Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Image source: Berita Harian
The current political landscape of Malaysia is dominated by Right and Centre Right Political Groups. Parties such as UMNO/PEKEMBAR (or Grand Old Party in English), Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) are all major players of politics nowadays? So what's so special about them and how did they get this level of influence?
Barisan Nasional was the dominant political force in Malaysia for the majority of the country’s lifetime. All the way back from 1957 (When they were still names the Alliance Party, they renamed to Barisan National in 1973) until 2018 (where they lost to Pakatan Harapan, A left leaning center party.)
However, thanks to the 2020 political crisis (a topic for another time), Pakatan Harapan administration lost the majority of congress and was replaced by Perikatan Nasional in March 2020, and then they were also replaced by UMNO, when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassisn Resigned and Prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob took office.
Basically, Malaysia is once again ruled by a right/center right party. Whether that is good or bad I am not going to decide for you. Instead, I want to ask, how did Malaysia ended up with such a situation where the political field is mostly dominated by right winged parties?
Well, to answer that question we need to start from the beginning. The earliest political groups in Malaysia were not like the modern parties, they were generally loose alliances of interest groups and individuals primarily concerned with social welfare, social progress, and religious reform among the Muslim Malay communities similar to interest groups and civil society organizations of today.
Religious reformers, Teachers’ Unions, and Self-Help societies made up a majority of the parties of this time. The first modern political party was formed in 1926, it was named The Malay Union. During the peak of colonial power, they advocated for Malay rights to higher education and setting up land that will be used to develop Malay settlements.
The Malay Party would act as a catalyst and cause the formation of other similar parties like the Penang Malay Association and the Perak Malay Association. However, the thought of independence would not come into the public conscience until the Young Malay Union was formed in 1938. The Young Malay Union advocated for political independence of all Malaysian states from the British. And although they gained much support from the common peoples, they failed to gain the help of the Malay aristocrats and with the invasion of the Japanese army in December 1941, the dream of independence was stepped on. 100 Leaders of the Young Malay union were arrested.
Image source: Malaysia Kini
They were only released after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. However, the Japanese Authorities would disband the Malay Youth Union and instead replaced them with the Pembela Tanah Ayer also known as PETA. Although PETA was very much under the thumb of the Japanese, many of its members still pushed for independence and some even worked with rebels like the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army and Force 136.
Their efforts were not for nothing, as when the Japanese surrendered in 1945 the former members of The Malay Youth Union formed the basis of movements like the Malay Nationalist Party.
After WW2 British power broke over Malaysia, The British found it increasingly hard to exert power in Malaysia, this was great news to those who wished for independence! The future looked bright for Malaysia! However, behind the scenes a disaster was waiting to happen.
Left winged Communist parties like the Malayan National Liberation Army felt that the best way to independence was to forcefully kick out the British and replace them with a Communist Government. However, other more moderate groups believed that independence was already on the way and that there was no need for an armed conflict. Instead, they feared that the conflict will result in giving the British an excuse to send more troops and push independence back.
Thankfully those fears were relieved when in August 1957, Malaya became an independent commonwealth nation and eventually on September 16, 1963, Malaysia as we know it today (minus Singapore) is fully formed when Sabah, Sarawak. And Singapore joined the federation.
As for the civil war? It lasted from 1948 to 1960, after Malaya gained independence, the communist lacked a legitimate cause to keep fighting. it was a brutal fight with what can be constituted as war crimes happening on both sides (most of it done to civilians). Maybe we will write about it another time.
So yeah, with the leftist communist losing a war like this and being branded as traitors by the new federation, it is no wonder left parties fail to make an impact in Malaysia for so long. It doesn’t help a second communist insurgency was started by the North Kalimantan Communist Party which lasted from 1962 to 1990 causing a second State of Emergency.
Tldr: Left winged parties fought and lost, therefore the moderates and right winged parties ruled with relative ease. Thank you for reading. I hope it wasn’t too tedious. I hope you have enjoyed.