Political Financing Reform: Politics, Policies and Patronage in Malaysia

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

ANU Malaysia Institute Seminar 

The lecture will review the scholarship on opposition parties and political financing in competitive authoritarian regimes. It examines the ongoing discourse on political finance reform in Malaysia and seeks to explain two puzzling features of this debate. Malaysia's government, though dominated by UMNO, a party deeply mired in the politics of patronage, has set forth political finance reforms that, if implemented, would curtail important sources of party finance. Opposition parties, rather than actively joining civil society organizations promoting similar political finance reforms, have instead remained largely unsupportive of these changes. Three inter-related reasons for these unexpected responses by the ruling and opposition parties are explored.

First, the government may selectively implement new political finance laws to further tighten control over opposition parties while UMNO increasingly relies on shadowy financing.

Second, while some opposition parties have signaled support for reforms to ban state-owned enterprises and companies receiving government contracts from making political donations, they themselves increasingly benefit from these forms of political finance previously available only to UMNO.

Third, as support for UMNO weakens, opposition parties are reluctant to support reforms that will likely constrain them in the short term.

About the speaker

Edmund Terence Gomez is Professor of Political Economy at the Faculty of Economics & Administration, University of Malaya. He specializes in state-market relations and the linkages between politics, policies and business development. He has held appointments at the University of Leeds (UK) and Murdoch University (Australia) and served as Visiting Professor at Kobe University, Japan and at the Universities of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and California (San Diego). Between 2005 and 2008, he was Research Coordinator at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), in Geneva, Switzerland.

His publications include Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Chinese Business in Malaysia: Accumulation, Ascendance, Accommodation (University of Hawaii Press, 1999), Political Business in East Asia (Routledge, 2002), The State of Malaysia: Ethnicity, Equity and Reform (Routledge, 2004), Politics in Malaysia: The Malay Dimension (Routledge, 2007), The Politics of Resource Extraction: Indigenous Peoples, Multinational Corporations and the State (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2012), The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Horizontal Inequalities and Social Justice (National University of Singapore Press, 2013), Government-Linked Companies and Sustainable, Equitable Development (Routledge, 2014) and Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017).