KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 — Malaysians are increasingly unsupportive of liberalism as there is poor understanding of the concept in Malaysia, according to a Merdeka Center survey.
In a webinar conducted by think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), the survey — titled Perceptions Towards Liberalism in Malaysia — showed that the view of liberalism as a ‘bad concept’ in Malaysia rose from 22 per cent in 2016 to 42 per cent last year.
From the survey, 65 per cent of Malay respondents believed liberalism was a bad concept, 62 per cent and 66 per cent of Chinese and Indians respectively believed it was a good concept, with a higher proportion of rural to urban respondents (50 per cent to 28 per cent) believing liberalism was a negative concept.
Tan Seng Keat, senior research manager at the Merdeka Center, said that over the years, 50 per cent of Malaysians respondents said they have not heard of the term “liberalism” while the rest held varied notions about it.
“Although half of the respondents said they know about liberalism, do they understand what it means? The survey showed that only 22 per cent of respondents understand the meaning of liberalism, whereas 76 per cent do not,” he said.
He added that when asked to explain what liberalism meant, 22 per cent said free speech, while another 16 per cent said rights and freedoms in general.
“Four per cent of the respondents think that liberalism is a bad idea, or a bad doctrine, with another 3 per cent saying that the ideology of liberalism goes against Islam,” he said.
The survey also showed that 37 per cent of Malaysians viewed liberalism positively while 42 per cent said that it is a bad concept.
“You can see the polarisation here where Malay Muslim respondents are completely against the concept of liberalism, but two thirds of non-Muslims agree that liberalism is a good idea.
“What is surprising is the age group. It’s not the youth who agree that liberalism is a good idea. In fact, the survey shows that the youth are the ones who think liberalism is a bad idea, with the older generation agreeing more with liberalism,” he said.
Of the 37 per cent of those who think liberalism is a good idea, 34 per cent said that liberalism would lead to more freedom of speech and expressions, 7 per cent said it would lead to more freedom in general, 6 per cent feel that people would live more harmoniously, 4 per cent feel that Malaysians would be less controlled by the government while the remaining feel that liberalism is just a good concept in general.
Of the 42 per cent who are feel liberalism is a bad idea, 21 per cent said that the ideology itself goes against Islam, 6 per cent feel that it is generally a bad concept, another 6 per cent feel it would lead to too much freedom, 6 per cent feel that it is not suitable for the cultures in Malaysia, 4 per cent believe that it would cause chaos in the country, with the rest claiming to be unsure or refusing to answer.
Kangar MP Amin Ahmad, one of the panelists on the webinar, suggested that the main issue for the lack of understanding of liberalism was due to a dearth of written material in Malay.
“The grassroots of the country do not have access to articles or books on liberalism in Malay. Majority of these books are in english, and a great many do not understand and the ones that do, some of it can get lost in translation.
“We must seek to produce and publish more material, books and articles on liberalism in Malay in order to change the perception of liberalism as a combative term and turn it into one that can bring harmony among the people,” he said.
In terms of political liberalism, the survey showed that most Malaysians agreed that the rule of law must be upheld and that democracy would be the best form of governance for Malaysia.
However, IDEAS CEO Tricia Yeoh pointed out that there seems to be inconsistencies among what Malaysians truly want.
“The thing that I picked up from the survey that was very incongruous was that people actually want freedom of speech and they want media freedom. They believe that these things are required for a healthy democratic society.
“But at the same time, they also want the Sedition Act because they want stability. These two things don’t really align. How is it possible to have freedom of speech and a harsh and strict Sedition Act. In reality, that’s not really possible,” she said.
The survey also questioned Malaysians thoughts on the government’s involvement in the economy via Government Linked Companies (GLC), with 50 per cent agreeing that it is beneficial for the country’s economy and would create many jobs, benefitting Malaysians directly.
However, 33 per cent preferred an economy without GLCs, saying that it would create fair competition, opportunities for all, more job opportunities and more economic growth.
“You can see that Malay Bumiputera prefer government involvement with GLCs but non-Malays prefer that the government not be so involved in the private sector,” said Tan.
He added that 60 per cent of the respondents also feel that the government should control trade, both domestic and international, and give subsidies to Malaysian producers and businesses.
“Only 26 per cent feel that free trade without subsidies would make Malaysia competitive and be beneficial for businesses and consumers in the long run,” he said.
The survey was conducted with 1,203 respondents aged 18 and above from all states across Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Respondents were selected through a random stratified sampling method along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and states.
Merdeka Center is an opinion research firm established to concentrate the capabilities of a team of dedicated social scientists and professionals in the field of economics, political science, communications, marketing management and civil society to act as a bridge between Malaysians and the leading members of society — by collecting public opinion and expressing them through survey results, analysis and position papers.