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Malaysians suffer violations of democracy and human rights

The Malaysian General Election on May 5th has been deemed the ‘darkest day in Malaysian history’. Independent watchdogs The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs and Centre for Public Policy Studies jointly reported that the election was “only partially free and not fair”, indicating “serious flaws” in the electoral system.


Bersih – (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections), has previously organised three rallies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in November 2007, July 2011 and April 2012 demanding for electoral reforms. Regrettably, both the earlier rallies were met with police force, and the use of tear gas and chemical-laced water canons to disperse the protestors.

Simultaneous rallies were also held in nine other cities in Malaysia, as well as in 35 countries and 85 cities around the world.

In February, Australian MP Nick Xenophone was detained and deported from Malaysia as his advocacy for human rights was considered a risk for national security. Xenophone, who was on official business to observe election planning and preparation, had repeatedly expressed strong concerns that the forthcoming election could be subject to “widespread election fraud and corruption”.

In addition to the long-fought battle against abject poverty, high crime rates, racial politics and a state-controlled media, some very pressing issues in Malaysia include widespread systemic corruption and cronyism, which has resulted in the violation of human rights, as well as immediate health and environmental threats to Malaysians.

Global Witness recently revealed the effects of ongoing widespread corruption in Sarawak, which has left the state with less than 5% of its rainforest due to rampant logging and oil palm plantations. These activities have robbed the indigenous people of their ancestral lands and threatened their livelihoods. This includes groups like the Penan, one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer communities in the world. The destruction of the tropical rainforest has also devastated the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered orangutans, which have fallen victim to forest fires due to deforestation.

Despite widespread national and international campaigns against building the world’s largest radioactive rare earth processing plant in Pahang, the Malaysian government has proceeded with the Lynas Advanced Material Plant (LAMP) project and has even granted a generous 12-year tax exemption to the Australian Lynas Corporation. Serious health and safety concerns were raised for workers and the local communities because exposure to Thorium, one of the by-products of LAMP, has been linked to lung, pancreatic and bone cancer. The local communities are also very concerned about serious environmental issues, such as contamination beyond the plant by toxic and hazardous waste.

The death of Teoh Beng Hock, a Malaysian journalist and political aide in Selangor (a state governed by the opposition party), has been highly publicised. He died while in custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) headquarters.

For the first time in the nation’s history, polling day saw a record-breaking 85% turnout rate, reflecting strong interest in the election. One of the world’s longest-serving ruling coalitions, Barisan Nasional (BN) has retained political power since the country’s independence for close to six decades, but for the first time in history, BN faces fierce competition from an opposing coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) that pledges sweeping reform.


Results of the election showed that BN lost the popular vote for the first time with 46.5%, with the opposition PR winning 52%. The Economist reported:

“It is certain that the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, has huge inbuilt advantages. Gerrymandered constituencies meant that with less than 47% of the popular vote, its worst-ever electoral performance, it still won 60% of the 222 parliamentary seats. The state has dispensed cash handouts and other goodies, while much of the civil service works as a party-political tool, and the election commission has long brushed aside allegations of malfeasance. Add in an obsequious mainstream media, and it is rather remarkable that so many Barisan Nasional campaigners still felt the need to resort to blatant vote-buying.”

Co-chairperson of Bersih, Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan commented that the coalition has been made aware of incidents of violation of election laws, electoral fraud, phantom voters and irregularities in the voting process and will set up a people’s tribunal to investigate the extent of these allegations. Besides calling for an immediate resignation of all members of the Election Commission, Bersih also announced that it will withhold recognition of the new government until the results of the tribunal has been studied. In contrast, the newly elected Prime Minster Najib Rajak told The Wall Street Journal that he believes the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner.

In response to the results of the election, many Malaysians have regarded May 5th as the ‘death of democracy’ in Malaysia.

At a press conference, the newly elected Prime Minister’s first speech blamed BN’s losses on a ‘Chinese Tsunami’. The Economist reported that PM Najib Razak has encouraged “disgraceful anti-Chinese headlines in the Malay language press,” publishing headlines such as “What else do the Chinese want?” in one of Malaysia’s more widely read, pro-Malay newspapers.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has rejected the results of the election, strongly questioning its legitimacy. He called for a rally to protest against the fraudulent victory of BN, which saw a huge turnout of 120,000 supporters dressed in mourning black at the Kelana Jaya Stadium. The rally was the first of a series of nation-wide protests in which Anwar declared “we will go to every corner of this country” and vowed a ‘fierce’ campaign against the poll results, stating “we will continue to struggle and we will never surrender”.

In a press statement, Bersih asserted, “only the USA has thus far expressed concern over reported electoral irregularities and if other nations don’t follow Washington’s example, they will open the door to corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian regimes who seize and hold on to power by any means.”

Although candidates are allowed to contest the election results by filing a petition at the High Court within 21 days after the gazetting of the results by the Election Commission, the people’s lack of confidence in the systemic transparency of the country has led to many Malaysians appealing for international attention and intervention via several petitions.

There will be a demonstration at UEA on the 22nd May in the Square.


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April 2021
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