Liberalism Survey
Perception towards Liberalism in Malaysia 2016-2021

The Launched of Liberalism Survey on IDEAS 7th Liberalism Conference 2022

From Left: Sharaad Kuttan (Journalist), Dr Tricia Yeoh (CEO of IDEAS), Ibrahim Suffian (Programs Director, Merdeka Center), Eddin Khoo (Founder-Director PUSAKA).




© FNF Malaysia


The survey on perception towards Liberalism in Malaysia is a tracking survey that commenced in 2016 and since conducted annually to gauge Malaysians understanding and level of acceptance of the values of liberalism in political, economic and social domains.

In 2021, the survey was conducted on 10th to 30th December with a view towards uncovering changes in people’s perception towards liberalism in Malaysia. 1,268 respondents participated in telephone interviews across 14 states and 212 parliamentary constituencies. The interviewed pool of respondents were representative of the Malaysian population in terms of gender, ethnic and age composition. 

The survey focused on unveiling people’s general knowledge and attitude to the concept of liberalism particular pertaining to political, social and economic aspects.

This survey launched at IDEAS 7th Liberalism Conference held on 24 September 2022 at Pullman Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

General understanding

  • As a whole, liberalism as a word has not reached a wider proportion of the community as only half of the respondents have heard about the term itself. There are no significant changes in this aspect for the past five years as the percentage of the population who have heard about liberalism sustained around 50% except for year 2018 when the percentage of people who have heard of liberalism was at its highest (61%). The reason for higher awareness for 2018 is due to the “anti ICERD” rally organised by opposition then – UMNO & PAS.
  • Malay-Muslim sect of the respondents show higher awareness to the term “liberalism” compared to their non-Muslim counterpart. The same pattern could be observed among younger respondents as compared to older people who are less likely to have heard of liberalism. However, higher exposure doesn’t mean for more positive view.
  • Malaysians also exhibit very low level of understanding of the true meaning of “liberalism”, only around 20% claimed understand it. This low level of comprehension has persisted for the past five years with no significant increase in the level of understanding. It should be noted that the Malay-Muslim segment who displayed higher level of familiarity to the term but at the same time showed low level of understanding to the same.
  • To a great extent, many view “liberalism” as a bad concept or practice for Malaysia. The 2021 data show the record high of rejection to “liberalism as a suitable concept for Malaysia”. However, the view towards liberalism is also seen divided along ethnoreligious lines. Negative sentiment towards the concept is fueled by its presumed role in deterioting the values of Islam.
Tan Seng Keat from Merdeka Center Present the Result of the Survey

Tan Seng Keat from Merdeka Center Present the Result of the Survey 

© FNF Malaysia 

Political Liberalism

  • Despite having experience recent political instability, Malaysians still agree that democracy is the best form of government for Malaysia, at 79% , slight below 85% for 2020.
  • Malaysians are also inclined to support political liberal values such as freedom of speech & free media (77%) and rule of law (92%)
  • However, Malaysians tend to support the government to keep the Sedition and other such law that restrict individual freedom as a price to maintain peace and stability in Malaysia at 81% . The trend change since 2017 where more and more racial and religion contest in the public spare where across all community feel uneasily.

Social Liberalism

  • Malaysians regardless ethnoreligious differences exhibit strong inclination to prefer state control over individual autonomy to protect Malaysia’s cultures, values and tradition at 85% for 2021, a record high since 2016.
  • However, Malaysians tend to take different stand along the ethnoreligious lines when it comes to individual rights to be able to freely choose ones including choosing ones religion, dress and sexuality in which Malay-Muslim community tend to feel that they are restricted in choosing their way of living as compare to the non-Muslim contemporaries.
  • On the contrary, Malay-Muslim tend to feel that they have rights to impose their way of life on others.


Ibrahim Suffian  (Programs Director  Merdeka Center)

Ibrahim Suffian  (Programs Director  Merdeka Center) 

© FNF Malaysia

Economic Liberalism

  • To a great extent, Malaysians are very much incline to support economic protectionism and social protection policies. In terms of economic protectionism, Malaysians are seen divided in deciding between Government linked Companies (GLCs) and open economy without government assisted companies to benefit Malaysians as a whole. However, the trend of perception has been somewhat inclined to support Government linked Companies (GLCs). The trendline fluctuate according to the economic and political situation of the country then.
  • Majority of the respondents also prefer government to continue to provide subsidy to Malaysians companies and business at 61%
  • Social protection policies have received overwhelming support (92%) from Malaysians as a majority of the population regardless of their differences agree that the government should help the needy.
LIberalism Survey 2021 by Merdeka Center
© FNF Malaysia 

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