What do our Malaysian readers really think about the current state of Malaysia and the most important issues facing the country? In stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked them to answer the following question:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Malaysia? What do you think the candidates should be talking about as they compete for your votes in the upcoming election?

1,236 people responded. Unlike in 2019, where the Citizens’ Agenda responses were entirely online through New Naratif’s survey portal, this time we worked with a survey company, Vase.ai, to ensure that we surveyed a statistically representative sample, and of course this year we have expanded the research to Malaysia. The responses were extremely diverse, intelligent, and passionate. If you’d like to see the (anonymised) raw data, here it is (warning: some people used language that may be considered offensive).

As in 2019, we read through all 1,236 responses and then grouped all the responses into 22 broad issues. People brought up many different topics, from the economy to climate change to racism. Take a look at the responses below—and then go read the report for Stage 2!

A note on our survey company: Vase.ai is a survey platform that has 3.6 million people across Southeast Asia in its panel. Through its platform, it aims to provide surveys as an automated service, thus making it easy and affordable to run statistically-accurate surveys across the region in different countries. However, this automation also involves constraints and trade-offs, and one trade-off is that we have to conform to its pre-defined panel demography. This includes only two genders (male and female), the MCIO racial categorisation, and a geographic location limited to the state level. In New Naratif’s own public survey, we sought to be more inclusive, but the majority of the data (1,230 respondents) comes from Vase.ai and the results are accordingly limited.


