How an unstoppable 20-year tsunami finally swamped BN

Graphic: Johan Saravanamuttu

It was coming all along. This chart, courtesy of political scientist Johan Saravanamuttu, clearly shows how the ‘tsunami’ started building up two decades ago in the post-Reformasi general election of 1999.

And when it finally swelled to a tipping point in 2018, the deluge swept BN away. Notice that even in Putrajaya, that BN bastion, 51% of voters did not vote for BN.

The only blip in that 20-year period occurred in 2004, a false dawn when many fell for the promise of a bright new era under Abdullah Badawi. Otherwise, the rise in the popular vote against BN has been steady and relentless since 1999.

Says Johan:

The comprehensive nature of BN’s defeat can be shown by the chart (above). In my book, Power Sharing in a Divided Nation (ISEAS, 21016), I had used path dependence analysis to suggest an observed trajectory toward two-coalition politics. Simply put, progressive steps along the way on a path valourised by institutional, ideological and programmatic developments will lead to increasing returns on the path.

I have argued that the Reformasi agenda represented such a path. The line graph shows how popular votes against the BN have progressively reached an unprecedented level, yet predicated on previous gains. Thus in political science jargon Malaysia has achieved the first crucial step of a ‘turnover’ electoral system. We need another election, following Huntington, to confirm that we have a ‘consolidated democracy’ i.e. the two-turnover test.

Furthermore, a consolidated democracy also implies that the BN in reconstituted form could regain power but essentially PH has to win twice. Exemplars are not that many in Asia – India, Taiwan and S Korea.

Of course, we could go further back, well before 1999 to, say, 1947, when the multi-racial pact between Pusat Tenaga Rakyat and the All-Malaya Council of Joint Action (Putera-AMCJA) captured the imagination of many Malayans, who participated in a nationwide hartal.

But there were also false dawns in the general elections of 1969 and 1990, when BN prevailed despite opposition pacts scaring the daylights out of the ruling coalition.

While Mahathir played a crucial role in the victory over BN in 2018, it would not have been possible without People Power ie Malaysians coming together since 1999, and especially since 2008.

Witnessed how the Rakyat mobilised themselves, throwing their support for civil society initiatives and opposition parties. Look at how stoically they reacted each time the Electoral Commission and the Registrar of Societies threw a cangkul into the opposition works.

Of course, the last 20 years also coincided with the internet era. People Power used the internet to their advantage, always keeping one step ahead of BN – through the Sang Kancil email list, anonymous reformasi websites, NGO websites, Malaysiakini and other news portals, sms, Facebook and Twitter and finally, to great effect, WhatsApp.

I would go so far as to dub the 2018 election The Whatsapp Election. BN, though it ran an expensive ad campaign on social media, simply had no answer to the reach of WhatsApp, which enabled the opposition to penetrate rural areas in ways that normal ceramah wouldn’t have been able to.

Even WhatsApp groups that were devoted to non-political issues were suddenly inundated by mostly pro-PH messages in the last few days before polling day. Group admins simply gave up and joined in the opposition frenzy. Voters who were not politically inclined or fence-sitters were exposed to the bombardment of pro-PH political messages.

The BN simply had no answer to that and the rest is history.

But WhatsApp was just a tool, an enabler. The real issues were the higher cost of living, which many attributed to GST, and rampant corruption. But then again, these were possibly symptoms of a more deep-rooted structural problem in the economy: the neoliberalisation of the economy in favour of Big Business and the wealthy.

That is why we see the international business media, presumably reflecting the interests of wealthy fund managers, reacting with alarm at even the slightest attempt to erode the neoliberal model (through the removal of GST).

The other structural problem in our neoliberal model is the relatively small share of national income going to labour as opposed to Big Capital. No wonder we see a gulf between the wealthy and less well off.

So you see it is not just GST, part of a regressive taxation system that has seen tax rates for companies and the wealthy lowered, that is making ordinary people feel worse off. Low wages, partly due to a preference for cheap labour, is a major contributor.

