Four Arenas: Malaysia's 2018 Election, Reform, and Democratization
Association of Asian Studies 2019 Conference Paper
31 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2019
Date Written: June 20, 2019
Malaysia’s 2018 election saw the breakdown of dominant party rule by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the first transition in the country’s sixty-year independent history. How did the opposition finally overcome the extensive structural obstacles to achieve victory? Furthermore, what alternative did Malaysians vote for, and what are the implications for reform and democratization? A limitation of existing responses is the focus on either individual subgroups or implicit treatment of Malaysia as a single and coherent polity. We argue that Malaysia is better conceived of as four distinct, identity-based arenas, each with a unique electoral dynamic. Moreover, we argue that the population’s vote within each arena during the 2018 election was motivated by distinct concerns and with a distinct conception of what was at stake. This has important implications for ongoing reform efforts, since one of the arenas exerts a disproportionately large influence on political calculations, thereby defining priorities and the bounds of political feasibility.
Keywords: Malaysia, Election, Ethnic Politics, Identity, Democratization, UMNO, Pakatan Harapan, Reform
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