The 2018 Malaysian general election was a defining event in Malaysian history, with the Barisan Nasional coalition unexpectedly losing power after over half a century of rule. Edmund Terence Gomez and Mohamed Nawab Osman’s edited book, Malaysia’s 14th General Election and UMNO’s Fall: Intra-Elite Feuding and the Pursuit of Power (Routledge, 2019), brings together scholars who assess one of the key factors that brought about this game-changer in Malaysian politics: intra-elite feuding in the leading Malay-based political parties.
Contributors to the volume analyse state politics and national trends that have been shaped by the actions of leaders in both the government and the opposition. Based on extensive field research before, during, and after the election, the essays focus on the fine-grained dynamics of the Malay political leadership. The contributors explain how contestation among the Malay elite undermined the country’s once cohesive patronage politics. They discuss how such feuding strengthened the opposition through defections from the ruling coalition and helped to forge an alternative coalition that could conveniently target the government’s kleptocratic regime in its campaign slogans.
Contrary to earlier expectations that the change in government would usher in a new Malaysia where race and religion will matter less, the new political configuration has seen an intensification of identity politics. The two largest and most important Malay-based parties, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and Partai Islam Se Malaysia (PAS), have now formed an alliance in the name of Malay and Muslim unity.
The book serves as a timely examination of several themes, including the trajectory of race and religion in Malaysian politics. Malaysia’s 14th General Election and UMNO’s Fall: Intra-Elite Feuding and the Pursuit of Power is an indispensible guide for scholars studying Malaysia and will appeal to a broader audience with an interest in the Malaysian political landscape.