The Issues Summarised

For brevity in stage 2, we summarised each issue in under 280 characters. Each issue includes examples of the questions and concerns that people raised. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • 💰 CORRUPTION
    How do we deal with systemic corruption? Do we need tougher punishment for corruption or is there something else that has to be changed?
  • 💸 COST OF LIVING
    Should the cost of goods be subsidised or should wages be increased instead? Why are house prices and rent so high? Should we continue subsidising petroleum products or should the people be assisted through a more targeted approach? Should the government start building houses for the people to rent?
  • 🦠 COVID-19
    Will we see another round of lockdown? Can the economy return to how it was prior to the pandemic? Should we have implemented some structural change to our way of life during the pandemic or strive to return to how it was before?
  • ⚖️ CRIME & JUSTICE
    Should drug usage be decriminalised? Should the government retain the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offences or let the judges decide on it? Do we need more community policing or should we let each housing community decide how to guard their own community? Should the police be given more power?
  • 🏗️ DEVELOPMENT
    Do you think Klang Valley is developed enough or overdeveloped? Should we restrict development in Klang Valley and redirect development efforts to other parts of the country? Should the country’s administrative and economic capital be moved elsewhere? Should we restrict further development in order to reduce the occurrence of natural disasters such as flooding and landslides? What form of future lies for Malaysia? Do we keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result?
  • 🧮 ECONOMY
    How should the Malaysian economy be developed in the post-pandemic era? Should we keep our wages low in order to stay competitive against other ASEAN economies or should we focus on higher-income sectors? Should the value of the Ringgit be prioritised over our export? Would you accept higher inflation for higher wages vs having a lower wage with a subsidised cost of living?
  • 🎓 EDUCATION
    How do we ensure equitable access to education for everyone? Should university education be free? How can we make the education system more inclusive? Does a vernacular education system still have a place in our society? Should religious education be kept separate from the national schooling system? Should we allow parents and the local community to be more involved with our school’s management?
  • 🌏♻️ ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY
    How do we deal with climate change and its effect on our cities? How can we reduce pollution? Are we willing to forgo some progress and resources in order to conserve the environment? What are we doing as a country to reduce our carbon emissions?
  • 🌾 FOOD SECURITY
    How do we ensure we have a secure supply of food? Should we increase subsidies to local farmers to guarantee food security? How do we deal with reduced food output caused by climate change?
  • GENDER & SEXUAL EQUALITY
    Should we ban all forms of child marriage without exception? How do we support single mothers? What can we do to address the issue of discrimination and harassment in the workplace? How do we empower women’s participation in the workforce?
  • 🩺 💊 HEALTHCARE
    Do we need more private or public hospitals? Should health insurance be made compulsory? Should our healthcare system be paid personally or collectively? Do we expand the current public healthcare system into a universal single-payer system with only minimal private healthcare service providers?
  • ⚙️ PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE
    How do we take care of our current infrastructure? Do we build more or improve what we have? Are we as a society too reliant on car usage? How can we reduce traffic congestion? How do we plan our infrastructure going forward to ensure sustainability? How do we manage and mitigate the recurring problem of flooding? How can we ensure the widest internet availability for everyone and an affordable rate? Should the internet be considered a public utility like electricity and water supply?
  • ⌛️ ⏳ POLITICAL REFORM
    Should we bring back local council elections? Should the Parliamentary term be fixed so that everyone will know when an election will be held? How can we improve the independence of the Parliament and the Judiciary from the Executive? Should we have a term limit for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers? Do we need to restructure our government ministries and merge them together?
  • 🔏📇 PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
    How do we select office-bearers of prominent public institutions? Should we be electing our police chief, attorney-general, and head of the anti-corruption agency? Can the Parliament be entrusted with the task of vetting these important appointments?
  • 🧳 JOBS & WAGES
    Do we have enough jobs, especially for the younger generation, or are we facing a demand and supply mismatch? Should we increase our minimum wage instead of trying to import more foreign labour? How can we empower workers to better negotiate their working conditions with their employers? How can we encourage work from home policy? How can we increase our minimum wage with minimal impact to the economy?
  • 🫶 RIGHTS & DISCRIMINATION
    How do we deal with various forms of discrimination? How can the rights of minority groups (class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality) be protected? Should we allow some form of discrimination (such as affirmative action for certain ethnic groups)? How do we deal with abuse and integrity issues within the police force? How can we safeguard our freedom of speech and association?
  • 🗳️ ELECTORAL PROCESS
    Should political parties not be allowed to change coalition after an election? Should an elected representative who switches parties be forced to contest again under their new party’s banner? How can we reduce the misuse of religious and racial rhetoric in politics? Do a candidate’s personality and ideals matter to you? Would you choose a candidate for an issue they personally champion even though you do not agree with their political party? Do you prefer a newer candidate over a veteran? Should an elected representative be someone who focuses on legislative issues or do they also have to be the one taking care of problems within their constituency?
  • 🖇️ RACE RELATIONS
    Should we replace the New Economic Policy with something based on needs? Does the racial imbalance within the civil service matter to you? Do we need more policing of racialist elements within our society? Do you think the adoption of the national language by everyone is important?
  • ⚓️🌱 WELFARE & SOCIAL SECURITY
    How do we ensure generations of Malaysian who withdrew their EPF savings during the pandemic will be able to retire? How do we make sure those with lifelong disabilities are taken care of? Should older/retired Malaysians be entitled to a state-sponsored basic pension to allow them to live peacefully? How do we help those who are homeless?
  • 📊 📈 FINANCE & TAXATION
    How do we ensure equitable distribution of tax revenue between the Federal government and the State governments? Should we bring back GST to guarantee sustainable revenue for the government? Should other sources of tax revenue (such as inheritance tax, vacancy tax, and wealth tax) be explored? How do we ensure tax revenue is fairly spent for the benefit of all citizens?
  • 🇲🇾 CULTURE & IDENTITY
    What does it mean to be a Malaysian? How do we (and should we) preserve this Malaysian identity? How can we (and should we) unite Malaysia and/or Malaysians under one shared identity?
  • 🌏🗺 MIGRANTS & REFUGEES
    Should we allow refugees to work and integrate into our society? How do we manage illegal immigration?

