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Civil society activism and political parties in Malaysia: Differences over local representation

Rodan, G. (2014) Civil society activism and political parties in Malaysia: Differences over local representation. Democratization, 21 (5). pp. 824-845.

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Despite their importance to democratic consolidation, relationships between civil society activists and political parties have often been problematic following the downfall of authoritarian regimes. In challenging authoritarian rule in Malaysia, though, these forces have increased cooperation and jointly committed at the 2008 elections to local government reform. This was especially important for middle-class non-governmental organization (NGO) activists seeking a transformation in the political culture of parties. Moreover, state government victories by reformist Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalitions included Selangor and Penang where these NGOs are concentrated. Yet while local government reform followed, NGOs and parties placed differing emphases on elections, transcending ethnic-based representation, and checks and balances on local government power. Lacking substantial social and organizational bases, NGOs were outflanked by more powerful interests inside and outside PR parties, including those aligned with ethnic-based ideologies of representation and economic development models opposed by NGOs. NGO activists also advanced various democratic and technocratic rationales for local representation, indicating a complex ideological mix underlying their reform push. The study highlights interrelated structural and ideational factors likely to more generally constrain the capacity of middle-class NGOs to play a vanguard role in democratically transforming Malaysian political culture.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Copyright: Taylor & Francis
Notes: Research for this article was supported by Australian Research Council funding for a Discovery Project (1093214), for which the author is grateful. Published online: 26 February 2014.
Grant Number:
  • ARC/1093214
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