2016 Volume 5 Issue 1 Pages 73-91
In Malaysia’s 12th general election, in March 2008, three opposition parties collectively cracked the hegemony of the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front). As the opposition parties formed a coalition called Pakatan Rakyat (PR, or People’s Alliance), a two-coalition system appeared to have taken shape. This essay analyzes how PR reached that electoral outcome by moving from “imagining” to “realizing” dissent. Imagining and realizing dissent are not treated as disparate acts here but as tasks borne by qualitatively different networks that helped PR to overcome its structural, organizational, and resource disadvantages. The first networks considered are the cyber-networks that used ICT-sited or -enabled links to construct an alternative media linking PR’s organizers and supporters in an imagined community of dissent. PR’s second type of network consisted of physical coalitions—groups and organizations that connected the PR parties with their allies in civil society and their supporters at large. Their common objective was to mobilize dissent for electoral contestation. Even after 2008, however, PR was vulnerable to regime harassment and blandishments because it was missing a third type of network that would link party structures and social, community, and civic associations. By analyzing PR’s networks, this essay offers a fresh perspective on the travails of building a two-coalition system.