KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 — Malaysia stayed mired among countries rated as “flawed democracies” in The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Democracy Index 2015 released this week, losing three positions from the previous year.
According to the EIU table, Malaysia is now 68th out of the 167 countries measured, after it scored 6.43 in the index, down from 65th in 2014, putting it behind Indonesia (49th) and the Philippines (54th), but ahead of 74th placed Singapore.
“These countries also have free and fair elections and, even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties are respected.
“However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation,” the EIU explained.
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 are considered “flawed democracies”. Categories below 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.
“Flawed democracies” are the plurality among nations measured, with 59 of the 167 countries in the ranking falling into this category. The next biggest is “authoritarian regimes”, with 51 countries; at just 20, “full democracies” was the smallest group.
Malaysia's ranking was dragged down by the low political participation score of just 5.56 as well as in civil liberties (5.59). Government function was the country's best category, 7.86, followed by electoral process (6.92) and political culture (6.25).
Low public interest in politics was not unique to Malaysia, however, with the EIU calling it a “crisis of public participation” worldwide, which it said was most prevalent in developed countries.
“Democracy is more than the sum of its institutions… A culture of passivity, leading to an obedient and docile citizenry, is not consistent with the healthy functioning of democracy,” the EIU said.
“Democracies flourish when citizens are willing to participate in public debate, elect representatives and join political parties. Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy begins to wither and become the preserve of small, select groups.”
Civil dissent and disobedience are contentious pursuits in Malaysia owing to colonial era security laws that allow the authorities to prosecute for such activities.
Putrajaya at one point pledged to provide Malaysians with greater civil liberties in order to transform Malaysia into a “world-class democracy”, but has since introduced new laws and amended old ones that appear to run counter to this pledge.
Among these are the revival of preventive detention that went away with the repeal of the Internal Security Act 1960, the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 that introduced mandatory prison sentences, and the National Security Council Bill 2015 that will allow Putrajaya to impose emergency-like martial law in locations deemed “security areas.”