This essay is a critical examination of the ability of Malaysia’s new media to promote political liberalization. Drawing on a historical approach to Malaysia’s political development since independence, it argues that the political effects of the rise of Malaysia’s new media are best understood as being parallel to those of modernization and socio-economic change from previous decades, which augured important changes in the political strategies of incumbent and opposition politicians, but did not upset the fundamental logic through which the Barisan Nasional (BN) regime has ruled since the 1970s. That logic of rule is closely attuned to Malaysia’s cleavage structure, which centres on ethnicity and the economy and which has pervaded the country’s politics since independence. Malaysia’s new media — despite being far more open to critical voices than its establishment print and broadcast media — serve as venue in which more basic political conflicts are waged. Although Malaysia’s 13th General Elections may spell further losses for the ruling BN, this essay argues that the rise of Malaysia’s new media is unlikely to be responsible for political liberalization. Instead, liberalizing pressures are most likely to be effective when groups targeting democratic processes and procedures, thereby superseding Malaysia’s cleavage politics.


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pp. 83-103
Launched on MUSE
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