the so-called “social contract” of constituency delineation no bigger than 15 percent from the national average.

Our concrete demands are:

4.1. Fair representation in delineation of parliamentary constituencies – discrepancy in the number of voters in different constituencies should not exceed 15% as existed at the time of Independence;

4.2. Strengthen public institutions involved in the electoral process, including the judiciary, the Election Commission, police, MACC and broadcasting media to ensure their independence and professionalism;

4.3. Clean up the electoral rolls;

4.4. Automatic voting eligibility from the age of 18 using identity card;

4.5. Reform postal voting to ensure transparency and to enfranchise Malaysian citizens abroad;

4.6. Minimum of 21 days for electoral campaigning;

4.7. Election offences should include all unethical practices such as religious or communal appeal, false statements, defamatory or personal attacks, willful distortions, unproven allegations, racist, racial or other forms of intolerant statements against women, minorities and marginalized groups;

4.8. Curb corruption and vote buying by compulsory auditing of all election expenses, campaign financing; full disclosure of sources of financing and expenditure, and setting a limit on campaign expenditure;

4.9. Free and fair access to the media for all parties;

4.10. Invite international election observers as a norm in general elections for greater credibility;

4.11. Use indelible ink to prevent multiple voting.



Reform of the Senate to ensure greater democratic representation is crucial. Next are the re-introduction of elected local government and the decentralization of social services. Limiting the terms of office has not been met by both BN and PR. Declaration of assets is a whitewash if it does not include income and assets of both spouses and children.

Our concrete demands are:

5.1. Limit the office of the Prime Minister, Menteri Besar and Chief Minister to two terms in office;

5.2. Elect representatives to the Dewan Negara (Senate) based on proportional representation according to proportion of votes won in the election by the respective parties;

5.3. Require all elected representatives and senior civil servants to publicly declare their assets as well as those of their spouses and children;

5.4. Re-introduce elected local governments;

5.5. Decentralise social services such as education, housing, transport and even community policing, to be managed by elected local councils. 



We want to know the timescale in which PR will rescind these undemocratic laws as well as the reform of RTM into a truly independent and trustworthy national broadcasting authority in order to uphold this freedom of expression and information.

Our concrete demands:

6.1. Review the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses & Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Film Censorship Act to ensure freedom of expression and information;

6.2. Enact a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at federal and state levels which is reflective of the peoples’ right to know, with the public interest as the overriding principle;

6.3. Abolish the annual renewal of publishing permit;

6.4. Enact an anti-monopoly law to prevent monopoly of ownership and control of the press and broadcasting stations by political parties or corporate bodies;

6.5. Transform the national broadcasting authority into one that is independent and non-partisan, answerable to Parliament and not to the Ministry of Information.



The same expectation of time lines goes for PR’s commitment to these reforms.

Our concrete demands:

7.1. Amend the Police Act, the Societies Act, the Universities & University Colleges Act and other relevant laws which restrict these fundamental freedoms;

7.2. Withdraw the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011;

7.3. Grant students of voting age the full freedoms enjoyed by other Malaysian citizens.



Let us hear a clear commitment by PR to the workers’ cause in this country and a restoration of the rights of workers in our society that has been eroded all these years. This includes not only unionization of workers but also a say for workers in economic decisions in factories, pension funds and a controlling stake in the companies they work.

Our concrete demands are:

8.1. Respect workers’ rights and solidarity, including those of informal workers such as domestic workers by reviewing labour laws to ensure they are compatible with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention;

8.2. Encourage and promote the right of workers to unionise;

8.3. Legislate a progressive guaranteed minimum wage for all workers, including foreign workers;

8.4. Workers and their trade unions must be part of economic influence and decision-making, especially control of their pension funds;

8.5. Company stock ownership and profits should be diverted into employee share funds to enable workers to have a controlling stake in these companies;

8.6. Elected workers’ representatives should be equally represented in the management and to decide corporate decisions, including investments, technology, wages and prices. 



The feminist quota tends to be overlooked by men in the heat of political decisions (for example, the resignation of Wan Azizah for Anwar in the Permatang Pauh byelection) and much still needs to be done to uphold women’s rights and dignity in Malaysia.

