18th Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia Symposium

The 2013 Malaysian Elections: Critical Junctures and Contested Visions

Co-hosted by the Sydney Southeast Asian Studies Centre, University of Sydney

  • Date: 5-6 December 2013
  • Location: The Boardroom, Darlington Centre, University of Sydney
  • Convenor:
  • Co-Convenor:
Women at a political rally in Malaysia

Democratic governance based on equal citizenship rights remains one of the most formidable challenges confronting many states in the early twenty-first century. In Southeast Asia, some longstanding regimes have been ousted by civil society protests which have subsequently been reaffirmed by electoral outcomes. Thus far, Malaysia has managed to avoid this politically tumultuous approach to regime change. After more than fifty years of uninterrupted rule by the UMNO-led Barisan National (BN) coalition government, regime change via the ballot box is a distinct possibility.

A key issue in Malaysia’s 13th (state and federal) elections centres on the propriety of the BN’s consociational political system based on Malay dominance and the continuation of the country’s controversial ethnic-based governance paradigm. Formulated in the mid-twentieth century, consociationalism is increasingly perceived as an anachronism that has been unable to forge a cohesive Malaysian national identity. But is Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) alternative political agenda qualitatively distinct from the BN? Is the PR coalition, made up of ethnic-based parties and electoral strategies, markedly different from the BN’s brand of communalism? Moreover, the PR’s Islamist party PAS (Parti Islam Malaysia) has yet to clearly articulate its position on the Islamic state, constitutionalism, religious pluralism, gender and citizenship rights.

Malaysia is at a political crossroads but the national road-map based on the principle of equal citizenship rights has yet to be clearly enunciated. The MASSA symposium will examine the 2013 election within a national, regional, international and historical context, with a view to better understanding Malaysia at this critical juncture.