In contrast to the institutionalist narratives of later chapters, this chapter highlights the more open-ended contests that accompanied the scramble to shape emerging political systems. During the fluid and uncertain period of regime formation, early victories held the potential to channel society's course for generations. Drawing rarely repeated public attention and engagement through street demonstrations, national elections, or campaigns of violent repression, leaders vied for control and struggled to cast emerging states in ways favorable to their own ambitions. The outcomes of these elite battles – specifically, whether one faction triumphed or its opponents retained a presence in the regime – were embodied within the organizations of national leadership and agenda setting: political parties.
The historical accounts contained here are integral to a full understanding of how the legacies of the past are imbricated with the politics of the present: In short, the early interplay of key political actors yielded the institutional legacies that would structure national politics. These accounts of regime formation are intended to enrich current analyses of party building that focus largely on social conflict while paying less attention to the contested interaction of ambitious elites (Smith 2005: 422). Leaders in Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, and the Philippines created parties as a way of challenging their strongest rivals, whether foreign occupiers, violent radical movements, or mainstream political competitors. In Egypt and Malaysia, this broad struggle climaxed within the ascendant elite's own ranks as certain leaders defeated peers who promoted more open political systems.