Organized Panel Session
On May 9, 2018, with its 14thgeneral election (GE14), Malaysia joined the slim ranks of countries ever to experience what political scientists term “democratization by election”: the peaceful, electoral overthrow of a long-dominant electoral-authoritarian coalition. The conduct of the campaign and distribution of votes offer a wealth of insight into Malaysian political culture and praxis. Moreover, as this dive into aspects of the campaign, results, and implications suggest—by contributors to a forthcoming book, edited by the discussants, aimed at explaining and looking beyond GE14—the elections inform how we study and assess Malaysian politics, going forward. This analysis will demonstrate the extent to which core assumptions of the dominant model of Malaysian politics, of an overwhelmingly communal pattern of political identification, resulting in solidary, predictable, patronage-reinforced blocs, fall short in contemporary Malaysia. The panel brings together comprehensive survey data, field-research findings, and comparative and theoretical lenses to situate Malaysia’s transition. We ask how it was that the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition managed to unseat the Barisan Nasional (National Front) after over six decades’ dominance, and how we should understand partisan allegiances and preferences among the contemporary Malaysian electorate. We probe how parties work to target voters in an era of “big data,” and how new technologies shift the electoral terrain for voters, as well. And we situate this election within a wider frame, to consider whether Malaysia is on a path toward democratic consolidation or what electoral or other institutional changes might help propel regime-change forward.