GE15 and Authoritarian Legacies in Liberalizing Malaysia

Seb Dettman and I have recently finished a new working paper that analyzes the results of Malaysia’s 15th General Election. It builds off of preliminary analyses that I did here and here but extends the analysis in new directions, with more and better data and a more comprehensive analysis of Malaysia’s slow process of political liberalization in its historical context. Here is the paper, and here is the abstract:

Malaysia’s fifteenth general election (GE15) was a milestone in the country’s democratization process, with new parties and political movements competing with established political coalitions. In this paper, we investigate how Malaysia’s cleavage structure—a central feature of Malaysia’s prior authoritarian regime—shapes electoral competition in a newly competitive political environment. We find that the “race paradigm” (Milner, Embong, and Tham 2014) remains central to explaining party strategy and coalition behavior in GE15, but that more democratic competition has increased the salience of regional differences—both between peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, and within peninsular Malaysia itself. Our analysis reveals the structural foundations of political competition in democratizing countries and contributes to the emerging literature on authoritarian legacies in such contexts. 

There is a lot more in the paper; comments, as always, are most welcome.