Civil Society in Malaysia has made a contribution to the anti-authoritarian struggles since in the 1990s and is still recognized today, and has become a legitimate channel for social and political participation and for influencing policy formation and public opinion. In the 2008 General Elections, the CSOs, students, independent journalists and NGOs joined the traditional opposition and several contested under the opposition party. The goal is to make their voice heard and to ensure a strong, multi-party opposition that can better safeguard the Constitution and people’s interest.
The government controls the mainstream media, thus the space in the public sphere is very limited for the NGOs, except in the cyberspace of the Internet. Therefore, civil society normally receives little or no attention from the government and the general public as the government would portray them as marginal and out of touch with the mass public.
However, by the 2013 General Elections in Malaysia, the number of CSOs and their roles in Malaysian politics and elections is said to have increased. There was an increasing number of think tanks hosting debates, lectures, and seminars. The deepening of democracy in Malaysia still requires the NGOs and other civil society organizations to continue to engage in more people-oriented participatory politics, also referred to as non-formal everyday politics.
The CSOs so far have highlighted not only the shortcomings of the electoral system but the coercive legislation such as the ISA, the Societies Act, the Trade Union Act, the Police Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, etc.
Despite the increasing numbers and participation of the CSOs, the challenge would still be the lack of rights to associate and assemble in Malaysia freely. Federal laws, such as the Societies’ Act, ensure that organizations that are critical to the government can be banned or refused registration.
Tunku Abidin Muhriz, Civil Society and Institutions key to Malaysia’s General Election, CIMB ASEAN Research Institute, – ,
Francis Loh, Elections and Democracy in Malaysia, Aliran, 16 March 2012, http://aliran.com/aliran-monthly/2012/2012-2/elections-and-democracy-in-malaysia/.
Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, The Emergence of New Politics in Malaysia: From Consociational to Deliberative Democracy, Taiwan Journal of Democracy Volume 5 No. 2: 97-125, Dec 2009,http://repo.uum.edu.my/7257/1/097.pdf.