Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. As such, ethnic divisions and multi-racial politics have always been a part of the Malaysian political scene. The country recently received great attention upon its 12th general election, which showed one of the worst results for Barisan Nasional. The Barisan Nasional (BN) government, comprising 14 parties including the United Malays National Organisations (UMNO), won only 138 out of 222 seats in the election held on March 8. This marked BN’s failure in winning a two thirds supermajority (148 seats) for its political stability. Since Merdeka, the independence of Malaysia, the BN has continuously secured the two thirds with the exception of the election in 1969.
Amidst this recent development of the Malaysian Election 2008, Professor Shamsul A..B, the ethnicity expert from the National University of Malaysia, shared his insightful analysis on the Malaysian election and its implication in the political arena. Shamsul is currently the Director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies. A social anthropologist by training, Shamsul has researched and published widely on the subject of ethnicity and identity formation, and is an expert on the Malaysian culture and politics.
Shamsul discussed a new dawn of democracy in Malaysia. There is a sense of uncertainty which prevailed the business community and there will be different political dynamics to come. His talk began with a brief explanation of the birth of modern Malaysian politics, the period starting as early as British Malaya. Pointing out the introduction of modern electoral politics and British sponsored coalition of ethnic parties during the colonial era, Shamsul argued that political organisations such as Chinese Liaison Committee (CLC) and Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) functioned as today’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs), while each state enjoyed autonomy under regional religious rulers. Malaysia does not have a 'traditional' ruling-party-and-opposition system because of historical and socio-political reasons.
Shamsul outlined political traffic within the political parties from 1950 to 2007, which demonstrated shifts and changes in the country. Early attempts to form an opposition front took place throughout the 1960s, with the forming of opposition political parties such as the non-Malay dominated Labour Party and the Malay-dominated Socialist Party which formed the Socialist Front. In the 1990s, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and a few smaller parties formed a loose coalition and succeeded in Kelantan. Due to its loose structure, the marriage of convenience to create a united opposition counterbalancing the BS failed in the 2004 election.
Malay-majority, non-Malay majority, and ethnically mixed seats form the Malaysian electoral system. When a new alternative coalition is firmly established, PAS can then focus on Malay-majority seats and the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on non-Malay seats. In Shamsul’s view, the opposition has to be in the form of a registered formal coalition; “a mirror image of BN”.
The new results can be seen as the dawn for democracy in Malaysia and as a step towards constructive political development in the eyes of the liberals. The results can be interpreted as a positive turning point for the long term future of Malaysia. Shamsul stressed that the opposition would have to create an alliance and come up with a two-party system to build a future for itself.
Professor Shamsul A..B, the ethnicity expert from the National University of Malaysia, shared his insightful analysis on the Malaysian election and its implication in the political arena. Shamsul is currently the Director of the Institute of Ethnic Studies. A social anthropologist by training, Shamsul has researched and published widely on the subject of ethnicity and identity formation, and is an expert on the Malaysian culture and politics.