The 14th General Election, the Fall of Barisan Nasional, and Political Development in Malaysia, 1957–2018

Muhamad M. N. Nadzri

Abstract


The results of the recent 2018 general election (GE14) in Malaysia were exceptional. The ruling party – Barisan Nasional (BN) – was ousted from power after over six decades of authoritarian rule, by a new opposition coalition – the Pakatan Harapan (PH). In this historic election, BN lost all the federal states in Peninsular Malaysia except for the two less developed ones of Perlis and Pahang. BN was also defeated in Sabah for the second time since its dramatic recapture in 1995. However, these results are not as surprising if one looks at the outcome from its historical and developmental perspectives. The indication of the breakdown of the one-party dominant state of Malaysia can (at least) be traced back to 10 years ago – since the 2008 general election (GE12). BN then lost several parliamentary seats in the urban centres, even with a less unified opposition. It had also lost four states on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and had been fairly incompetent in reclaiming control over Selangor and Penang since that particular election. Five years later, in the 2013 general election (GE13), the results aggravated BN. It had lost its popular votes to the then opposition coalition – the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). The main objectives of this article, therefore, are twofold. First, it intends to shed light on the recent general elections through historical and developmental approaches by linking them to the electoral results, and political development in Malaysia, respective to GE12 and GE13. Second, it strives to make available for analysis the arguments on how the opposition pact managed to unseat BN in GE14. The analysis in this article is based on the data gathered by the author through a mixture of media studies, library research, and direct observation – as this author was one of the official observers appointed by the Election Commission of Malaysia for GE14. The main argument of this article on the breakthrough of PH to the federal government is that the opposition managed to reshape the multiparty electoral system to a “two-plus-one party system” from late 2016, which boosted the level of political competition between the two main parties in Malaysia – namely, BN and PH – in GE14. Four major factors have been identified as constituting the triumph of PH and the fall of BN in the election. These are: the existence of a credible representative and strong opposition, with the inclusion of Mahathir and two Malay/Bumiputra (“the natives”) political parties; the rupture of the elites within the ruling regime; the presence of impactful issues surrounding Najib’s administration; and, the advancement of information and com-munications technology as well as its impact on the emergence of a digital and much more participative society in Malaysia.

Keywords


Malaysia; Malaysian general election; Barisan Nasional; Pakatan Harapan; Mahathir; Bersatu; United Malays National Organisation; democratisation; electoral system

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