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Malaysia post-2008: Old Politics, New Trajectory. Professor Shamsul A.B. Founding Director Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)

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Malaysia post-2008: Old Politics, New Trajectory

Professor Shamsul A.B.

Founding Director

Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA)

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)

A presentation at the” Roundtable: Malaysia’s New Politics from Hegemony to Pluralism? “ Friday, AAS ANNUAL MEETING, March 26-27, 2009, Chicago, USA

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Old politics, new trajectory

  • Oppositionism

    • Two-party system analytical frame applied to Malaysia

    • Reality: one-party system

    • More useful and relevant to apply the “oppositionism” framework

    • Contradictions, conflicts, consensus, alliance, factionalism, etc. all taking plcae within a one party system, “within the Barisan Nasional School of Politics”

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Old politics, new trajectory

Stable tension

  • Malaysians live in a society dominated by many contradictions

  • But we have managed to solve most of them through a continuous process of consensus-seeking negotiations at all levels within the society

  • Sometimes the process itself becomes a solution

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Two Party System

Ruling Party

Opposition Party

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One Party System


Electronic Community

Ruling Party

Opposition Party

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One-party system, new trajectory

  • General Elections (GE) 1999

    • 1987-88 UMNO split; left half of UMNO (Mahathir & Anwar in one team)

    • 1997-98 UMNO split; left a half of a half of UMNO (Mahathir-Anwar split) ; Mahathir jumped boat 2003

  • GE 2004:

    • Hope for a change: Badawi “work with me and not for me”; old Mahathir’s burden, his own new ideas

  • GE 2008:

    • “work with me and not for me” didn’t work; shackled by Mahathir’s burden, his ideas backfired

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Old strategy, new trajectory

  • Back to the streets; Anwar’s ‘weapon of the weak’ - mobilizing NGOs, Opposition Parties, Electronic community

  • 2007: street demonstration year

  • BN leadership weaknesses became target: UMNO, MCA, MIC

  • Issues: integrity, corruption, scandals, human rights

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General Elections 2008

  • New oppositionism: The opposition parties, NGOs & electronic community found temporary new consensus constructed by Anwar

  • BN flawed strategy focusing only on opposition political parties (two-party system mentality).

  • BN lost two-third majority at Federal level; lost five State governments.

  • The new combined opposition drowned in euphoria of victory, but whereto from here….?

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Renewed Opposition & the Promise of New trajectory

  • Until today, where the new opposition is heading is totally unclear; mired with internal problems

  • Is Anwar leading the formation of a two-party system?

  • Or, is Anwar using the new opposition to fulfill a personal ambition to be Prime Minister of Malaysia?

  • It seems the latter: new opposition coalition is not registered as a new party; no shadow cabinet; no written alternative policy documents

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Where are we now, Where to?

  • The stable tension persists; over GE-related issues & new ones (language issue); street demonstrations here to stay

  • Najib is the next Prime Minister

  • Anwar has to bury his personal ambition; resurrect the people’s ambition for a two-party system, perhaps then he could still be PM

  • The future is still in Anwar’s hand. In spite of all the external support he gets, is it slipping away?

  • Oppositionism continues…