Malaysia seen as ‘bright spot’ in democracy ranking after May 9, easily ahead of Singapore

The EIU  report stated that while the Democracy Index improved marginally in 2018 for the Asian region, Malaysia was marked as a 'bright spot' due to the May 9 general elections last year. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The EIU report stated that while the Democracy Index improved marginally in 2018 for the Asian region, Malaysia was marked as a 'bright spot' due to the May 9 general elections last year. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — Malaysia remains a flawed democracy according to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Democracy Index 2019 released this week, but improved scores and the historic results of the last general elections have seen it climb ahead of its Southeast Asian peers.

In the latest EIU findings, Malaysia is now ranked 52nd out of 165 independent states and two territories, putting it 14 spots ahead of Singapore (66th) and one spot ahead of the Philippines (53rd).

The report stated that while the Democracy Index improved marginally in 2018 for the Asian region, Malaysia was marked as a “bright spot” due to the May 9 general elections last year.

“The victory of opposition candidates in key elections in Asia in 2018 served to bolster the region’s scores for the electoral process and pluralism.

“On May 9th 2018 Malaysia’s opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) won a surprise victory in the general election, ousting the BN government from power after six decades, amid increasing voter frustration with corruption and rising costs of living,” the EIU explained, citing the event as the resurgence of the opposition.

The report cited Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s victory as “remarkable” despite the gerrymandering of the general elections, which reflected that even a seemingly untouchable Barisan Nasional (BN) with “strong system of patronage” was answerable to the electorate.

It stated that the advance of the opposition in Malaysia and Pakistan last year provides food for thought for upcoming elections in the region’s two largest democracies, India and Indonesia, as the concerns expressed by voters in Malaysia and Pakistan are similar to those in India and Indonesia.

The EIU observed that the improvement in the score across the Asian region was driven by “rising political participation”, with Malaysia considered to be the most significant example of such change, as well as Afghanistan, which ranks at 143rd globally.

“Both countries successfully held major elections in 2018. Voter turnout for Malaysia’s general election in May was close to 80 per cent, and it delivered a surprise upset for the incumbent,” the EIU stated.

Though many of the countries saw improvement in their rankings last year, the EIU said the regime types in all instances remained the same, with the least democratic nations that saw the most significant improvements in ranking.

The EIU index ranks democracies on a scale of 1-10, with those those scoring 8-10 regarded as “full democracies” while countries measuring between 6 and 7.9 considered “flawed democracies”. Categories below that are hybrid regimes and authoritarian states.

The overall scores are based on aggregate measures of five categories: electoral process and pluralism, government function, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties.