Seminar: Beyond Electoral Coordination: Malaysia’s Opposition Evolutional Challenge
About the Seminar
In being badly fragmented, Malaysia’s opposition has not been able to successfully challenge Prime Minister Najib Razak hold on power despite the world-class 1MDB scandal. Most analysts and well-wishers of the opposition focus on its failure in electoral coordination, as in the multi-cornered fights in the Sarawak state election in May and the subsequent two by-elections on the peninsula. Many attribute the opposition’s disunity to the loss of leaders like Anwar Ibrahim and Nik Aziz Nik Mat. I argue that the opposition’s problem is more a structural one. Even if a straight fight deal is attained eventually between Pakatan Harapan, PAS and Mahathir’s new party Bersatu, the opposition may not be able to inspire voters to enthusiastically turn out to vote in the next polls. Historically, three opposition coalitions have tried to adopt strategic ambiguity on two salient but divisive issues – Islamisation and the future of Bumiputeraism – to maintain unity. They all failed since the issues were easily and skilfully used by UMNO/BN as the wedge between them. The old model of a pre-election coalition epitomised by the ‘two-party system’ narrative may also be obsolete as the opposition parties’ ideological difference is now much wider than before the 2013 election. Offering the image of a coherent grand coalition may sound hypocritical and fake, and invoke more voter distrust and cynicism against party politics.To end UMNO/BN’s electoral one-party rule, the opposition parties may need to evolve by seeking some reconciliation on Islamisation and Bumiputeraism on one hand and persuading voters to accept a more fluid model of post-election coalition on the other.
About the Speaker
Dr Wong Chin Huat is a UK-trained political scientist working on political institutions and identity politics in Malaysia. His current over-arching research focus is “the 1946 Question: can citizens be equal yet different?” that connects state-building, nation-building, citizenship and democratization since 1946. He is currently Head of Political and Social Analysis at Penang Institute, the think tank for the state government of Penang.