Our concrete demands:

9.1. Implement at least 30% quota for women’s representation in all decision-making bodies of government, the judiciary and political parties in order to encourage greater participation by women in public life;

9.2. Incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its provisions into national law guaranteeing equality of women with men in both public and private spheres of life;

9.3. Review and amend all laws and constitutional provisions that discriminate on the basis of gender;

9.4. Confront sexism, sexual harassment and prejudice based on gender stereotypes;

9.5. Equal pay for women holding similar posts as men;

9.6. Criminalise all acts of discrimination against women and ensure that effective remedies are available to women whose rights have been violated.



It is time the “Original peoples” of Malaysia were accorded their rightful status and dignity they deserve instead of being at the bottom of the socio-economic heap after so many years of Independence.

Our concrete demands:

10.1. Protect the right of the Orang Asal to self-determination, including the right to own, control and use their traditional lands, territories and resources on their own terms;

10.2. Protect the right of the Orang Asal to sustainable development, access to basic needs and advancement of their traditions and languages;

10.3. Follow through on Malaysia’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by introducing policies and instituting legislation that comply with its tenets;

10.4. Enact or amend state laws that recognise and protect the native customary rights of the Orang Asal to their traditional lands and territories.



Most Malaysians are aware that our education system and policies such as the quota system is holding back our nation’s development as well as creating racial polarization. For example, while vocational and technical education is seen as a vital sector for our social and economic development, a former Minister of Education declared at a recent UMNO general assembly that as long as he was minister, he would not allow a single non-bumiputera to enter Universiti Mara, a public institution supported by Malaysian tax payers. The national curriculum needs an overhaul from primary to tertiary level while the commitment to mother tongue education is not shown in the statistics and the facts. PR should declare for example, how they intend to achieve these demands and the time frame for their resolution.

Our concrete demands:

11.1. Reform the national education system to promote quality holistic education, equal opportunities, social justice, creativity, critical thinking as well as scientific and technological knowledge required for research & development and vocational skills;

11.2. Abolish discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, age, gender or creed regarding entry into educational institutions;

11.3. Uphold the spirit of the Education Ordinance 1957 by supporting mother tongue education, building Chinese and Tamil schools in areas where they are needed, ensuring proportionate financial support and training of adequate teachers for these schools;

11.4. Recognise the Unified Examination Certificate and provide financial support for the non-profit mother tongue secondary schools so that the students can enjoy free education as in other secondary schools;

11.5. Promote the preservation and development of the indigenous peoples’ mother tongue language and education.



PR must state their fundamental economic policies vis-à-vis BN. Besides professing their “cleanliness”, “accountability” and “efficiency”, do they adhere to the same neo-liberal policies as BN? Are they committed to the same indiscriminate race to attract private investors? What is their commitment to nationalizing our utilities and essential services such as health and a new role for Malaysian workers as owners and controllers of production in our economy?

Our concrete demands:

12.1. Nationalise all utilities and essential services including water resources, health, public transport, energy, ensuring they are owned and controlled by the Malaysian workers at federal, state and local levels;

12.2. A master plan for all federal and state land to ensure judicious use for the public purpose and/or their sale to the private sector at appropriate prices; 

12.3. Rights to concessions and other licences must be paid for at economic prices;

12.4. Promote the setting up of self-governing workers’ cooperatives to produce goods that are useful for society;

12.5. Ensure open tendering for all privatized contracts;

12.6. Stop subsidies to big business such as aluminium smelters;

12.7. Promote a sustainable agricultural policy to ensure self-sufficiency in rice and basic food items and to cut down on food imports;

12.8. Provide fair and adequate support to all sectors and distribute land justly to all farmers in need of land, irrespective of ethnicity;

12.9. Modernise the New Villages by giving land titles, improving infrastructure and government assistance for the small and medium enterprises;

12.10. Rights to natural resources such as oil and gas belong to the oil-producing states and Petronas’ oil and gas production and investments must be transparent and accountable to parliament and the public.



Compared to most developed countries where political parties are expected to state their proposed fiscal policies, our political parties are reluctant to propose any for fear of losing support from the rich 1% who control the economy. One of the world’s richest men, William Buffett recently lambasted the US government’s socially unfair fiscal policy because he was being taxed at a lower rate than his low-paid staff! It is time our political parties declared how they intend to reduce the ever-growing income through a progressive fiscal policy.

