Towards a New Malaysia | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Towards a New Malaysia
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 15 Mar 2013

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

And whilst it is true that the centrepiece of a think tank rests on its intellectual capabilities of research and policy, what is equally important is that it proposes practical solutions.

The limitation of ivory-tower research is precisely that it does not apply to the lives of people on a daily basis.
Herein lies the advantage of the new think tank that was launched last week.

Institut Rakyat, a new think tank that is affiliated with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan), seeks to provide independent policy advice on a range of socioeconomic issues primarily, amongst others.

Due to this affiliation, many people have questioned just how independent such an institute can be.

This is a model that is not entirely new.

In fact, many political parties around the world have foundations, organisations, and think tanks that are affiliated with them, but are also able to operate independently.

Germany’s political parties, for example, practise this: The Friedrich Ebert Foundation is a foundation associated with their Social Democratic Party and aims to promote democracy, political education, and promote students of outstanding intellectual abilities and personality.

Many other examples follow in like manner, such as the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for the Liberal Party and so on.

Another common question raised is, in the event of a conflict of position, which one prevails?

The answer to this is rather simple.

A think tank’s role is to propose, debate, ensure deep and thorough dialogue takes place on a certain policy or subject. The think tank engages with people from a broad spectrum of society, including academia, the media, civil society, the private sector, religious groups, labour groups, government and so on, in order to collate thoughts, perspectives, ideas and produce evidence-based solutions.

In this particular circumstance, Institut Rakyat would exercise editorial independence in its research and writings.

When proposed and presented to the party it is linked with, the ultimate decision on what exactly to implement is out of the institute’s hands.

Although this may seem confusing to some, this is in fact the best way to encourage policy debate and discussion – what better way than to disagree and iron out the issues amongst our researchers and experts.

And there is so much to smoothen over, given the numerous issues Malaysia faces today – economic, social, environmental, cultural and otherwise.

As such, Institut Rakyat aims to conduct research and formulate policies that are directed towards social justice and a sustainable future at national and state levels.

Its focus areas under the Policy Hub are Economy and Finance; Law, Governance and Social Justice; Human Development and Sustainability; Foreign Policy and Security; and Media, Arts and Culture.

But in order to ensure these do not remain as policy papers on shelves, libraries and desks, it is imperative that they are discussed widely through workshops, forums, conferences and publications – which is part of the plan.

In fact, two separate public forums are being planned for the month of March, which will be announced shortly.

Finally, through its Youth Hub, it will provide a platform for nurturing and training young leaders, policy-makers and thinkers.

The objectives here are to provide political education and leadership training for youth, provide avenues for students and youth to engage with activism and party politics, and create platforms and networks for youth to generate ideas and engage with the public through similar dialogues.

The last election produced many young parliamentarians and state assemblypersons who would have much to offer their younger counterparts in their experiences and accumulated knowledge.

Some may also have wondered about the timing of the launch, taking place when preparations are already underway heading toward the 13th General Election.

What role precisely would a think tank have in the political process? True, it would have no direct responsibilities in the campaigning itself.

However, as an institute that is more than interested in the policies being proposed by either political coalition, there is certainly a gap to be filled.

Pakatan Rakyat, the national opposition coalition, of which Keadilan is a part, unveiled its election manifesto earlier this week, titled “Manifesto Rakyat: Pakatan Harapan Rakyat”.

This 35-page document is loaded with policy proposals ranging from the raising of the national minimum wage to RM1,100, reducing water and electricity rates, and abolishing tolls, to returning 141,000 hectares of land to Orang Asli communities and so on.

These are policies which need unpacking, understanding, and evaluation as to their feasibility.

This is where Institut Rakyat comes in, allowing this space for open and frank discussion, so that ultimately the rakyat is able to digest the proposals or clarify questions they may have upon reading the document.

It is, after all, perfectly logical and necessary for the public to know the sort of future government they would get should there be a leadership change.

The institute will tap on the expertise of a wide range of people in the Board of Directors and Advisory Panel, with renowned individuals like Jomo K Sundram, Dr Syed Husin Ali, Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon – as well as reaching out to individual experts in their respective areas of, for example, constitutional law, media reforms, local elections, and others, in drafting policy proposals.

The establishment of Institut Rakyat is a reminder that policy debate is here to stay, and hopefully encourages public discussion even further than what already exists (with the help of social media, no less).

We look forward to what lies ahead, towards a new Malaysia.

Tricia Yeoh is a research director of Institut Rakyat. Please visit for more details. 


 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Models for state and city

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











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