Reforms at Snail’s Pace: First Year Assessment of the Unity Government on Electoral and Institutional Reforms, 2022-2023

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) congratulates the Unity Government for some of the institutional reforms carried out in its first year and urges for more as promised by the respective coalitions and parties in the government, in particularly Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional.

We opined that a post-election coalition government should not be an excuse to abandon all reform promises made in the two coalitions’ manifestos, especially given the fact that 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.

Specifically on electoral and institutional reforms, our overall assessment is that while the Unity Government has made commendable progress in some areas such as empowering the parliamentary special select committee, their performance is below expectations. Malaysian voters have been promised these reforms in their election manifestos just one year ago, and progress has been at snail’s pace.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim must expediate these reforms. 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. The four overlapping reforms are: i) Separation of power for public prosecutor and attorney general; ii) Reform public appointment process vetted by a special parliamentary committee; iii) Introduce political funding act; and iv) Devolution of power from federal to state.

We acknowledge and applaud that three reform pledges are currently in progress i.e separation of attorney general and public prosecutor, parliamentary service act and government procurement act, but a clear timeline to implementation has yet to be announced by the Prime Minister.

The Unity Government has also been largely silent on several unfulfilled promises, which include introducing 10 years term limit for Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers/Menteri Besar, legislating a Fixed Parliament Term Act, resolving extreme malapportionment by stipulating a clear 30% deviation limit from the state average size, placing key appointments such as Election Commissioners, Public Prosecutor, MACC chief and others to be reviewed by the Parliament Select Committee, introducing absentee ballot for voters outside constituencies especially Sabah and Sarawak living in peninsular Malaysia, and vice versa.

Two major reform promises have been broken by the Unity Government: equitable constituency development fund irrespective of the Members of Parliament being pro-government or opposition; and repeal of draconian laws such as Sedition Act and SOSMA. The Home Minister even defended the existence or deployment of these archaic acts, despite years of campaigning against them. On CDF, the Madani Government ought to do better than previous governments who withheld CDF allocation from opposition and independent MPs.

We urge Prime Minister 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.

Using our matrix to evaluate the Unity Government’s performance on electoral and institutional reforms, they scored 11 out of a possible 51 points or 21.6 percent in its first year. Please refer to Appendix below.

Although the Unity Government fell short of meeting expectations, BERSIH will continue to engage with the Government, Parliament and the relevant stakeholders to advocate for the reforms, as well as to monitor and check and balance the progress. We are cognizant that the UG is likely to have another four years to fully fulfill their election promises and that any enactment or amendment to legislations require time for consultation, drafting and tabling and it is our hope that we will see the fulfillment of more reforms.

Released by:
BERSIH Steering Committee

Appendix: First year assessment of reform implementation

Institutional reformStatusScore
Promised by both Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional
Separation of power for public prosecutor and attorney generalIn progress1
Reform public appointment process vetted by a special parliamentary committee, including Election CommissionUnfulfilled0
Introduce political funding actIn progress1
Devolution of power from federal to stateUnfulfilled0
Promised by Pakatan Harapan
10 years term limit for Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers/Menteri BesarUnfulfilled0
Fixed Parliament Term ActUnfulfilled0
Parliamentary budget office and parliamentary service actIn progress1
Equitable constituency development fundBroken-1
Resolve extreme malapportionment i.e. constituency size imbalances by implementing a 30% deviation limit from the average size of the constituency in the same stateUnfulfilled0
Absentee ballot for voters outside constituencies especially Sabah and Sarawak living in peninsular Malaysia, and vice versaUnfulfilled0
Review and repeal Sedition Act 1948, Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Printing Press and Publications Act 1984Broken-1
Amend official secret acts, whistleblower protection act, and introduce a national freedom of information actUnfulfilled0
Enact government procurement actIn progress1
Empower independent police conduct commissionUnfulfilled*[1]0
Not promised in manifesto but noteworthy reform-related development
Adding the Prime Minister Question (PMQ) Time at the Dewan RakyatFulfilled3
The increase of the number of motions, from two to four, in the Special ChamberFulfilled3
PSSC has stronger oversight in terms of reference, as well as more independence, to decide on their activities and lines of inquiry.Fulfilled3
Total score (out of 51)Overall assessment:
Below expectations
11

Scoring methodology

StatusDefinitionScore
FulfilledThe promise has been fully implemented.3
PartialThe promise has only been fulfilled in part2
In progressProgress have been made towards fulfilling the promise1
UnfulfilledNo announcement nor progress has been made at all to realise the promise.0
BrokenThe promise has either been broken or the government has made a U-turn.-1

[1] Pakatan Harapan promised in their GE15 manifesto to empower the IPCC per recommendations in the Dzaiddin Report. They have not done so and have merely repeated that the planned IPCC (via a bill passed by the previous government, which was criticized by civil society and PH  themselves for lacking investigative powers and autonomy) will be operational soon.

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