Kuala Lumpur, 12 July – The Arab Spring is not over, says Dr Radwan Masmoudi, Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) at a public forum in Kuala Lumpur.
The public forum was held on Wednesday (10 July 2019) by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), titled “Democratic Transition: Successes and Challenges”. The event was jointly organised with Centre for Policy and Global Governance, UKM and supported by the Japan Foundation and the Sumitomo Foundation
In his speech, Dr Radwan outlined five challenges facing Tunisia today. One is building and maintaining national unity especially when and the population is politically polarised. Tunisia manages to overcome this challenge with the passing of the 2014 Constitution by an overwhelming majority. Despite this success, Tunisia is still struggling with a weak economy and rampant corruption which can undermine the country’s stability.
Tunisia is also threatened by violence by terrorist groups such as IS and the instability of her neighbour such as Libya. Dr Radwan also alleged that reactionary regimes such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been supporting anti-democratic elements in countries such as Tunisia in order to prevent successful democratic transitions as they fear that they might be next.
In the same panel, Ibrahim Suffian, Programmes Director of Merdeka Centre, spoke on how Malaysia, which at least until last year’s general election can be characterised as a “hybrid regime” where civil liberties exist but with tight limits. A hybrid regime will hold multiparty elections but manipulates result to maintain power. While the change of government has created new potentials for institutional reforms, challenges such as socio-economic pressures, lack of a supermajority to implement constitutional reforms and a wavering political will threaten to derail this. He concluded that change must be measured by the changes in institutions rather than merely replacing the elite as hybrid regimes can survive electoral turnover. Only institutional reforms that can prevent abuses and ensure successful transitions.
The forum also hosted another panel on the experience of democratic assistance by Japan and the United States. The speakers for this panel was Assoc. Prof. Dr Maiko Ichihara from Hitotsubashi University and Andrew J. Curiel, Political Officer from the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Dr Ichihara argues that Japan providing democratic assistance as a means to counter China’s political and economic influence in the region as well as the need to bolster a positive perception of Japan.
In closing the forum, IDEAS CEO Ali Salman echoed Ibrahim Suffian’s conclusion that the key to successful democratic transitions is institutional reform coupled with a political culture that is built on shared values.