The Newsletter 71 Summer 2015

The ethnic party system in Malaysia

Lee Hock Guan

In Malaysia, political expediency and racial demography during decolonization led to the emergence of an ethnically dominated party system. An ethnic party typically champions the interests of a particular ethnic group. To gain political support ethnic parties would typically manipulate ethnic ties and raise fears of ethnic outsiders, whereby ensuring that voting choice becomes bounded by ethnicity. When voting choice becomes circumscribed by ethnicity, it reduces competition for electoral support to within ethnic groups and not across ethnic groups. Thus, “each party, recognizing that it cannot count on defections from members of the other ethnic groups, has the incentive to solidify the support of its own group”.1 The prevalence of ethnic voting hence will marginalize parties which organize and campaign along non-ethnic lines.