PETALING JAYA: A leaked document outlined minutes of a meeting that discussed strategies for the upcoming general election by the Open Society Foundation funded by billionaire George Soros.
The meeting, titled “Malaysia Programme – Portfolio Review Outcome Summary” in June 2015, outlined efforts by OSF to support civil society efforts and empowerment of indigenous groups, youth and women and rural areas and for free and fair elections.
The meeting was attended by, among others, OSF president Christopher Stone and Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian.
The document stated that OSF was mostly involved in giving grants to Malaysian civil society groups on election-related work.
“The grant making aspect was perceived to be the most successful intervention.
“Among the various interventions, it was the best planned, resulting from numerous conversations from the ground and thus reflected locally identified needs,” the document revealed.
It said that through its grants, “large scale local election monitoring occurred for the first time, and the first dedicated media monitoring project was undertaken.”
“Malaysiakini were groups that the Malaysia Program and the Program for Independent Journalism was funding more generally while there was specific funding for Kini.tv for election reporting, supporting the group in helping create the enabling environment for free and fair elections was always ongoing through other support outside of an election year,” it said.
OSF said support was particularly impactful for youth participation.
The document revealed that due to the perceived importance of the 2013 elections, and “George Soros’ personal interest in the elections,” it had heightened the level of agency in the work and leverage its network of networks, bringing in outside expertise and conducting advocacy in Washington DC.
However, the challenges that OSF faced was mobilising the networks due to poor communication and coordination, the difficulty in finding local spokespersons, and by the level of vilification of Soros (and the OSF by association) in the official media.
“As a result, we had to work quietly and minimize our public exposure. Staff only attended public events and not private or close door meetings,” it said.
The group also worked with other donors such as the International Republican Institute and The Asia Foundation which also funded the same organisations but the support was for different programmes.
In the document, Ibrahim was quoted as saying that there had to be “increased focus on the strong Muslim segment that was growing.”
“Based on the polling that has been done, it appears that they have not bought into the reform.
“With a strong ethnic element in Malaysia in the political discourse and a government that is also very unpopular, there is a need to widen the constituencies engaged in the discourse and to bring more voices into the fold,” the document quoted him saying.
The document touched on the empowerment of indigenous groups, youth, women and rural areas.
“There is a need to look at the election monitoring work from the last time and build on the lessons to understand on how it can be supported in a more structured way,” it said.
When contacted by The Star, Ibrahim said he gave his opinion to OSF on civil society groups in Malaysia.
“How they interpreted and what they wrote I am not sure.
“During the time that was given to me, I had covered many topics during the discussion about trends, democracy, (but) how they concluded it is beyond me,” he said.