Former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's debacle in the 2008 general election was because the Umno-led BN was incapable of real political change, according to a new book.

In ‘The New Economic Policy in Malaysia' edited by Johan Saravanamuttu and Edmund Terence Gomez, which is to be released next week, Johan analyses why the BN failed badly in the last elections.

NONEJohan, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said Pakatan Rakyat's reformist politics had capitalised on the electorate's demands for greater transparency, accountability and for a more serious instituting of the democratic norms of human rights, the rule of law and social justice.

"The Abdullah government's flop in delivering to the electorate his own notions of reforms sparked Abdullah's own egregious political collapse.

"The alternative media matched or outstripped the mainstream mass media in circulation during the Reformasi and retained a significant readership (for instance, the online newspaper, Malaysiakini)," says Johan.

The political scientist also identified other salient factors for BN's disastrous 2008 outcome - arguably its worst defeat in history with the loss of its two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament.

"The BN government also just about lost the popular vote in Peninsular Malaysia including the loss of four state governments while one continued to be in opposition hands. There was a vote swing away from the BN government in every state on the Peninsula.

"Most significantly, Malaysia edged towards a formal parliamentary two-coalition system and in fact instituted this twin-coalition system de jure at the state-level of governance."

Pakatan dominant in mixed constituencies
Johan explains that the new trajectory of politics should be understood at a deeper level of analysis as a change in character of ethnic mobilisation and voting during the 2008 election.

"The main point to be made here is that the PKR, as champion of Malay-led reformist politics, acted as a multiethnic political party and offered a slew of multiethnic candidates and succeeded in gaining the middle ground of the Malaysian political terrain.

"Doubtless, the performance and role of its partners, the DAP and PAS, which continue to hold their own on predominantly Chinese and Malay terrain, is also crucial to this trajectory of reform politics on the electoral front."

Pakatan's undermining of BN's hitherto advantage in winning mixed constituencies indicates that a new path may have been created in the mixed electoral constituencies.

NONEBesides taking mixed constituencies, most of the Pakatan gains were in urban middle-class domains of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

"Given these facts, but without providing specific details, I would surmise that the new Malay middle-class voters have become the important factor - sometimes forming the majority of supporters - of the Pakatan candidates. Some of the evidence could be adduced from the victories of Pakatan candidates.

"The BN received a thrashing defeat in Kuala Lumpur in 2008. Only one Umno candidate won in the predominantly (urban) Malay constituency of Putrajaya, where civil servants constituted the electorate.

"Even so, the PAS candidate gained some 12.7 percent more votes than in 2004. All the mixed seats except one fell to the Pakatan.

"This represented a massive swing of Malay, Chinese and Indian middle class votes in the direction of Pakatan. In total, the Pakatan won 61.6 percent of the votes in Kuala Lumpur, and most significantly won all the mixed constituencies, except for Setiawangsa.

"One of the most significant results came in the mixed constituency of Lembah Pantai, where Nurul Izzah, Anwar Ibrahim's daughter, up-ended three-term incumbent and Women's Minister Sharizat Abdul Jalil."

Shrewd hijacking of Reformasi

Johan points out that BN's landslide win in 2004 saw the ruling coalition winning 90 percent of the parliamentary seats largely because of Abdullah's shrewd hijacking of several Reformasi agendas.

The other main reason was also because of the welcomed exit of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The 393-page book, which was written by 12 top academicians, primarily focused on the New Economic Policy.

NONEJohan says: "It is also true that the prolongation of the NEP has tended to create a dependency syndrome among some sections of the Malay middle class.

"This syndrome is more likely to be present among the older middle class elements, or petty bourgeoisie, as well as among the nouveau riche section of Malays who have become the putative beneficiaries of the NEP."

Notwithstanding this, it could still be argued that the NEP has created a second-order political effect through the rise of progressive new Malay middle-class social actors, who are crucial to Malay reformist politics.

This factor alone has fostered a substantial change in the character of electoral politics in the country as a whole, argues Johan.