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Political Scandals and Societal Accountability in Contemporary Malaysia: The Role of New Media and Opposition Parties in Democratizing Society

Tue, June 23, 11:05am to 1:00pm, North Building, Floor: 5th Floor, N501


This study focuses on the process of political scandals in contemporary Malaysia and explores better options to enhance societal accountability. Based on Markovits and Silverstein’s classical study, most scholars assume that political scandals can only occur in liberal democracies. Recent studies, however, demonstrate that political scandals occur in democratizing countries and even in Russia, a semi-authoritarian country.
Malaysia in the post-Mahathir era is on the road to democratization. The ruling coalition, Barisan Nasioanl (BN) still maintains the federal government and civil freedoms are still restricted (even though some repressive laws have introduced a few minor changes). On the other hand, opposition parties and civil society groups which make effective use of new media such as blogs and social networks have become more active under the Abdullah’s ‘weak’ leadership. They are the key driving forces for democratization and have exposed many political scandals to the public gaze.
The main questions of this research are: (1) how and under what condition do political scandals occur and develop in contemporary Malaysia? (2) whether can political scandals in contemporary Malaysia function to enhance societal accountability or not? (3) and if so, what mechanisms can enhance societal accountability? If not, what is the hindrance?
In exploring the above questions, I focus on the role of new media and opposition parties. As case studies, I examine two corruption scandals (the Lingam video scandal and the NFC scandal) and two human-rights abuse scandals (the nude squat scandal and the Teoh Beng Hock scandal).