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How Democracy Is Won

Sometimes, one year can make all the difference, and nowhere is this truer than in Malaysia, where a diverse coalition of voters ousted a corrupt government in May’s general election. With a new government now in place, Malaysia can finally begin to build the just, equitable, and effective democracy that its reformers have long envisioned.

KUALA LUMPUR – It is perhaps indicative of our times that the peaceful transition of power by means of a democratic election is a candidate for “Disruption of the Year.” The outcome of the Malaysian general election in May was the hopeful outlier to a global trend toward populist nationalism, engineered through fear of refugees, migrants, and the “other.”

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country where democratic values and collaboration between all groups made change possible. The electoral disruption was hardly what the world expected or what the pundits predicted, so we would do well to take careful note of what Malaysia’s voters cast their ballots to achieve.

For starters, Malaysians voted to end the rule of a coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN), dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which had been in power since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1957. With the demise of BN came an end to the hegemony of communal race-based politics. Moreover, voters rejected a system of governance that was operating as a conduit for transferring public goods and opportunities to private individuals and groups.

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