Malaysia’s Post-2018 Parliament: from “rubber stamp” to “frog exchange”
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
About the Webinar
Up to 2018, Malaysia’s parliament was a “rubber stamp” which did not engage in real legal and policy debates. The ethnic divide and the electoral system ensured the uninterrupted hegemony of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Barisan Nasional (BN). Second, the parliament had no portfolio-specific committees or avenues for private member’s bills, meaning government backbenchers and opposition MPs were unable to shape law and policy substantively. Finally, leaders of BN member parties especially UMNO were not constrained by MPs, but instead controlled them through their power over candidate selection.
Changes in post-2018 Malaysia have not improved the quality of policy debate. At present, there are three layers of legislators. The first tier comprises ministers and deputy ministers who dispense patronage and perks in exchange for grassroots support – but are not required to possess policy expertise. The second tier consists of government backbenchers who have little role in shaping law and policy but enjoy generous constituency development funds. At the bottom are the opposition lawmakers marginalised in both policy and service competition.
This structure means that parliament is no longer a “rubber stamp”, but rather a “frog exchange”, where MPs change their party affiliation in order to climb the hierarchy. To stop lawmakers’ quests for “personal upgrades”, Malaysia does not need an anti-hopping law or to elect saints to parliament. Rather, it needs the right incentives for MPs to perform in formulating policy and serving their constituents effectively.
About the Speaker
Professor Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development. Trained at the University of Essex, he specialises in political institutions, covering parliamentary democracy, electoral system and decentralisation. He advises the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (Bersih 2.0) and formerly served in the Malaysian Government’s Electoral Reform Committee.
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