Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan: One Year On
Malaysia Studies Programme Seminar
About the Seminar
Pakatan Harapan’s triumph in Malaysia’s 14th General Elections was pivotal in breaking Barisan Nasional’s sixty-one year hold on power, reshaping coalitional politics, and projecting a reform agenda. With Mahathir Mohamad at its head, the coalition vowed to curb the rising cost of living, weed out corruption associated with the previous regime, and pursue a plethora of goals and ideals. The sweeping reforms spelled out in Pakatan’s manifesto, Buku Harapan, inflated expectations of swift and
One year after 9th May 2018, Malaysia embodies change and continuity, exhibits new styles and old habits, and exudes promise and dismay. This seminar poses critical questions on political and economic developments since Pakatan took power. The first panel reflects on policy matters. Pakatan promised, first and foremost, to bring economic relief, control public debt and restore confidence. The government inherited a financial quagmire and various constraints, but has also proceeded uncertainly on mega projects and reshuffled jurisdictions and responsibilities. On balance, how well has the new government managed the economy?
Pakatan also pledged to enhance democracy, and to reform the Election Commission (EC) and rectify systemic flaws and biases that have marred Malaysia’s democracy for decades. Pakatan has appointed new leaders to the Electoral Commission and taken some steps to make parliament and public institutions more independent and accountable. How meaningful and effective are these initiatives? The firm electoral mandate to combat corruption stems from the colossal 1MDB scandal,
but demands comprehensive action at all levels. Mahathir’s administration is prosecuting high profile cases, including his predecessor Najib Razak, and has launched a National Anti-Corruption Plan. Will these endeavours achieve lasting results, or will cronyism and patronage persist?
The second panel discusses Malaysia’s political overhaul. For the first time, Malaysia’s coalition in power did not secure a majority of the Malay electorate. Indeed, by all estimates Pakatan enjoyed overwhelming non-Malay support, but won fewer Malay votes than PAS, while UMNO remained the most popular choice for that voter group. Recovering from the GE-14 shock, UMNO and PAS have forged an alliance and cooperated in seven by-elections, amplifying ethno-religious rhetoric and a
message of Malay insecurity under Pakatan. What lessons can we glean from these by-elections? How did UMNO-PAS come together, and what are the implications of these new frontlines?
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