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2008 General Elections in Malaysia: Democracy at Work



The Barisan Nasional (BN) which won a landslide in 2004 was returned to power in 2008 elections with reduced majority and the loss of five state assemblies. Dissatisfied with unfulfilled promises, the electorate protested by voting for a strong opposition. BN additionally was characterized by factionalism. Three opposition parties joined hands and, using alternative media, unexpectedly won 82 seats in the parliament. A strong responsible opposition bodes well for Malaysian democracy.



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1 Jesudason, James V., ‘The Syncretic State and the Structuring of Oppositional Politics in Malaysia’, in Rodan, Garry (ed.), Political Opposition in Industrialising Asia (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 128–60.

2 The Malaysian political system has been variously labeled as ‘semiauthoritarian’, ‘semi-democratic’ or ‘quasi democratic’. See Crouch, Harold, ‘Malaysia: Neither Authoritarian nor Democratic’, in Hewison, Richard Kevin and Robison, Garry Rodan (eds.), Southeast Asia in the 1990s: Authoritarianism, Democracy and Capitalism (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1993); Diamond, Larry, Linz, Juan J., and Lipset, Seymour Martin (eds.), Democracy in Developing Countries, Volume III: Asia (Boulder: Lynne Riener, 1989), p. xvi; Zakaria Haji Ahmad, ‘Malaysia: Quasi Democracy in a Divided Society’, in Diamond, Linz, and Lipset (eds.), Democracy in Developing Countries, pp. 347–81; Case, William, Politics in Southeast Asia: Democracy or Less (Richmond, Surrey, England: Curzon Press, 2002).

3 The deposit money is returned after the election unless the candidate wins less than 1/8th of the votes cast. Additionally, each candidate is required to deposit RM 5,000 for cleaning up banners and posters after the election.

4 See International Herald Tribune, 26 February 2008.

5 The Star, 14 February 2008.

6 International Herald Tribune, 26 February 2008.

7 Anwar Ibrahim has vowed to become a member of parliament through a by-election by asking one of the members of parliament from his party to resign. His wife, Wan Azizah, agreed to vacate her parliamentary seat, if she wins, to make way for her husband. The New Straits Times, 27 February 2008. Wan Azizah did resign and Anwar Ibrahim was elected to the parliament after he won the by-election in Permatan Pauh on 26 August 2008.

8 The Star, 15 February 2008.

9 The New Straits Times, 2 March 2008.

10 Ibid., 5 March 2008.

11 The Star, 5 March 2008.

12 Ibid., 18 May 2008.

14 The New Straits Times, 6 March 2008.

15 Ibid., 22 February 2008.

16 See Horowitz, Donald, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985).

17 See Mauzy, Diane K., Barisan Nasional: Coalition Government in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Marican & Sons, 1983).

18 New Straits Times, Tuesday, 1 June1999.

19 Asiaweek, 16 April 1999, p. 21.

20 The Star, 10 January 2008.

21 Puteri UMNO was created in 1999. Its membership is open to Malay women aged between 18 and 35 years. Its major aim is to gain support from young Malay voters who were perceived to be more inclined toward the opposition.

22 The New Straits Times, 29 February 2008.

23 Ibid., 2 March 2008.

24 Nasional, Barisan, Malaysia 2008: Report, Development and Manifesto (Kuala Lumpur: Barisan Nasional Head Office, 2008), p. 3.

25 Manifesto of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), A Trustworthy, Just and Clean Government: A Nation of Care and Opportunity (Kuala Lumpur: PAS, 2008).

26 Ibid., 7.

27 Democratic Action Party, Manifesto of DAP: Just Change It (Kuala Lumpur: DAP, 2008), p. 2.

28 Rakyat, Parti Keadilan, KeADILan Manifesto: A New Dawn for Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: KeADILan, 25 February 2008), p. 2.

31 Rakyat, Parti Keadilan, Harapan Baru untuk Malaysia: 5 Janji Saya (A New Dawn for Malaysia: My Five promises) (nd).

32 The New Straits Times, 13 March 2008.

33 The Star, 11 March 2008.

34 The Straits Times, 8 March 2008.

35 The New York Times, 9 March 2008.

36 The New Straits Times, 27 March 2008.

37 See Moten, Abdul Rashid and Mokhtar, Tunku Mohar, ‘The 2004 General Elections in Malaysia: A Mandate to Rule’, Asian Survey, 46 (2) (March/April 2006): 319–40.

38 To the Election Commission chairman, ‘this [2008 election] was the best election ever and it had the least number of problems. The election was conducted smoothly and it was very transparent’. New Straits Times, 1 May 2008.

39 The Economist, 10 March 2008.

40 See Malaysia, Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006–2010 (Putrajaya: The Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department, 2006), p. 347.

41 The New Straits Times, 25 November and 27 December 2007.

42 Ibid., 7 April 2008.

43 The Star, 7 April 2008.

44 The New Straits Times, 11 March 2008.

45 Ibid., 26 March 2008.

46 Ibid., 2 April 2008.

47 The Star, 9 March 2008; Lorien Holland, ‘MALAYSIA: Political Tsunami’, Newsweek, 10 March 2008.

48 See Mokhtar, Tunku Mohar, ‘The Twelfth General Elections in Malaysia’, Intellectual Dioscourse, 16 (1) (2008): 95.

49 Ong Kian Ming, ‘Making Sense of the Political Tsunami’, Malaysiakini, 11 March 2008.

50 Khoo, Philip, ‘A New Dawn?Aliran Monthly, 28 (3): 2.

51 Quoted in Lorien Holland, ‘MALAYSIA: Political Tsunami’.

52 See Moten, Abdul Rashid, ‘The 1999 General Elections in Malaysia: Towards a Stable Democracy?’, Akademika, 57 (July 2000).

* ABDUL RASHID MOTEN is Professor of Political Science at the International Islamic University Malaysia. He earned his BA(Hons) and MA from Dhaka University Bangladesh, MA from Villanova University, Pennsylvania, USA and Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Canada. He has been lecturing at many universities (Bangladesh, Pakistan, UK, USA, Canada, Nigeria, and Malaysia) for about 40 years in various countries. He has authored and edited 25 books and monographs and contributed over 100 articles in internationally refereed journals. He is the editor of Intellectual Discourse, the flag-ship journal of the International Islamic University Malaysia.

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