Opposing Power: Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies


On 9 May 2018, an ideologically diverse opposition alliance called Pakatan Harapan (PH) defeated the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition which had dominated politics in Malaysia since the 1980s. This was the first regime change in Malaysia’s history. This outstanding development was shortly followed by a series of defections culminating in the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in February 2020, after just 22 months in power. A new government was sworn in in March 2020, led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, but only lasted until August 2021, when another new government led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob was formed.

As Malaysia gears up for its 15th general elections to be held in the second half of 2022, Professor Elvin Ong joins Dr Natali Pearson on SSEAC Stories to discuss the tumultuous state of Malaysian politics. Drawing on his book Opposing Power: Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies (University of Michigan Press, 2022), Professor Ong reflects on the numerous challenges—structural, perceptual, and strategic—that can often undermine the opposition, and offers insights into what may happen at the upcoming ballot in Malaysia.

About Elvin Ong:

Elvin Ong is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore. He is also Chair Elect of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei (MSB) Studies Group. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Southeast Asia Research (CSEAR) in the Institute of Asian Research (IAR) at the University of British Columbia. His research has been published in various political science disciplinary journals such as Party Politics and the American Journal of Political Science, as well as various regional journals such as Contemporary Southeast Asia and the Journal of East Asian Studies. His book Opposing Power is published by the University of Michigan Press, under the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies book series. His PhD is from Emory University, and his MPhil is from the University of Oxford.

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website: www.sydney.edu.au/sseac.

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Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

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