On 8 March 2008 the opposition parties in Malaysia deprived the ruling National Front coalition of its two-thirds majority of seats and defeated it in five out of thirteen states it contested in. This result led analysts to suggest that electoral politics had breached a new watershed in Malaysia, and that it augured well for the development of a full-fledged two-party system. Political systems which feature electoral turnovers of ruling parties are seen by political scientists to be the sine qua non of democratic politics. This paper argues that March 2008 augurs the beginnings of a new path dependent emergence of a turnover electoral system in Malaysia. Path dependence theory could be used to explain why the National Front increasingly lost its “first-mover advantage” in electoral politics which for decades dominated political and economic institutions which reproduced the racialized political structures. March 2008 represents a rupture and departure from this earlier path dependence. Put differently, the National Front was not able to continue to reap “increasing returns” from its established electoral processes and institutions. This rupture has been reinforced by the fact that in the sixteen by-elections held after March 2008, eight were won by the opposition coalition of the People’s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat). It has become increasingly clear that newer forms of political processes and sensibilities are being introduced by the opposition coalition. This new trajectory is also one which puts the premium on participatory politics. Such a trajectory need not mean a departure from ethnicized politics but rather a political shift in the direction of more universal and democratic politics. The overall impact of this new path dependent process is the valorization of electoral democracy in Malaysia.


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pp. 101-127
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