Malaysia’s 13th general election, held 5 May 2013, saw an unprecedentedly close race between the incumbent Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance, Pakatan) coalitions.
For the first time in Malaysian history, a challenger coalition not only kept the BN from regaining the two-thirds parliamentary super-majority it had lost in the previous election, in 2008, but eked out a slim majority of the popular vote.
While any Malaysian election is a big event, this one in particular merits close scrutiny. The present volume offers evidence and analysis with which to probe both the merits of common interpretations of who voted how, and why, and to suggest new readings of Malaysian electoral politics.
Drawing upon extensive ethnographic research in constituencies nationwide, this exploration of campaign processes and promises breaks new ground in offering a grassroots view of a hotly-contested election.
The volume offers a set of case studies of parliamentary and state-level contests, detailing campaign messages, strategies, and apparent patterns. These case studies reveal both phenomena common across states and coalitions, and more region- or party-specific findings.
Chapters examine the salience of deeply-penetrating partisan structures, including the specific roles of women in both coalitions’ campaigns; flows of resources to and from candidates and voters, from targeted patronage and promises of development, to over-the-top advertisements, to anonymous donations; the place of both online and mainstream media; the importance for voter mobilization of both identity-based and issue-oriented networks; and how the different campaign teams functioned on a day-to-day basis.
These findings are valuable not only as a lens on an especially fraught fifteen days in Malaysian electoral history, but for what they reveal about identity, ideology and interests in Malaysian politics and society.
A clear GE13 electoral winner!
This team of well coordinated young scholars has produced what is, without any argument, the best, most comprehensive and broadly based study ever of Malaysian electoral politics. With a common approach and format, their local case studies highlight not the “wholesale” politics of broad national party strategy but the ground-level “retail” promotion of local candidates. Malaysian electoral politics is local, these closely-focused studies show, because voters wish to “own” their local representatives, and they can own only those whom they know and can in some measure control. This is how fresh, young eyes see the familiar “slog” of this country’s ground-level electioneering. Thanks to them we now have a new base-line for future Malaysian electoral studies.
— Clive Kessler
The University of New South Wales
Since 1955 Malaysia have had 14 general elections. To date, dozens of academic essays have been published on these elections but, disappointingly, very few books have been written about them. The Malayan Parliamentary Election of 1964 (1967) by K.J. Ratnam and R.S. Milne stands out as a classic that introduced then a new genre of serious political writing on politics in Malaysia conceptually framed within the theme ‘government and politics’. Five decades later, Electoral Dynamics in Malaysia edited by Meredith Weiss, appears and sets out a new genre that could be labeled as “the ethnography of electoral process,” rich with details and anecdotes, from a sample of electoral constituencies countrywide, ‘what election is’ and ‘what it means’ to the people at the grassroots. This book is a must read for anyone even with the slightest of interest on the vibrant Malaysian politics.
— Shamsul A.B.
Distinguished Professor and Founding Director,
Institute of Ethnic Studies, The National University of Malaysia
Meredith L. Weiss is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She has held visiting fellowships or professorships in Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, as well as the US. Weiss is the author of Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow (Cornell SEAP/NUS, 2011) and Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia (Stanford, 2006), as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is also co-editor of Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression (Illinois, 2013), Student Activism in Asia: Between Protest & Powerlessness (Minnesota, 2012), Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia: Critical Perspectives (UNU, 2010) and Social Movements in Malaysia: From Moral Communities to NGOs (Routledge Curzon, 2003). Her research addresses political mobilisation and contention, the politics of development, civil society, nationalism and ethnicity and electoral change in maritime Southeast Asia.