Seminar on “Malaysia’s Institutional Reforms: Accountable Government, Public Interest, Basic Rights”

Originally published in 1982, Anthony Milner’s Kerajaan: Malay Political Culture on the Eve of Colonial Rule has become one of the most frequently-cited works on Southeast Asian History. On November 8th, Professor Milner launched the second edition of Kerajaan at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

Malaysia in Transition Seminar Series

17 July 2018 – Cynthia Gabriel delivered the first presentation of the Malaysia’s Institutional Reforms: Accountable Government, Public Interest, Basic Rights seminar. She recalled the key developments and turning points of 9-10 May, highlighting the stunning election results and phenomenally smooth and peaceful transition of power – albeit with undue delay in Tun Mahathir’s swearing in as Prime Minister.

From left to right: Cynthia Gabriel, a seasoned advocate of human rights and good governance; Dr Lee Hwok-Aun, Senior Fellow with ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute; and Dr Azmi Sharom, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Cynthia Gabriel during her presentation (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms. Gabriel also significant political developments since GE14, especially those germane to institutional reforms, governance and administrative integrity. Mahathir formed the Council of Eminent Persons, which in turn set up the Committee on Institutional Reforms, and appointed Tommy Thomas as Attorney General, with 1MDB prosecution a paramount objective. Ms. Gabriel also touched on the importance of government-civil society engagement, and the need for continual vigilance, noting that a number of activists have joined the government.

Dr Azmi Sharom, delivering the second presentation (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Azmi Sharom emphasized that bread and butter issues, chiefly cost of living and GST, were most decisive in turning voters against the BN, and corruption and financial scandals, especially 1MDB, tainted former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. Nonetheless, while institutional reforms were not key vote pull factors, Pakatan Harapan’s promises are important and timely for Malaysia. Dr. Azmi walked the audience through the pledges made in Buku Harapan’s Pillar #2, titled Institutional and Political Reform. He discussed the purpose and value of various proposals, including the separation of the Attorney-General from the public prosecutor, more transparent and credible appointment of judges, independence of the Election Commission, parliamentary oversight of various public institutions, and repeal of repressive laws. However, some of these reforms require constitutional amendments, as well as coalitional cohesion and political will.

A large crowd of 50 people attended the seminar (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)