Money, Media, Machinery…and Again, Mahathir: Approaching Malaysia’s 14th General Election
Until former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped down from office in 2003, pundits referred to the “4Ms” that enabled his coalition to win successive Malaysian elections: the ruling Barisan Nasional's (BN, National Front’s) advantages in money to spend, access to mainstream media, government machinery to mobilize, and the charismatic, savvy Mahathir himself. Now the 92 year old is back — but this time, as head of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (Pact of Hope). Mahathir’s reversal throws yet another wrench into Malaysia’s already perplexing electoral works. So far, current Prime Minister Najib Razak has been unscathed by a corruption scandal, but the outcome of these polls, due by August 2018, is far from certain. The BN has already begun spreading the campaign-time wealth, and mainstream media remain firmly in hand, but online news-sites and social-media platforms have radically changed the media landscape. Meanwhile, the usual gerrymandering and malapportionment of electoral districts, curbs on civil liberties, lawsuits against opposition leaders, and other constraints persist. This seminar will survey the scene to suggest, if not what to expect, then at least, what to watch as elections approach.
Meredith Weiss is Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She has published widely on political mobilization and contention, the politics of identity and development, and electoral politics in Southeast Asia. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the resilience of electoral-authoritarian politics in Malaysia and Singapore and a collaborative study of “money politics” in Southeast Asia.