Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Online Opposition and Elections in Malaysia

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Online Opposition and Elections in Malaysia

Article excerpt


This paper evaluates the impact of new media on election in Malaysia in the context of equalization and normalization theories in the scholarly literature. Starting in the mid-1990s, major opposition parties in Malaysia have begun to establish an online presence. Malaysia has had its elections in 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2013. Exception in the 2004 General Election, the Malaysian opposition has experienced a consistent upward trend in electoral success over the elections. Most researchers contend the Internet enabled opposition parties to make spectacular electoral gains. What does this the result mean vis-a-vis the equalization and normalization theories debate in the scholarly literature? 15 years of online opposition communication delivered on the back of rising internet penetration over the last four general elections has critically alter the election results. Hence, the equalization thesis' prediction that the Internet holds the potential to give opposition parties equal footing to the ruling parties does explain the situation well in the country.

Keywords: general elections, internet, opposition parties

1. Introduction

In an article published in early 2012, Larry Diamond identified Malaysia as one of several Asian countries that could form the "coming wave" of democratization. Pointing to high per capita income and Malaysia's good Human Development Index score, Diamond (2012, p. 9) contends that "from the standpoint of modernization theory, Malaysia is [...] ripe for a democratic transition". This is not the first time that political observers have speculated about such a transition in Malaysia. In the 1999, 2008 and 2013 general election, though the ruling BN maintained its majority in the general election, the victory was a narrow one. Other scholars, however, are more skeptical. Abbott (2009), for example, highlights the remarkable resilience of the BN regime and calls for caution about predicting a democratic transition. Similarly, the frequent classification of Malaysia as an "electoral authoritarian" regime (Schedler, 2002; Ufen, 2008) indicates that stability rather than change might be the most likely future prospect for this country which, despite regular elections, has been ruled by the same political coalition since independence.

Despite such diverging assessments, there is near-universal agreement among scholars that the Internet now plays a key role in shaping Malaysian politics. Even tightly control of mass media, the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) able to mobilize supporters in unprecedented numbers. Most scholars argued that the success of the PR was due to its use of the Internet (Ufen, 2008; Rashid, 2009; Abbott, 2011). In the 2008 Malaysia General Election, the use of the internet is believed to be one of the factors that contributed to the unprecedented results of the election (see e.g., Azizuddin, 2009). The opposition alliance - the People's Coalition (Pakatan Rakyat [PR]) gained control of five states, denying the ruling party a two thirds majority in the parliament. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi; former Malaysia Prime Minister, acknowledged, 'It was a serious misjudgment. We thought that newspaper, the print media, the television were important but young people were looking at text message and blogs the effect was a serious misjudgment' (NST, 2008, p. 2).

The combination of a government-controlled mainstream media and a fairly free Internet in Malaysia provides a unique opportunity to test the potential impact of online media on the election result. This paper will base its analysis by measuring the duration of opposition parties' online communications against electoral results in the country's general elections over the last four general elections; 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2013. The impact of new media on the election result will be evaluated in the context of equalization and normalization theories in the scholarly literature. The aim was to document the role on online media in Malaysian society in which the opposition parties limited access to the mass media and in turn, the people seek alternative news elsewhere e. …

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