The 20-year tsunami of a growing public clamour for far-reaching reforms explains the blistering pace of reforms the new PH government is unleashing.  The new administration fully realises the high expectations placed on it – and it knows it must live up to them and minimise selfish power-struggles and divisions. So far, so good.

But let’s see if the new PH government has the stomach to reverse the neoliberal trend and improve the lot of workers in the face of possible opposition from multinational corporations, large firms, the foreign business media (which have already fired opening salvoes) and rating agencies (witness Moody’s ongoing horror over the removal of GST, a key component of the neoliberal project). [That explains why Najib was the darling of a significant segment of the foreign media, including the business media, despite the 1MDB allegations, and many of these analysts refused to see the tsunami coming ahead of the general election.]

Still, within the PH government, there are a few known ‘free market’ neoliberal ideologues. The irony is that it was Mahathir who first introduce Thatcherite privatisation as part of the neoliberal trend in Malaysia. Will he continue along that same track?

So the Rakyat must exercise eternal vigilance and ensure that PH does not go off track with its reform agenda – it must favour the ordinary people rather than MNCs.

Meanwhile, we have already been warned about what happened in India in 1997 (when  Congress lost power after 30 years) and in Japan in 2009 (when the LDP lost power) only for the old order to bounce back shortly after.

In our case, as Clive Kessler warns, if PH fails to live up to expectations, the alternative could be dire – an Umno-Pas pact tapping into ethno-religious sentiments (that is, if no new multi-ethnic opposition party emerges).

Malaysia has a golden opportunity to showcase itself as a progressive Muslim-majority nation upholding diversity, democracy and human rights while at the same time promoting economic and environmental justice. [Still waiting for a Ministry of the Environment though.] Let’s keep up the vigilance and ensure that the tsunami does not end up as a false dawn.

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Good that Tun M scrapped the KL-Singapore HSR. Exorbitant cost and average Malaysians could never afford its high ticket price.

The Gemas-JB twin-track electric train would be ready by 2022, more affordable and good enough.


Actually KTM needs to buck up as it is under utilised.


Those investing in land around those proposed stations (as advised by Ho Chin Soon) are now cursing their bad luck.


Once upon a time, 2 ministers invested in Janda Baik because they thought the new Putrajaya would be located there…


If Pakatan YBs were to behave like BN, they too will be wiped out in 5 years time. Rakyat has the power to oust those who cannot deliver.


Why take soooo many years to kick out dummo? Over hundred million cash found and former jb mp claimed to receive million. But ah soon wants bn to be back

Heng GS

Ah Soon has an orchard. durians? Can give a treat to fellow Penanglang in celebration of New Malaysia? Time for sharing, asmany B40 can’t afford durians.

Ho Wan Lai

Hari Ini Dalam Sejarah – 509 bagaimana kleptocratic BN ditenggelamkan oleh undi rakyat secara aman Yang patut dicontohi oleh dunia luar.


Wong Chun Wai on Sunday Star wanted Biro Tatanegara (BTN) to be revamped as ‘over RM1.1bil of taxpayers’ money has been outrageously spent to promote racism, bigotry, disunity and intolerance in the name of instilling patriotism’.

The BTN has been fraught by controversy for over three decades, with allegations of racism and political propaganda mainstays.

It is inconceivable that good taxpayers’ resources are poured into such an organisation, which many participants have said, blatantly drums up race and hate politics.


Now this ma cai after sooo many years start opposs biro tata


BTN is a disease no decent ‘doctors’ would have allowed it to spread unchecked.
Doctor Mahathir, pls give it a double dose of death.


Yes, one of the major architects of this and other zombies must help put them to rest.

Ho Wan Lai

Why The Star Wong CW only speaks out differently now? Somehow we need alternative daily English paper other than once very skewed (may be still are?) The Star (MCA biggest owner) and NST.
PH can relax print act to allow more investigating reporting paper. Anil can be a regular columnist on Sunday new paper as many are truly sick of Jocelyn Tan.


Anil, you are now so popular! Besides Malaysiakini.

