MALAYSIA is slowly moving towards a bipartisan political system such as the one in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western countries. This is a healthy development and augurs well for the country’s future.
Gradual progress has been recorded from the 1960s when PAS – formerly known as the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party – took over the state government in Kelantan. In 1969, the Alliance Party lost Penang to Gerakan. However, this progress was somewhat halted when prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein expanded the Alliance Party to include all willing political parties to form Barisan Nasional (BN) in 1973.
PAS, People’s Progressive Party, and Gerakan joined BN. PAS left the coalition a few years later. The opposition parties found it hard to break BN’s dominance at the federal level as Malaysia’s unique diversity of race and religion favoured the ruling party.
The opposition parties, between 1974 and 2008, had been decimated a number of times, but like the phoenix they rose again.,
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Dr Mahathir Mohamad was a dominant presence in the nation’s affairs and opposition parties had little chance of winning big. During his administration, the country shifted from a primarily agricultural to an industrial and services oriented economy. Malaysia was envisioned to attain developed country status in 2020.
The Asian Financial Crisis was, however, a major turning point for the country as the country’s rapid economic transformation was in jeopardy. This economic emergency also sparked a political crisis when then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sacked from the government.
He started the Reformasi movement, laying the seed for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, which would in later years become an alternative government. Anwar’s long imprisonment strengthened the resolve of the opposition parties and their supporters, who on many occasions held protests and demonstrations to keep the Reformasi spirit alive. DAP and PKR’s common objective in wanting to defeat BN became stronger as the years went by.
Bersih protests that called for electoral reforms and the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) rally that urged better treatment of local Indian people turned out to be watershed movements that ended BN’s domination. The political tsunami of 2008, in which five states including the prosperous Selangor and Penang fell to the opposition, can be termed as the first step towards ending the political stagnation that had existed since independence.
The opposition managed to hold on to most of its 2008 gains in 2013. The 2018 elections result proved that the opposition had gained enough strength and popularity to unseat BN – one of the longest-reigning monolithic political parties in the world, much like Congress Party in India.
In India, it was a state-by-state defeat over the decades, starting with Kerala in 1957 and Tamil Nadu in 1967 that ultimately saw the party losing control of the central government. The same happened in Malaysia, beginning in Kelantan, Penang, Sabah and Terengganu.,
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