Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 13th of December 2021

Malaysia’s lack of participation in the Summit for Democracy organized by the office of the President of the United States is a lost opportunity and sends a poor signal for the future direction of our foreign policy

Malaysia was one of the three southeast Asian countries (Indonesia and the Philippines were the other two) to be invited to the recently concluded Summit for Democracy that was organized by the office of the President of the United States. 1 Unfortunately, Malaysia made the decision NOT to participate in this summit. This is a short sighted and unstrategic move that points to a larger lack of coherence and independent thinking in our foreign policy direction moving forward.

Malaysia should have grasped this opportunity to reiterate our firm commitment to the principles of democracy that have been tried and tested over the past 3 and a half years since the 14th General Election in May 2018. Indeed, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri could have used this opportunity to showcase a new phase of political maturity under his premiership with the historic signing of the Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) between his government and the main opposition coalition, namely Pakatan Harapan, which includes many elements of political and democratic reforms such as the promise of an introduction of an anti-hopping law, equal allocations for Members of Parliament, lowering the voting age to 18, increasing the effectiveness of parliament as a means of check and balance to the executive and a commitment to greater decentralisation and autonomy for Sabah and Sarawak.

Instead, the Prime Minister was too caught up with the celebration of his 100-day Keluarga Malaysia government where numerous SOPs were flouted by himself and his cabinet, and long queues were spotted outside KLCC comprising of people who had lined up to try to pay their discounted police summons. Even if he could not attend the event “live”, he could have recorded his official interventions, together with over 90 heads of government 2
, including outgoing President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who emphasized his commitment to a peaceful transfer of power to his successor at the end of his term in 2022. (3)

President Jokowi of Indonesia was invited to share his remarks together with 11 other leaders including newly elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. (4)Coincidentally, this summit took place at the same time as the 14th edition of the Bali Democracy Forum which was initiated by Indonesia back in 2008 under the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.(5)

I am sure Saifuddin Abdullah, the Foreign Minister, will brush this aside and say that Malaysia can deliver its foreign policy messages in other ways including during Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s first visit to Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand) later this week. But I am sure that Saifuddin is well aware that foreign policy is as much about sending signals about the foreign policy direction of the country
in addition to the substantive content that could have been raised by the Prime Minister at the Summit for Democracy. One area of such signaling is with regards to Malaysia’s hedging strategy vis-à-vis the big players in regional geopolitics in South-East Asia.6 Will Malaysia’s lack of participation in this summit be interpreted by some that we are tipping over to one side in this tricky balancing act? Or is this a sign of a directionless government with regards to the complicated area of foreign policy which requires proper
coordination and strategic thinking on the part of the decision makers in the Prime Minister’s office and Wisma Putra? Either way, the signs are very worrying for those who are concerned with the foreign policy direction of the country under the current leadership.


Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Bangi and Assistant Political Education Director for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on the 6th of December 2021

To continue the MOU or not to continue the MOU, this should NOT be the question…

The year is 2024. It has been more than a year since the 15th General Election in Malaysia which took place in February 2023 just after the Chinese New Year Holidays and before the start of Ramadan. There has been NO DEFECTIONS of MPs or ADUNs since the anti-hopping law was passed in parliament in June 2022. Equal constituency allocations are given to all MPs in parliament regardless of whether they are part of the ruling coalition or in the opposition. The same practice is observed in all the states including Sabah and Sarawak. Both these factors reduce the incentives for MPs or ADUNs to change parties and political stability is more assured both at the federal and state levels.

In parliament, half of the special select committees are chaired by MPs from the opposition bench. The proceedings are streamed live for public viewing and for journalists to report on. The number of days for the parliamentary sittings has been increased so that there is enough time to debate the laws which are being passed. The 2nd chamber has been enhanced so that the debates at the committee stage of each parliamentary bill take places here and more technical amendments can be proposed and deliberated before going back to the main chamber for the final reading. A Parliamentary Services Act was passed in the 2nd half of 2022 to create an independent parliamentary staff that is separate from the government service but with the same benefits including pension schemes. The research and outreach capabilities of parliament have been increased with more research programs and collaborations with local and foreign think tanks and universities. Each MP has also been allocated an additional budget to hire a full-time parliamentary researcher.