One reason is is a commenter-friendly blog & not-beholden-to-UMNO/BN GangSta (unlike one Starry-Starry-Night habitually did at all costs of public disdain) to report the avoided news & controversial issues with non-partisanship.
Karma in action: closing down of a printing plant in Bayan Lepas.
A very painful life-long karmic lesson on skewed + beholden reporting as a “people’s paper” (what a so-misleading slogan).

Heng GS

Many people still buying The Star as there is no other printed English paper besides NST. Both are superfluous craps anyway.
YB Golbin Singh may get cabinet to approve print licence for The Edge or Malaysia Kimi newspapers.
I personally hope Aliran and CAP can at least joint effort to publish monthly to rehabilitate many who have been “BTN”ed by the Star and NST.


I stopped reading Aliran (printed version) at young age simply because the writers used complicated English, not easily understood by average Malaysians. To attract new readers, Aliran should keep it simple and direct to point.

Heng GS

Anil writes thought provoking articles. Keep it up.
Need to note that many uncles and aunties above 50s still prefer printed materials for reading. They have limited knowledge to handle online stuff. Some even have computer phobia but keep silent not to be looked down by younger generations.
Now I understand why many resort to libraries to read newspapers.
Time for new Malaysia to have free computer access to seniors like setting up community cyber libraries with donated (country in trillion debt so CSR from FTZ multinationals like Intel or Dell?) facilities?


Already mentioned by many readers that Penang government is depriving Baysn Baru residents a library. Anil can help?

Heng GS

Yes, Anil. Now Bayan Baru folks can seek Adun rep Mr Kumaresan to help the community with cyber library.

YB Sim and YB Saifuddin too focus on national issues at Parliament and rakyat now await YB Kumaresan to carry out the wishes of community. He can get CM Chow guidance to engage FTZ multinationals (some say properties developers?) to do CSR sponsorship.

YB Kumaresan if you are one of followers, pls do not disappoint BB voters.


BTN is just the tip of the spear, the leading symptom of the malaise that infected and undermined the country, and conned so many, since the mid-1960s. We are not permitted to disciss the fundamental factors yet.


MCA and Gerakan can return from dead like The Undertaker in Wrestlemania 34?


Now Rakyat want to know who ordered the murder:

No reason now for IGP not to reopen Altantuya case

Why wait, now that a police report has been made, why still wait?
Malaysia Baru means no policemen are beholden to anyone not to take further action in the face of a murder still unsolved (apparently). Why wait (till the Mongolian ghost comes shrieking in Putrajaya?) some more?
Just do your job, Mr IGP.


Sirul was a member of Unit Tindakan Khas, Malaysia’s version of Mossad, specialized in assassination?


UTK should be abolished. Assassination is akin to murder.. And to kill an unarmed pregnant foreign woman is disgusting & cowardice by any human standard, more so for an armed UTK (personnel). Q: Why killed a pregnant woman using military grade C4??? Was it to exterminate (completely) any evidence of DNA of foetus (so to trace to father) which might have caused a national minister-official shame crisis? Q: My Guessing: Is Singapore gomen hiding photographic evidences of Najib, Razak & Altantuya together in a public place? Palpable reason to use it as ‘pressing one’s …’ to negotiation advantage (for projects,… Read more »


Is Singapore gomen hiding photographic evidences of Najib, Razak & Altantuya together in a public place?

Possibly so as it had (allegedly) been use to gain leverage against Jibby to give concessions to Singapore eg. the Tanjung Pagar railway?

