“Alliance of Hope” and Malaysia Election 2018: is it Shifting from Dictatorship to Vibrant Democracy?


The 92-year-old politician, ex-Prime Minister Tun. Mahathir Mohamad led Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) got historical victory in the General Election of 2018 of multi-racial,...

The 92-year-old politician, ex-Prime Minister Tun. Mahathir Mohamad led Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) got historical victory in the General Election of 2018 of multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia. Since the independence of the country (1957), UMNO remained uncontested until 2018 General Election as the ruling party of the country. The party lost its two third majorities in 2008 General Election that was regarded as the political tsunami in its contemporary history. In 2013 General Election former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim led coalition got 52% of popular vote but ruling party UMNO retained the major sit in the parliament; it was a great blow before UMNO and its leadership. And finally, the 2018 General Election, the opposition party led by the former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad got the historical victory a milestone of its post-colonial political history in the development of democracy. There are many things those people faced to reach behind today’s story.

Mahathir served as Malaysia's prime minister for 22 years from 1981 to 2003, overseeing the transformation of the country from an economic backwater to one of Asia's leading economies. He is known as the father of Malaysia's modernization, and he steered the country through the Asian crisis of 1998, turning it into a so-called "economic tiger". After his resignation from active politics, his fellow politicians continued the party, UMNO. Mahathir broke away from the ruling party United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in 2016 to join the opposition alliance, Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), side by side with his political opponent Anwar Ibrahim. He was determined to depose his former political protégé Najib Rajak, who had been prime minister since 2009 and sought a third term in office. Najib was under pressure after being accused of fraud in a multi-billion dollar state fund that he denied the allegations.

Getting independence from British Colonial regime in 1957, it formed a federal form of government. UMNO, since its commencement, played a major role in the all changes and developments of the country unitarily. But time to time it has been practicing federalism in name only and the state has been more authoritarian than democratic. The states’ power has been dormant for the past sixty years due to the fact that the same regime ruled at the federal and state level. Most of the decision-making was made by the central government, especially through the political channel.

After the March 2008 General Election, Malaysians are witnessing a tremendous change in the political landscape where the ruling regime lost two-third majority in the federal legislature and lost five states to the coalition of the opposition parties.

The 2013 General Election also marked a great change in the Malaysian federal system. Previously, it was difficult to see a two-party system emerging in the Malaysian political scenario. After the 2008 and 2013 General Election, Malaysians witnessed an emergence of having a two-party system where the opposition parties could work together, using the name ‘Pakatan Rakyat’ (Peoples’ Alliance), to deny the National Front two-third majority and a shocking victory in the Parliamentary lower house.

Since 1969 when the main racial riot occurred on 13th May 1969 and the sequence of the events started with general election campaign and became more intense and more concentrated on communal issues, emergency was declared throughout the country and the Parliament was put on hold. After the Parliament was restored, an amendment was made to the Constitution removing certain sensitive issues from the realm of public discussion. This was also to allow smooth functioning of parliamentary democracy in a multi-racial society and also to redress the social imbalance in certain areas of the nation’s life and thereby promote national unity. This amendment permitted the leader to use more power in case of controlling over the civil society.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar (The Rebirth of Federalism, in Tipping Points), a prominent lawyer pointed out that political homogeneity over a long period of time and an aggressive central government that had curbed the freedom and individuality of state governments, much as it had suppressed the ability of Malaysians to think and act independently, had resulted in the general belief that this nation was a federation in mane only. He added that the consistent, near-absolute control of all the states by the National Front had allowed for the colonization of states by the federal government and, through it, the National Front.

That there has been, and it has suffered from, what we may call a process of Constitutional “grand larceny“, of illicit appropriation for improper purposes. A process whereby Malaysian citizens, at the mass or “wholesale“ level, have been deprived of the Constitutional basis of their “personhood“, or core identity, as citizens of a modern democratic nation.

That is to say, something quite antithetical to the historic understanding of the Federal Constitution and contrary to the agreements that were reached between those who made the Federal Constitution possible, as a living and growing “national social contract“, has been substituted for it - and is now being promoted and falsely justified in the name of a “purloined“ constitutionalism. Malaysia’s original, founding Constitution is now being dismantled, and its core democratic principles set aside, not by any coalition of avowed, explicit critics but by those who, so to speak, have seized the “title deeds“ to the Federal Constitution and who now like to parade in the purloined mantle of its imposing and majestic authority.

