Malaysia and Turkey: similar or not?

Malaysia and Turkey: similar or not?

The prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razzak, was recently in Turkey. The two countries signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). As I was listening to Razzak talking about the agreement, I started thinking about the similarities and dissimilarities between the two countries. Turkey and Malaysia appear similar, but they are not at all. Let me explain.  

First, Turkey and Malaysia are predominantly Muslim countries; around 60% of Malaysians and 99% of Turks are Muslims. However, ethnicity and religion coincides in the case of Malaysia, as Malays are Muslims. There is no such one-to-one correspondence between ethnicity and religion in Turkey. That is a big difference, if you ask me. Second, both countries are considered examples of moderation in Islam. Similar? No. Turkey has a Civil Code, but Malaysia is not there yet. Presumably, their moderation is due to the limited number of Malays and the fact that the remainder of Malaysia’s population is composed of strong civilizations, such as the Chinese – that’s another difference.

Third, the ballot box seems to be doing its job, in Malaysia since 1957, and 1946 in Turkey. That similarity also doesn’t survive closer scrutiny. Since 1957, Malaysia has been run more or less by the same political party. It used to be called “Alliance” and is currently a coalition under the name of Barison Nasional (National Front). The BN has been Malaysia’s federal ruling party since its independence. That means the ballot box has not lead to change in Malaysia, but Turkey is a different story. If you try to count off the number of parties that have shared power one way or another since 1946 in Turkey, one hand will not be enough. Political change through the ballot box happened in Turkey, but not in Malaysia. Why, you may wonder?

Could the coincidence of ethnicity and religion be one reason? In Turkey, 65% of the population is composed of Sunni Turks, yet there has been political change. In Malaysia, 60% are Malays and Muslims, but there has been no political change. Why is that so? It might be the first-past-the-post voting system that they have in Malaysia. The system was designed to limit the power of urban areas against the rural ones. On top of that, now, with creative redistricting, the country’s rural inhabitants that constitute 30% of the total population determine 80% of the MPs in Parliament. The result is discontent, especially after the 2013 elections. In 2013, 5.8 million voters wanted a change in the government, while around 5.2 million preferred to preserve the status quo. It is obvious that 5.8 is greater than 5.2, however, due to the creative redistricting, the 5.2 million were awarded with 133 seats, while the 5.8 million who voted for change received only 89 seats. That is gerrymandering for you. Up until now, we have not had this level of obvious gerrymandering in Turkey. Creative redistricting should not be allowed to delegitimize the electoral process and the ballot box. That is the reason why the ballot box was not able to bring political change in Malaysia and frustrates people. Those are my fourth and fifth points for you.

Nowadays, Turkey is starting to discuss an electoral system reform. Why? Simple. 43% may not be enough to form a majority government.