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Highlights

  • Government corruption and bribery were a major issue identified by respondents across the board. In general, there was a great sense of frustration and anger with the government, both in terms of a lack of competence and a lack of integrity. There was frustration with the government’s inability to solve problems, with one respondent specifically expressing frustration over a lack of change, despite all the political events of the past four years and all the efforts of voters to vote for reform. Party-hopping was also identified as a major issue.
  • Equally, people raised the issue of political reform and greater empowerment of the rakyat, in an effort to break through the deadlock and inconclusiveness of the past few years. Local council elections were suggested but most people did not have specific suggestions about how the political system could be reformed (to be fair, the question only asked them to identify issues, not to suggest solutions!).
  • The economy, inflation, the rising cost of living, and the falling value of the Ringgit were another key concern. This was true across the board, regardless of age or race or language, although younger respondents bemoaned a lack of job opportunities (and especially reasonably paid jobs) while older respondents focused on the cost of living, inflation, and pensions. Numerous respondents argued for a raise in the minimum salary, arguing that RM1500 was far too low. 
  • The climate crisis was often raised, in connection with food security or transport. 
  • For food security, people worried about both cost and access to food. The ban on the export of fresh chicken was symptomatic of a country worried about its ability to feed itself (and the export also triggered concerns with food security in neighbouring Singapore—see the Singapore Stage 1 survey report).
  • Climate change and transport were frequently raised in connection with flash flooding making it impossible to get around any of the major cities. This was raised by respondents across most states, suggesting that the flooding issue is widespread across most of the major cities. In general, respondents are worried about the future livability of their cities.
  • Racism was frequently identified as an issue, although, unlike other issues, almost everyone who identified it simply stated “racism” as a self-evident problem. Unlike the economy or the government, few people elaborated on the issue.
  • Policy discrimination against the states of East Malaysia, for example, the lack of development in East Malaysia in comparison to West Malaysia, was also frequently identified by residents of Sabah and Sarawak as an issue.
  • In general, the welfare of the people was of frequent concern—healthcare, mental health, safety, and security. Help for refugees, stateless, and other vulnerable people were also raised, as were people’s rights and the issue of the death penalty.

Issues Not (or Infrequently) Mentioned

  • The war in Ukraine was not mentioned at all by any respondent, and national security in general was not an important issue.
  • Only one person mentioned LGBTQ discrimination.
  • COVID-19 itself was not mentioned as a healthcare crisis, but instead, nearly everyone who mentioned COVID-19 talked about the economic recovery as the most pressing issue instead.
  • Issues were overwhelmingly domestic in nature. Only one person mentioned immigration as an issue. Several people talked about foreign investment and foreign workers, but there was no consensus here—some felt more of both were needed to boost Malaysia’s economy, while others felt foreign money was raising costs for locals and foreign workers were competing with locals for scarce jobs. 
  • No one mentioned fake news and online falsehoods (such as those which swung the Philippines Presidential elections), despite this being a major problem globally. This suggests that either people know about it but regard it as less important relative to other issues, or that people do not yet know about it.

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By the Numbers

Longest response: One response consisted of 385 words, covering three topics—political reform, the economy, and the empowerment of youths, racial minorities, and women. The answer proposed reforms to the Political Funding Act, workers’ rights, minimum wage, the tax code, and rules around Malaysian mothers with foreign-born children. It also discussed digital upskilling, tackling racial and religious discrimination, and Bumiputra’s special privileges.

Shortest response: “Tol”. “Bribe/Corruption/Rasuah” and “Economy/Ekonomi” were the most frequent one-word responses. Other one-word responses: “health”, “unity”, “equity”, “prices”, and “money”.

We’re not going to tell you which were the most popular responses, as we don’t want to influence your response in Stage 2, but here is a word cloud:

Finally, a demographic breakdown of 1,230 respondents on Vase.ai. Numbers are rounded to the nearest percentage point and so the percentages may not add up to 100%:

State:

Now that you’ve seen the breakdown, you can learn more about the top five most important issues facing Malaysia! Share your takeaways with us and spread the word.