Coalitions and Competition in Malaysia – Incremental Transformation of a Strong-party System

Meredith L. Weiss


The seeming entrenchment of a two-coalition system in Malaysia solidifies the centrality of strongly institutionalised parties in the polity. The primary parties in Malaysia reach deeply into society and nest within dense networks of both intra-party and external organisations. Given this order – which differentiates Malaysia from its neighbours in the region – political liberalisation, if it happens, should be expected largely via electoral politics, and, specifically, through inter-party challenges. Indeed, the ideological and material premises of the emergent Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) differ substantially from those of the long-standing Barisan Nasional (National Front), even as both pursue the same broad swathe of voters. This distinction reflects and furthers transformation in Malaysian politics, including not just a shift in the salience of communal identities and in policy proposals and issues, but also in patterns of political engagement both within and outside of parties, regardless of which coalition controls parliament.

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