Our concrete demands:

13.1. Impose 50% marginal tax rate on incomes over RM250,000 a year;

13.2. Impose a progressive tax on vacant and third houses;

13.3. An incremental Capital Gains Tax on property;

13.4. A progressive inheritance tax;

13.5. Plug all tax loopholes;

13.6. Review capital allowances and tax holidays for foreign firms;

13.7. Regulate and impose a tax on all international financial transactions, banks and hedge funds;

13.8. No Goods and Services Tax;

13.9. Tax all luxury goods.



After 55 years of Independence we have still failed to implement an effective public housing plan when our neighbouring countries have succeeded years ago. Our relatively affordable public health service is in need of greater efficiency and more funds for improvement instead of privatization and “health tourism” to serve the foreign rich. The same goes for our laggard public transport system which has suffered and been held back by the vested interests in the national car project. Other social services are in urgent need of assistance and upgrading.

Our concrete demands:

14.1. Institute a Housing Development Board, managed by elected local councils to implement an effective low-cost public housing programme throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities with adequate space for community activities, recreation and green areas;

14.2. Respect the rights of urban settlers in any development plan to upgrade their area or to re-house them;

14.3. Improve and develop our public health system through a development allocation of at least 5% of our GDP, a national health insurance system and better conditions for doctors, nurses and hospital workers;

14.4. Improve the public transport system in the country while regulating highway construction and car traffic in city and town centres;

14.5. Provide community care for the elderly and disabled through benefits, support services and make it mandatory for all public buildings and services to have disabled-friendly facilities.



If only animals and trees could vote, politicians would develop greater sensitivity to their needs and existence. They are alerted to birds’ natural instinct to be free only during Wesak ceremonies when the press is there to capture their not-so-photogenic body language. Likewise, we see rampant tree cutting to quench the greed of timber merchants and “Nak Potong Pokok” teamsters. The populist measure to provide free water to Selangor consumers is an example of an environmentally irresponsible action to date.

Our concrete demands:

15.1. Re-gazette all previously gazetted forests and wildlife reserves;

15.2. Prevent degazettement of forests without public hearing and clear notice;

15.3. Impose strict energy and water conservation measures including incentives for energy efficiency and other forms of demand management;

15.4. Ban all toxic industries which affect the health of residents and ensure full consultation with people affected by development projects;

15.5. Give incentives for development of solar energy and other sustainable energy sources;

15.6. Enforce recycling measures in all local authorities;

15.7. Enact laws to punish cruelty to animals and actively promote animal welfare.



Crime and public insecurity are at critical levels in many towns and cities. The crisis of confidence in our police force and the lack of political will to deal with corruption have exacerbated this insecurity among the people. The government-of-the-day must demonstrate greater priority in tackling this problem of crime rather than a misplaced obsession with suppressing peaceful assemblies and civil society.

Our concrete demands:

16.1. Redeploy more police personnel on the streets to reduce crime instead of using them to crack down on peaceful assemblies and snooping on civil society;

16.2. Curb corruption and ensure the highest standards of professionalism in the police force in bringing drug dealers and drug gangs to justice;

16.3. Involve the community in policing and the criminal justice system.



We have still not seen PR’s defence policy and the defence cuts they intend to make if and when they come into power. They have of course been vocal in pointing out irregularities and suspected corruption in the defence ministry’s arms procurements, but what is their defence policy and how much of the defence budget are they going to cut?  

Our concrete demands:

17.1. Review our national defence policy to promote a culture of peace and disarmament;

17.2. Promote ASEAN cooperation in order to pool resources and slash arms spending in the ASEAN countries;

17.3. Cut the defence budget to below 1% of GDP and apportion a correspondingly higher budget for health, education and social services;

17.4. Set up a Parliamentary Defence Committee chaired by an Opposition MP as well as an independent Ombudsman to oversee the defence budget.



These demands are concrete so that political parties and candidates will have to stand by their endorsements if they have been elected. The candidates who support these demands will gain our full support in the forthcoming elections. We will be monitoring the political parties and candidates to ensure that they stand by their commitment to these demands after the elections. We believe that if Malaysia is to have a sustainable and bright future, these demands represent a new agenda for change and the substance of reform. This reform is long overdue and it is the basis for a fair, just, equal and democratic country that respects human rights and the recipe for true reconciliation.

*NB: I have retired as a director of SUARAM. I remain a member and adviser.