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Assistant Professor, Department of Diplomacy and International Relations, Tamkang Univer-
Opposition Parties’ Electoral Strategies and the Defeat of Dominant Parties: An Empirical Study of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the 2018 Malaysian General Election
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Since Malaysia’s independence in 1957, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO)-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government governed Malaysia for 61 years, maintaining a competitive authoritarian system. However, Malaysia experienced its first-ever party turnover in May 2018. To understand the reason why Malaysia’s competitive authoritarian system collapsed, the existing literature suggests two key explanations for BN’s electoral defeat: increasing urbanization, and Mahathir causing a split among the governing elites. Combining the theoretical perspectives of party politics and ethnic voting, this paper argues that Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s (Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS) change of policy objective also was a factor in explaining BN’s electoral defeat. Specifically, the PAS changed its goal from “office-seeking” to “policy seeking.” In order to promote Islam, the PAS cut ties with the opposition coalition that it had joined for the past 20 years, because the Democratic Action Party (DAP) conflicted with the PAS with respect to its Islamization policy. The PAS established a new party coalition and focused on promoting Islam, which helped the PAS gain support from the Malay Muslim voters who had not voted for PAS because of its previous alliance with the DAP. Accordingly, this study hypothesizes that the PAS undermined BN’s electoral performance. To test this hypothesis, this study conducts a quantitative analysis using data from 165 electoral districts in West Malaysia. The empirical results demonstrate that BN’s electoral support was largely undermined in the districts where the PAS contested the election.