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BERSIH says reforms under Anwar’s Unity Government in its first year “at snail’s pace”

Malaysian civil society group BERSIH criticized the Unity Government for not meeting expectations, especially regarding electoral and institutional reforms within its first year.

In their statement on Wednesday, BERSIH urged PM Anwar to commit to delivering reforms with a clear timeline and sufficient resources.

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MALAYSIA: The Coalition for Clean and Fair Election (BERSIH), a Malaysian civil society group, has strongly criticized the performance of the Unity Government led by the Malaysian 10th Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

BERSIH stated that after a year, the present government falls short of expectations, particularly in terms of electoral and institutional reforms.

In a statement released on Wednesday (24 Nov), the Steering Committee of BERSIH highlighted that the Malaysian voters were promised these crucial reforms in the election manifestos just a year ago.

However, progress in implementing these reforms has been sluggish, moving at a snail’s pace.

According to BERSIH, although the Unity Government has shown commendable progress in certain areas within its first year, notably in empowering the parliamentary special select committee, the overall performance remains well below the anticipated standards.

BERSIH emphasized that the formation of a post-election coalition government should not serve as a justification for neglecting the comprehensive reform commitments outlined in the manifestos of both the BN and PH coalitions.

This is particularly crucial considering two significant factors:

a) there are four shared major promises in both BN and PH manifestos, showing they are in agreement, that have not been fully implemented;

b) the Prime Minister himself was the leader of PH coalition at the time these promises were made to voters.

“Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim must expedite these reforms, “said BERSIH, “For four overlapping reforms promised by both BN and PH, there is no excuse to delay their implementation and a clear timeline must be spelled out by the Prime Minister.”

BERSIH said that based on their matrix for assessing the unity government’s performance in electoral and institutional reforms, they only scored 11 out of 51 points or 21.6 per cent in a year of governance.

BERSIH highlighted four crucial reforms that overlap in the manifestos of both the BN and PH coalitions:

i) Separation of powers between the public prosecutor and attorney general.

ii) Reforming the public appointment process through scrutiny by a special parliamentary committee.

iii) Introduction of a political funding act.

iv) Devolution of power from the federal level to the state level.

BERSIH has specifically highlighted the Unity Government’s notable silence regarding numerous unmet promises. These include:

  1. Introducing a 10-year term limit for Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers/Menteri Besar.
  2. Legislating a Fixed Parliament Term Act.
  3. Addressing extreme malapportionment by setting a clear 30% deviation limit from the state average size.
  4. Requiring key appointments such as Election Commissioners, Public Prosecutor, MACC chief, and others to undergo review by the Parliament Select Committee.
  5. Implementing an absentee ballot system for voters residing outside their constituencies, especially Sabah and Sarawak residents living in peninsular Malaysia, and vice versa.

“Broken promises”

BERSIH also highlighted several “broken promises” by the incumbent government, including:

  1. Enacting the Parliamentary Service Act.
  2. Making constitutional amendments to impose term limits in office.
  3. Reviewing by parliamentary committees of various laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing and Publishing Act 1984, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).

BERSIH expressed concern that despite years of campaigning against archaic acts, the Home Minister defended their existence or deployment.

“On CDF, the Madani Government ought to do better than previous governments who withheld CDF allocation from opposition and independent MPs.”

“Although the unity government has not met expectations, Bersih will continue to engage and urge the government, Parliament and stakeholders to advocate for reform, and monitor, scrutinise and provide checks and balances on ongoing developments.”

Unity Government’s four-year mandate to fulfill election promises

BERSIH acknowledged the four-year window the unity government has to fulfil election pledges.

They also recognized that the drafting or amendment of laws required considerable time for negotiation, drafting, and presentation.

“Our hope is that we can see more reforms being delivered,” it added.

BERSIH urged PM Anwar to make efforts to deliver, with a clear timeline and adequate resources, these outstanding reform pledges:

  1. Enactment of the Parliamentary Services Act
  2. Enactment of a Political Financing Act
  3. Enactment on the Amendment to the Election Offences Act
  4. Constitutional Amendment to effect 10-years tenure limit for the Prime Minister.
  5. Enactment of the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
  6. Separation of the role of the Attorney General and the Public Prosecutor
  7. Transparency and parliamentary oversight in the appointment of key public officers
  8. Review by parliamentary committee of Sedition Act 1948, Official Secrets Act 1972, Communication and Multimedia Act 1998, Printing Press and Publication Act 1984, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA).
  9. A parliamentary act to provide for equitable Constituency Development Fund (CDF) for all parliamentarians
  10. Recognition and empowerment of Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Shadow Cabinet with allowance, research officers and access to ministries’ information.
  11. Amend the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution to limit the deviation from the state average in the number of electors to no more than 30% to address the problem of super malapportionment that exists currently.
  12. To form a task force compromising of the EC, PSSC, relevant experts and civil society to study the implementation of absentee voting for out-of-region (Sabah and Sarawak) and out-of-state voters.

Anwar says his cabinet has “tried their best”

Notably, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Thursday reflected on his Cabinet’s performance and acknowledged that they had “tried its best” during its first year in power, ahead of the one-year anniversary of his coalition government on 24 November.

“The whole team has tried its best, and God willing, we will improve,” he said during a thanksgiving ceremony held at Putrajaya, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

Asserting the need for political stability, he hoped for an uninterrupted governance period until the subsequent election, emphasizing a commitment to combat corruption.

“God willing, (the government is) politically stable. Let’s pray that for the next four years until the next election, there will be no disturbances,” he said in his speech.

Background of Malaysia’s Unity Government

Following the conclusion of the Malaysia 15th General Election (GE15) in November 2022, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s PH coalition garnered 82 parliamentary seats while Perikatan National (PN) led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin won 73 seats.

Barisan National (BN) suffered its worst electoral outcome in history, securing only 30 seats out of the 177 seats contested.

UMNO won 26 out of 120 seats contested, while MCA gained only two seats out of 44 contested seats.

Neither PH nor PN holds enough seats to form a simple majority government.

UMNO, BN’s leading component party, unanimously decided to comply with the King’s order to support the unity government idea, which made the alliance between PH and BN possible.

Muhyiddin Yassin had refused to cooperate with PH to form unity government.

The impasse of the hung parliament was resolved on 24 November when the Malaysia King announced that Anwar Ibrahim had gained enough support and was officially appointed as Malaysia’s 10th Prime Minister.

On 16 December last year, political leaders from UMNO, Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Sabah and Sarawak a memorandum of understanding (MoU) pledging their support to Unity Government led by 10th Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

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