Garry Rodan Murdoch University

1. What do you think will be the most important issue that the new government must address?

That depends on who forms government and by what margin. If parliamentary representation is to have any meaning then there should not be wild departures from the programmes on which voters made their choices. In their different ways, though, the respective programmes of BN or Pakatan Rakyat will be tested on a core challenge: how to address social and material inequalities and rising concerns thereof. This includes but exceeds issues of technically how to run a modern capitalist economy in Malaysia. It strikes at the heart of what constitutes a fair and just society, or whether that matters at all.

2. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest strength?

Over decades BN has built up organisational structures and networks that not only link its constituents to the respective parties of the coalition but also influence the way that state institutions operate and the ideologies they champion. BN power is thus pervasive and not limited to formal party structures or political processes.

3. What do you think is Barisan Nasional’s greatest weakness?

There is a growing gulf between the expectations BN ethnic and racial ideologies have raised about how best to achieve equitable social and economic development and the concrete experiences of Malaysians.

4. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest strength?

Pakatan provides an opportunity for both protest against the BN by disgruntled traditional supporters as well as a vehicle for those more deeply committed to, or attracted by, alternative ideas on how to organise society and politics in Malaysia. Precisely because this coalition is evolving – both as an electoral force and in its relationships to civil society – it also has an enthusiasm and optimism as a movement.

5. What do you think is Pakatan Rakyat’s greatest weakness?

As street demonstrations have evidenced in recent years, motivations and avenues for cooperation and debate among diverse oppositional forces over reform agendas is increasing. Nevertheless, political imagination beyond the dominant ethnic and racial frameworks institutionalised by the BN is uneven within and between Pakatan parties. This is entirely understandable but it is also something that the BN can and does exploit in electoral contests.

Professor Garry Rodan is an Australian Professorial Fellow (2010-2014) of the Australian Research Council and Professor of Politics and International Studies at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Australia, and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.

New Mandala is asking Malaysians and Malaysianists worldwide their views on the two coalitions vying for power at the 13th general election in Malaysia. Their responses are published unedited.