The Downfall of Malaysia’s Ruling Party

Issue Date October 2018
Volume 29
Issue 4
Page Numbers 114-128
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General elections in May 2018 saw the downfall of controversial prime minister Najib Razak—and an end to the monopoly on power enjoyed by the ethnonationalist United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for the whole of independent Malaysia’s 61-year history. Key to this peaceful electoral revolution was an unlikely alliance between former archenemies: nonagenarian ex–prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and reformasi opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who under Mahathir’s government had been publicly denounced and jailed on politically motivated charges. Along with this surprising reconciliation of bitter rivals, the fallout of the massive 1MDB corruption scandal and a broader re-shuffling of Malaysia’s party landscape created new electoral dynamics. While it seems clear that democratization has gotten underway, with Mahathir once again occupying the premiership and a handover of power to Anwar promised, Malaysia’s new governing coalition rests on a fragile equilibrium.