A sortition proposal in Malaysia

Datuk Yong Soo Heong writes in the Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times:

[M]any in the political gamesmanship seem to be brimming with confidence on how to bring that winning formula for themselves and their hangers-on. I’m not so sure what they’ve in mind in terms of wealth-creation for the people because I’ve not heard much about this except that they want to return to power.

Therefore, we often find ourselves in a dilemma.

Who do we vote for? Who could be trusted? Which politicians will not abandon their righteous cause? These are tough questions to answer.

What do we do to prevent ourselves from being “scammed” by sweet-talking politicians who come dressed in their all-white attire (perhaps to reflect purity in their souls and persona) or travel in some battered and spartan vehicle to show solidarity for the M40s and B40s [the bottom-earning 80% of households]?

Do remember that a winning ticket for a politician is a passport to a life-time of financial sustenance as they get pensions even serving for just one term!

I’ve been thinking about how to make those victorious politicians accountable for their actions or inaction (those whom we rarely see after they’ve won). We ought to institutionalise a proper feedback channel like a citizens’ assembly to air our thoughts to lawmakers.

The deliberative democracy model that’s being practised in the Ostbelgien German-speaking region of eastern Belgium is worth adopting so that we won’t be fooled once every five years.

Also known as sortition, it’s an ancient practice of randomly selecting citizens to participate in legislative citizen assemblies to voice out their thoughts and suggestions.

Under this form of deliberative democracy, deliberation will be central to decision-making as it adopts elements of consensus decision-making and majority rule for problem-solving. These assemblies can provide the necessary checks and balances on politicians.

Naysayers may say why adopt a Western idea or it won’t work in Malaysia without proper funding or administrative support. Funding? That’s the least of our problems. It’s the will to make things work that’s key. Financing could come from the Election Commission, Parliament or State Assemblies.

These assemblies could meet a few times annually and select people from all strata to avoid a potential middle class or upper class domination syndrome. The idea is to have a truly representative and deliberative democracy. It’s also about moving Malaysia forward.

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