How Fast Can Malaysian Democracy Gallop Before It Stumbles?


Against all odds, Malaysia, for the first time since independence, saw a change of government in May 2018. Should the new government remain stable over the next two years, deep changes in popular culture and civil consciousness, including participation in grassroots politics can be expected.

On 18 July 2018, Dato’ Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Executive Director of Penang Institute, discussed how, with a new-found vigour and renewed confidence in its democratic institutions, the situation in Malaysia is now about deciding the speed at which its democracy’s free gallop is maintained.

Dr Ooi described the events during the recent elections as the culmination of a battering ram that has been knocking on the door of Barisan Nasional for the past few years. Once the gates of change opened, the then-ruling party’s hold on power waned. It also illustrates how the opposition successfully and significantly changed the status quo.

To give a better understanding of what could have led to the results of the May 2018 elections, Dr Ooi touched on notable periods in Malaysia’s political history. Examples include the preceding elections of 2008 and 2013, the period when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was not in power from 2003 to 2018, and the influence of the successful Reformasi Movement. Adding to these, Malaysians were feeling increasingly despondent, especially with the many charges of corruption against government officials. Dr Ooi also talked about how Dr Mahathir’s return to politics bolstered the opposition’s chances.

The talk ended with Dr Ooi addressing questions from the audience, which included the next generation of Malaysian leaders, the global trend of rising populism and its relevance on Malaysia, and country’s race-based politics.

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