Democratic Breakthrough in Malaysia – Political Opportunities and the Role of Bersih

Tsu Chong CHAN


The 14th general election (GE14) in Malaysia saw a democratic breakthrough as the Barisan Nasional’s uninterrupted rule since independence finally came to an end. This article seeks to analyse the role and impact of the Bersih movement in GE14 by examining the political context of GE14 via three key political opportunities: the 1MDB scandal; electoral fraud and manipulation; and the re-delineation of electoral boundaries. Bersih’s core campaigns, actions, and strategies in response to these political opportunities will be analysed based on information and insights generated from the author’s involvement as a member of Bersih’s secretariat. The political opportunity resulting from the 1MDB scandal gave room for civil society and the opposition to go on the offensive; Bersih took the lead and continued the tradition of coalition-building between civil society and opposition forces, and brought focus to crossethnic issues. At the same time, Bersih held firm in its agenda for electoral reform by continuing to consistently monitor and mobilise against electoral fraud and manipulation leading up to GE14. Via the re-delineation exercise, it mobilised and coordinated resistance by increasing civic participation in the constitutional process and created new areas of contestation via the judiciary. In parallel, Bersih’s efforts and strategies towards these political opportunities had created conditions that contributed towards Pakatan Harapan’s victory in GE14.

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