The implementation of Undi 18 just prior to GE15 also gave the momentum for the reform of the Election Commission to make it more independent of the executive, similar to parliament. The increase in the number of voters because of Undi 18 also led to a cross partisan agreement to conduct a fresh delimitation exercise and a review of the 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution so that the delineation of constituencies at the federal and state levels can be done in a more equitable and transparent manner, with inputs being given by academics and civil society organisations such as BERSIH and IDEAS.

Public backlash from the dropping of corruption cases against several high-profile politicians in 2022 also gave the impetus for a cross partisan push for more substantive reforms to be introduced to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the judicial process.

The passing of the constitutional amendments relating to MA63 at the end of 2021 resulted in the devolution of more policy and budget responsibilities to Sabah and Sarawak starting in the areas of education and health in 2022 and in public works and infrastructure in 2023.

Finally, a constitutional amendment was passed at the end of 2022 to limit the term of a Prime Minister to two consecutive terms.

The situation described above is not a dream but a distinct possibility. But only if all parties work together to stick to and give momentum to the MOU that was signed by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) component parties and Ismail Sabri’s Keluarga Malaysia (KM) government on the 13th of September 2021. We have already seen some of the reform promises delivered as a result of the MOU including the establishment of more parliamentary special select committees, a pro-rated allocation for opposition MPs for the final 3 months of the year (with the promise of an equal allocation for 2022), the establishment of a 10-person steering committee to oversee the implementation of the MOU and cross partisan discussions on what the anti-hopping law that will be passed in the 1st half of 2022 will look like.

All these efforts to push for these reforms, which will bring about long-term institutional improvements in the democratic process in the country, will collapse if PH reacts to past and upcoming political events with short term thinking. For example, there will be a huge outcry if, on the 8th of December 2021, the Court of Appeal rules in favour of Najib Tun Razak and overturns his corruption and abuse of power conviction in the High Court over the SRC case. There will be the inevitable public pressure on PH to revoke the MOU with Ismail Sabri’s government. This will be a mistake as it will be playing straight into the hands of some leaders in UMNO who want to trigger a collapse in the federal government and call for GE15 in the next 3 months. The proposed reforms in the MOU will be left by the wayside, especially if UMNO regains its dominance in GE15 and Najib comes back with a vengeance. There will be no need for a dominant BN / UMNO to negotiate with the opposition over any of these reforms. The opportunity for long-term institutional reform will be lost. Such an opportunity may not return in the next 10 years or so, especially if BN / UMNO were to use its levers of power to repress and weaken the opposition.

We have seen the result of knee jerk reactions that were driven by public sentiment very recently. When Muhyiddin proposed a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA) that was very similar in substance to the PH-KM MOU just before the collapse of his government in the middle of August this year, PH leaders choose to reject the CSA just hours after the offer was made publicly. This led directly to the return of an UMNO Prime Minister which was and still IS NOT in the strategic interest of PH. The PH-KM MOU has given some breathing room for PH to recover after Anwar Ibrahim failed to get the numbers (once again) to be appointed as Prime Minister following Muhyiddin’s resignation as Prime Minister in August 2021. The result of the Melaka state election last month is already a clear sign that it is not in PH’s interest to trigger GE15 in the next year or so but instead spend this time pushing for the promised reforms in the MOU and to find a new narrative and gameplan for GE15.

I cannot help but think that PH supporters are confused about the MOU because (i) we have not taken the effort to explain, over and over again, in easily understood language, the rationale for signing the MOU and (ii) they are using the MOU to express their frustration at PH over a number of issues such as the perceived lack of direction on the part of the PH leadership, PH’s poor electoral showing in Melaka and the perceived infighting that is happening within PH. Rather than blaming the MOU, PH leaders (including myself) should look within and find a way to turn the MOU into our ADVANTAGE rather than using it as an excuse for our supporters losing confidence and hope in us as an opposition coalition. This is NOT the right time to walk away from the MOU regardless of the Court of Appeal’s decision on Najib’s SRC case.




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