“Is Malaysia ready for a liberal political party?” was the panel discussion hosted by IDEAS to discuss whether ideological parties would ever be able to compete with current parties.
Speakers on the panel included Dr. Juli Minoves, an Andorran diplomat, author, and the 13th President of Liberal International, who spoke about some common misconceptions about liberalism in Malaysia. Khalid Jaafar is the Executive Director of Insitut Kajian Dasar (IKD) and one of the founders of the People’s Justice Party discussed the evolution of Liberal ideologies in an Asian context. Finally Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, a former Member of Parliament of Malaysia for Kuala Selangor from 2008 to 2013 as a member of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and former CEO of PAS Research Centre further explored the relationship between liberalism and Islam.
Dr. Minoves opened the discussion by discussing liberalism in the context of Malaysia, expressing shock that Liberalism is controversial in such a young constituency as it upholds the value of the right to choose. Mr. Minoves believes that Malaysia’s values of tolerance and diversity coincide with liberalism, as it believes in human rights and the belief in diversity without the imposition of religion.
Khalid Jaafar put forward Liberal ideologies in a Malaysian context, stating:
“There’s absolutely no problem in sharing or having some religious faith and actually believing in human rights for everybody, ‘live and let live’, especially in a country like Malaysia that is so diverse.”
Khalid Jaafar states that the ideas of liberalism will not just be ensconced by Adam smith and the forefathers of the ideology, instead he believes they will be challenged and synthesised with Asian values. Contradicting the assertions of Francis Fukuyama that current liberal ideas and free market capitalism mark the final ideological evolution, Khalid Jaafar asserted that the migration of liberal values to larger Asian societies will accelerate change as principles are drawn from religious and cultural principles. Even today Khalid Jafaar believes liberal parties exist currently with PKR, DAP and PAS representing certain measures of libertarianism.
Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad reflected on the negative connotations surrounding liberalism in Malaysia as a misconception about its compatibility with Islam. Dr Dzulkefly believes that the contestation of ideas in the search of truth and justice are exemplified in the Quran and therefore Liberalism is consistent with Islam. Dr Dzulkefly concluded that not one size of liberalism fits all, instead he believes that assuming the role of representing the people’s interests are liberal enough and that it was ‘hyper-liberalism’, such as support for LGBT communities that Malaysians may have an aversion to.
The event ended with a vigorous round of questions and answers in which the participants highlighted the compatibility of libertarianism, religion and Malaysia. When asked if Liberalism was against Islam and the Federal Constitution, Khalid Jafaar responded that the Quran provides information on morality and provides guiding principles, where as Liberalism instead comes from human experience about the state of existence, stating:
“Of course liberalism will not bring you to heaven, if you are looking to go to heaven then you would have to have religion”