In an interview with Al Jazeera (2016), Mahathir said he decided to turn against Najib because he had "gone off track". "He (ex PM Najib) has done a lot of things, which are actually wrong. And as a result, he has put the country in a very bad position, economically, politically. He is also getting a bad name throughout the world. So he has to go," he said. Not only that commenting on Malaysia's future, Mahathir added, "If Najib is there, this country will go to the dogs."

The 92-year Old’s return to politics gave a new lease on life to the opposition alliance, which had floundered since its leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for sodomy on what his supporters said were politically motivated charges.

But Mahathir was once criticized for deploying the controversial security law known as the Internal Security Act. His critics said it permitted him to crack down on the media, activists, religious leaders and political opponents, including Anwar, who in the past had accused him and his family of corruption.

Anwar, 70, was also once a protégé of Mahathir, but they had a falling out in the late 1990s. Mahathir sacked Anwar as deputy prime minister and he was later jailed. In recent weeks, Mahathir acknowledged the suffering of Anwar and his family.

"I know how Anwar feels. It was during my administration that he was sent to [prison]. It is not easy
for him to accept me and shake my hand," The Malaysia Insight quoted Mahathir as saying. Even he noted
that "and it's not just Anwar but his family as well who felt pressure when he was jailed. They suffered for 20 years."

Now Anwar is free with the king’s order without any condition. It is a common expectation that this is the sort of thing he (Anwar) can do easily that will attract a lot of mileage. He is a unifying force that Mahathir can use for the benefit of his administration. Not only that this will give him and the new appointees time to implement a proper plan that people expect from him.

Before the General Election, it was quite difficult to guess on the result of the General Election; the Pakatan Harapan Coalition would win government, let alone that Anwar Ibrahim would be free, let alone he would be one to two years away it is clear indication of becoming the next prime minister of Malaysia. After his release, he went to the Palace where king congratulated him and later on Mahathir Muhammad as well.

It was a state-controlled media and it's now not, it's a vibrant democracy. It is difficult to think Malaysia has ever been one before. There was 61 years of one-party rule and effective dictatorship under Dr Mahathir's original rule. All of that is over. The country is a real democracy, it seems, and it's really encouraging. People are speaking openly about it. "A breath of fresh air" is the way people describe it over and over again. And Anwar's future, after his release, is still in Mahathir Mohamad's hands. His elevation to Prime Minister, probably within the next two years, depends on Dr Mahathir keeping his promise to stand aside as leader of the governing Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of hope) coalition. Harapan is Anwar's coalition - but it also obvious that the Mahathir’s participation increased the alliance’ acceptability in a great deal.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had said during the run-up to the General Election s that his government would repeal several laws, such as the Anti-Fake News Act 2018, Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications Act 1971, National Security Council Act 2016, and any law with the mandatory death sentence. He also promised to abolish “oppressive“ provisions in laws such as the Penal Code, Communications, and Multimedia Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Peaceful Assembly Act, and Prevention of Terrorism Act.

This election is very important on many sides. In regards to the democratic and political development, it is a significant road mark for the coming days. It’s a gateway to the strong multi-party political system. It is expected that the Mahathir-Anwar rule will be more open and liberal with efforts to be paid for the social justice. In addition to this, this election will pave the way for a better relationship with the international community, particularly with the Islamic World.

Besides these, there are many challenges before the coalition as well. Though Mahathir himself acknowledged his mistakes done in the previous time, he will have to face problems to change his one hand ruling policy being a part of coalition where his party belongs only a small number of the parliamentary seat. No option before the new premier but to adopt a sharing based rule that already it has been seen during the formation of the cabinet. Moreover, sharing power with other coalition partners and a peaceful position handing over to Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister are big challenges before Mahathir. And also post Mahathir cabinet and ruling is a very important factor for the coalition. Numbers of law are supposed to be changed but ensuring stability in a multi-racial country has to be taken into the consideration. Furthermore, to ensure the expected economic development, social equality and security, justice, continuity as a strong government are the most desired fields upon those disciplines time is needed to comment.
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