Heng GS

If Najib feels he is not guilty, now it’s the time to clear his name openly by speaking out to public and don’t wait for MACC otherwise Razak family name forever being associated with dubious staff.
After scrapping High Speed Rail, Harapan if not plan to scrap TRX (Tun Razak Exchange) may rename it HRX (Harapan Exchange)

Siong Yee

‘Everybody Hurts’ by Father Kelly, dedicate to all BN losers in GE14:


Kinda funny that the tsunami that started as opposition towards mahathir end up making him the PM again 😆

BB resident

Dr Ong Hean Teik of Penang wrote in South China Morning Post: 1. Malaysia is harmonious and non-violent. May 9 was finally the date when the memories and nightmare of 1969 were finally laid to rest. A dark stain on Malaysian history from 47 years ago has been erased. Agitators appealing to race and religion did not succeed. 2. Malaysia has a functional democracy. Changing a government through elections is the hallmark of a functioning democratic system. The message to Malaysian political leaders must be also noted, and it is that they are replaceable. 3. Malaysians uphold their laws. Too… Read more »


Wee Ka Siong said MCA has shed all its political ties following the 14th general election May 9 and was no longer bound by the BN spirit to help shoulder Umno’s mistakes. “Everyone’s cooperation ended on the day of 509; in the past we faced too many criticisms and grievances, from now on (we) will no longer bear the brunt for Umno,” he was quoted saying in an interview with local daily Sin Chew Daily. “MCA now decides for itself, should no longer live for others, no longer coordinate with Umno,” added Wee, who is now heading a new MCA… Read more »


Good News!

Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo has just announced that the FIFA World Cup 2018 will be aired live for free on RTM1. Who needs Astro!

Also MRT3 is scrapped, sending the stocks of Gamuda and George Kent in tailspin!

Heng GS

The tsunami can be more gigantic and disastrous to BN if more voters get to know Sarawak Report on Rosmah.


If you read or view the mass media, you would think everything exists to serve the stock market – and the shadowy ghouls who benefit. Western economies have already been wrecked by such “financialisation”. Here is a great comment exposing these gamblers who certainly do not represent FDI.

Ho Wan Lai

Stock market is now more speculative in nature with fundamental know how far behind. Mainly benefit the insiders big shots while outsiders pump in money to keep it afloat. Prior to crash, major insider players cash out ahead leaving outsiders in despair.


Daim: The foreigner investors and the rating agencies did not expect Pakatan to win. Basically, in a capitalist society, they don’t mind corruption, as long as they make money. Of course, now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster. The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good. They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They… Read more »

Johan Khun Pana

And thankfully the PAS party is NOT part of the new federal govt.
My take is that the Amanah and Bersatu parties would fare better when there is by-elections in Kelantan , Trenganu , Pahang and Perlis.
Next major round is Sarawak’s state election.


I don’t see what the graph is supposed to elucidate. It is from the previous decade. Cambridge Analytica is a front for MI6. Moreover, I would like to know whhat happened to cause the change in 2005-2006.

The crisis is not just “neo-liberal” economics and cost of living. Capitalism, the religion of greed, is incompatible with (a) unrestricted reproduction (b) being confined to the planet (of limited resources). Capitalism is like a virus; it infects government to produce fascism.


Wages for Malaysian workers have been suppressed by the decades of indiscriminate hiring of cheap foreign workers.

Untrained foreign workers tend to have unhygienic practices at food outlets, as evident in the Raj’s Banana Leaf restaurant in Bangsar whose staff members are washing dishes in a puddle of murky water.


For what it is worth, the better-off countries subsequently improved their situation even more. Prof. Joseph Stiglitz opined that it was shocking that Malaysian wages as share of GDP was only 34% (64% retained by employers, 2.2% collected as taxes), and Thailand was similar, whereas the share in S. Korea was 63% (though partly due to govt. intervention). This was reported by Yin Shao Loong of Inst. Rakyat on in Dec. 2014. I.e., S. Korea improved from about 46% in 2008 (if the above graph is correct) to 64% around 2013, a stupendous change.


Perhaps Anil could list his priorities for change, and ask for comments on the same. This will be easier if each person lists not more than 10 or so ideas. The Empire of Greed is disappointed that the top man in China is now beyond toppling. Here, it will try its best to work through you know who. Anwar too should be circumspect, and control his urge to pontificate. His comments will be given a spin, especially by omitting the corresponding reporter’s question. He will be feted and praised in the overseas tour he is planning. We know how that… Read more »