What Happens After Victory? Lessons from Malaysia and Developmental Asia

What Happens After Victory? Lessons from Malaysia and Developmental Asia

Elvin Ong , Assistant Professor of Political Science, National University of Singapore

The existing literature on democratization frequently views the defeat of dominant autocratic incumbents as democratization’s single biggest challenge. What happens in the period after the dictator is displaced and the opposition comes to power is generally overlooked theoretically and empirically. In this paper, I argue that what happens after opposition victory is at least equally if not more challenging for democratization than plotting for autocratic defeat. Specifically, newly victorious opposition parties tremble under the weight of euphoric expectations from their partisan supporters baying for transitional justice, demanding radical institutional change, and impatient for immediate results. Governance inexperience, intra-governmental conflicts, and counter-mobilization by supporters of the defeated incumbents further threaten to push newly victorious governments over the edge of the precipice. Drawing from interview data with insider elites of Malaysia’s short-lived Pakatan Harapan alliance government (2018-2020), I demonstrate how governments formed after an autocrat’s defeat are almost always set up for governance failure, political instability, and institutional stasis. Preliminary comparisons of autocratic electoral turnover episodes in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Myanmar reveal particular similarities and differences with Malaysia’s tumultuous experience. 

Elvin Ong is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore. He is also a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at Yale University in the Fall of 2023, a Singapore SSRC Social Science and Humanities Research Fellow (2023-2028), and the Chair-Elect of the Association for Asian Studies Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Studies Group (2022-2024). His first book, Opposing Power: Building Opposition Alliances in Electoral Autocracies (University of Michigan Press 2022) compares the historical experiences of opposition parties in the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore, to explain why, when, and how opposition alliances are formed in electoral authoritarian regimes. His work has also been published in disciplinary journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, Party Politics, Democratization, and Electoral Studies as well as regional journals such as the Journal of East Asian Studies, Contemporary Southeast Asia, and Asian Survey. He graduated with a BSocSci and BBM from Singapore Management University, an MPhil from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from Emory University.


Wednesday, October 4, 2023
12:00 Noon
Room 203, Luce Hall
34 Hillhouse Avenue

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