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Malaysian foreign minister supports a new UN Parliamentary Assembly

Mr. Dato' Saifuddin bin Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 26 February 2019. UN Photo by Violaine Martin/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In an article published today in the Malaysian newspaper Sinar Harian, the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Saifuddin bin Abdullah, expressed his support for the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

The Foreign Minister posted an English translation on his Twitter channel. In the piece, he reports on his participation in a recent meeting in New York organized by the Bahá’í International Community, Democracy Without Borders, CIVICUS and the Coalition for the UN We Need. The event brought together representatives of civil society and UN ambassadors for an exchange on proposals as to how to achieve better democratic representation and participation at the UN. Civil society representatives emphasized that the upcoming UN Summit of the Future is an opportunity to make progress in this area.

Event on 27 September 2022 in New York. Image: Bahá’í International Community with kind permission

In his article, the foreign minister refers to his intervention in which he said that “the UN today is unable to deal with two clusters of the world’s main challenges, that is, the habits and behavior of the great powers and three current developments, that is the man-made climate crisis, the advent of technology that is beneficial but also brings negative effects and lastly, unfair international architectures.” He further reiterates “Malaysia’s position that the UN needs to be reformed”, adding that he supports the creation of a UNPA, a position he announced live at the event and later on Twitter.

In Saifuddin’s words, the UNPA proposal stems “from the dissatisfaction of the people and their elected representatives who are disconnected and denied real roles with intergovernmental platforms and international institutions, to the extent that the two fora’s legitimacy is questioned, hence becoming inefficient.”

He continues that the UNPA’s goal is “to reduce the global democratic deficit by involving the people and giving them a voice, i.e., through their members of parliament in the global decision-making process.” The foreign minister suggests in the article that “since the establishment of UNPA takes time, then, I state that the people of the world cannot wait. We need to start a ‘pilot’, that is with a gathering of civil society and members of parliament in conjunction with the 2023 SDG Summit and the 2024 Summit of the Future.”

Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Saifuddin bin Abdullah, on 27 September 2022 in New York (in the middle). Image: Bahá’í International Community with kind permission

A UNPA is widely supported in civil society and among parliamentarians. According to the international Campaign for a UNPA which is convened by Democracy Without Borders, more than 1,700 current and former members of parliament and over 400 civil society groups and networks from across the world have endorsed the proposal over time. Earlier this year, over 130 parliamentarians from more than 40 countries issued a parliamentary statement “for inclusive global governance” in support of the “We The Peoples” civil society campaign which includes a UNPA as one of three demands. The statement encourages UN member states “to establish a Group of Friends for Inclusive Global Governance that works to advance these proposals in collaboration with parliamentarians, civil society and experts.”

Most recently, this September, a UNPA was included as a demand in the final declaration of the Global People’s Assembly organized by Global Call to Action Against Poverty and other groups. In addition, international opinion polls suggest that a majority of citizens are in favor of the proposal.

In an initial reaction, the Executive Director of Democracy Without Borders, Andreas Bummel, “strongly welcomed” the foreign minister’s endorsement. “We encourage Malaysia and the foreign minister to provide leadership in creating a Group of Friends at the UN”, he said. Speaking on behalf of the Coalition for the UN We Need, Jeffery Huffines, too, expressed their appreciation, noting that a “Global Futures Forum” the coalition plans to convene in 2023 could be a first opportunity to implement some of the foreign minister’s ideas.

Domènec Ruiz Devesa, a Member of the European Parliament from Spain, recalled the European Parliament‘s support of a UNPA and said that the European Union should join a potential Malaysian initiative. “A UN Parliamentary Assembly can help improve multilateralism. This is in the interest of the EU and matches its goal of promoting democracy”, he noted.

Daniel Jositsch, a Swiss Senator who is currently attending an assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Rwanda, stated that a UNPA would be complementary to existing bodies and that its creation was necessary “to improve the UN’s democratic character.” 

At the Global People’s Assembly Ivone Soares, a Member of Parliament from Mozambique, noted that a UNPA “will allow a much broader variety of voices to be heard at the UN.”

“To be truly inclusive the UN and its supporters need to craft pathways to transcend the current state centric model to allow for robust modes of participation for people and their representatives. Only then can the aspiration of a peoples’ United Nations be realised”, commented Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer of CIVICUS.

Earlier this week, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved the national parliament and called early elections. According to reports, the election has to be held within 60 days of parliament’s dissolution.