Spotlight - Malaysia: July 3, 2023
With six state assemblies dissolved in advance of elections to be held within the next couple of months, the ruling and opposition coalitions are in order of battle. The Negeri Sembilan assembly was dissolved on July 1, the Kedah, Terengganu, and Penang assemblies were dissolved on June 28, and the Kelantan and Selangor assemblies on June 22. Elections must be held within 60 days of dissolution, and observers anticipate a common polling day, yet to be set by the Election Commission.
A recent announcement by Syed Saddiq, former minister of youth and sport under the 2018 Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, that his youth-based party MUDA will opt out of the PH Pact by standing solo in coming elections has elicited surprise. Despite criticism from veteran PH party component leaders, Saddiq has maintained his decision and argued that PH failed to implement the reforms it had long promised. The young member of parliament cited the many political appointments to manage government-linked companies, the maintaining and even strengthening of oppressive laws, and a “list of false promises [that] is never-ending.” Saddiq also highlighted the ambiguities and contradictions of the government regarding former prime minister Najib Razak’s pardon request, and the “indefinite postponement” of UMNO president and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s criminal charges.
Saddiq also heavily criticized a recent outburst by Minister of Communications and Digital and former actor Fahmi Fadzil. Saddiq and Fadzil are part of the next generation of Malaysian leaders in a rather limited political space, where the median age of members of parliament is 52 while the median age of society is 29. 42-year-old Fahmi Fadzil attempted to silenced critics during a two hour session on Tik Tok, threatening viewers of a possible police visit outside their homes. For Saddiq: “this is what [happens] when people abandon principle for power.” In the same vein, news portal Malaysia Now has been blocked through DNS tampering, as corroborated by digital rights advocacy group Sinar and news portal Malaysiakini. Fadzil denied that his ministry gave any order to block the site. Malaysia Now has long been criticized by governments and PH leaders for its critical positions.
Saddiq is one of the first and most vocal political leaders within the PH coalition to voice concerns over the government’s commitment to upholding democratic principles. Civil society activists and critics remain discreet for fear of paving the way for the Malay conservative opposition. However, loud voices have been heard this week in response to the government’s intention to tighten the law that enables undocumented children to obtain citizenship by removing Section 1(e) of the Second Schedule Part 2 and Section 19B of the Second Schedule Part 3. This means that children born out of wedlock, undocumented orphans as well as those adopted by Malaysian couples, and children from generational undocumented families could now be denied citizenship. This also means that the systematic right of “foundlings,” abandoned children, or orphans, to citizenship could be removed. Thousands of undocumented children and orphans are in an already precarious situation due to the fact that the government refuses to implement the existing law diligently; the government’s actions directly contradict the Convention on the Rights of Children. With this amendment, the situation will worsen drastically as recognition of citizenship for foundlings and stateless children will no longer be automatic but discretionary. Several organizations and politicians within the ruling coalition have exposed the institutional violence against children that this government is repeating; these voices include Farah Nini Dusuki, children’s commissioner with the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), and Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, former women affairs minister under UMNO.
Sophie Lemière is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.