MALAYSIA: Deliberative democracy, a form of government where decisions are reached through discussion and debate among citizens rather than solely through voting, appears to be thriving in Malaysia.
This concept, akin to a community-wide conversation where everyone’s opinion is valued and considered before making a decision, was the subject of a recent interview with Dr. Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, an Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the School of International Studies (SOIS), Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM).
In a conversation with Simone Galimberti, Dr. Sani reflected on the short-lived 2008 experiment of the Temerloh Parliamentary Consultative Council (TPCC), which was established by Saifuddin Abdulla, then a deputy minister for Higher Education.
The author of a chapter on Malaysian experiences with deliberative democracy in the book ‘Deliberative Democracy in Asia’ stated, “TPCC was special for the constituency called Temerloh. Saifuddin had moved to a neighbouring constituency called Indera Mahkota. He invited me in 2018 hoping to set up a similar model of TPCC.”
“Unfortunately, he decided to abandon the model for reasons I’m not sure of, even though the first town hall meeting organized by him in Indera Mahkota was very similar to the TPCC. Based on my observations, I couldn’t find any initiatives quite like the TPCC. Therefore, I would say that it is a standalone initiative,” Dr. Sani explained.
Despite the cessation of TPCC, Dr Sani remains positive about the government’s approach towards deliberative democracy.
He noted several recent examples, including a town hall session on healthcare organised by the Ministry of Health, and another on amending the Universities and University Colleges Act, held by the Ministry of Higher Education.
Dr Sani said, “In fact, there are many engagements between the government and people regarding many issues either offline or online in which let me to believe that deliberative democracy is alive in Malaysia.”
Dr Sani, who was involved with the Electoral Reform Committee (ERC), also addressed the possibility of deliberative democracy helping to reintroduce local elections, a policy abandoned in the 1960s.
He clarified that “the election reform was focused to improve the federal and state levels of election, not the local election.”
He acknowledged the role of each Ministry in the process of localizing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the Ministry of Higher Education prominently supporting all 17 UN SDGs.
These efforts, Dr Sani believes, could serve as a stepping stone for deliberation.
Dr Sani envisages a crucial role for universities and civil societies in promoting deliberative democracy.
Drawing from his own experience at UUM, where town hall meetings were held for various decision-making processes, he said, “I think that the idea of deliberative democracy should be promoted and applied in universities first.”
He also encouraged universities to promote public deliberation in out-of-campus activities, particularly in state, district and village levels through community engagement programs.
Concluding his thoughts, Dr Sani stated, “My point is that there are many opportunities to have public deliberations. It depends on anyone either government, civil society or university to take up the methods of public deliberation and apply them in the community.”