Organized Panel Session
Although Malaysia’s 14thGeneral Election was historic in that a 61 year-old government was overthrown for the first time since its independence in 1957, plural representation beyond race and religion remains elusive. Among the issues that never received much traction as a campaign promise nor an electoral strategy was the question of women’s rights. Only 11 percent of candidates in the election were women leading to only 14 percent being elected to parliament. In a pre-election study of women candidates in the states of Johor, Selangor, Penang, Perlis and Sabah it was found that internal party hierarchy and competition, patronage, male-gatekeeping and ‘boy’s network’ worked against women’s candidacy while family ties and party image re-branding provided some advantage to women being fielded in the election. Out of all parties which succeeded in getting their women candidates elected, the singular religion-based party PAS had the worst record with only 10 percent of their women candidates winning a parliamentary seat, while the DAP’s women candidates scored a 100 percent success rate. This study analyses the reasons behind these outcomes. Other issues, from a gender lens, that took up much prominence in the election was the heavy reliance on sexism to discredit the opponents of both sides. Malaysia’s road to reform and democracy can only be sustained if old party structures and party cultural identity are made to change accordingly.