Malaysia’s 2008 General Election – Transition from Single-party Dominance?

William Case

Abstract


Leading theories of transitions from single-party dominant systems begin with economic crisis, the party’s loss of patronage resources, and elite-level defections. The multiparty elections that are then held exert no independent effect, but instead register neutrally the party’s decline and the democratization of politics. This paper, however, shifts attention from the dominant party to citizens and elections in non-crisis conditions. It argues that on key dimensions citizens assess the dominant party’s legitimacy or worthiness of support. Further, where they grow critical of its policy outputs, they scrutinize more closely its conformity to procedures. And as they anticipate that their voting preferences will be thwarted by electoral manipulations, they vote in protest, perhaps producing a “liberalizing electoral outcome.” Elections, then, do not simply indicate the dominant party’s decline. By deepening alienation, they help citizens to cause it. Analysis is set in Malaysia, long an exemplar of single-party dominance, but recently a case in which the government was dealt a striking electoral setback.

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