Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science


Broadly defined, what factors explain changes in party competition in developing democracies? The dominant theoretical paradigm used to explain changes in party competition in established democracies does not offer much leverage in emerging ones. The literature argues that linkages between voting blocs and parties erode and cleavages shift, allowing for new voter blocs or even new parties. However, if social groups, parties, and party systems are different in emerging democracies than in established ones, does this mean the dynamics of party competition are also different? Also, what does is the role of voters in these systems? My dissertation outlines a theory for how changes in competition occur. Over time, voters form partisan attachments to parties based upon what parties say and do. Using extensive fieldwork my dissertation maps the broad contours of clientelism in Malaysia. I demonstrate that clientelism, as part of the party brand, has been a significant part of the electoral strategy for Malaysia’s longstanding dominant coalition. Nonetheless, in recent years programmatic platforms of opposition parties have become more popular, culminating in a substantial decline of Malaysia’s longstanding ruling coalition in the 2018 elections. This finding challenges much of the existing literature, which treats Malaysia as a case where ethnic political parties are the driving force behind electoral politics. However, in failing to account for clientelism and the way it is changing, this literature misses a major factor driving party competition. This has broad implications for democracy in Malaysia.


© 2019, Matthew Louis Wagner