Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Political Science

First Advisor

Alisa Perkins

Second Advisor

Thomas Kostrzewa


nationalism, national identity, ethnic identity, identity politics


The collapse of the 22 months-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition-government in 2020 was the ultimate manifestation of contestations over nationalism that have continued in Malaysia since the nation’s inception more than six decades ago. The “middle ground” platform — a political moderation strategy to win across ethnic lines to obtain multiethnic support — that helped the PH coalition to win the 14th Malaysian General Election was shattered due to identity tensions. The current political discourse has persistently insisted that the betrayal of politicians and political parties, along with economic insecurity and media fragmentation, had contributed to the downfall of this hope-driven coalition. In contrast to these ideas, this paper argues instead that the absence of a cohesive and coherent national identity played a crucial role in the collapse of the PH coalition-government.

This paper primarily explores the construction of national identity through the lens of ethnicity. Since the British colonial period and up until today, ethnicity has played an important role in shaping the political landscape in Malaysia. As a matter of fact, in the post-independence era, top-down approaches to formulating national identity from the national government, such as Bangsa Malaysia [Malaysian Nation], 1Malaysia, and most recently Keluarga Malaysia [Malaysian Family] have ideological roots in national assimilation and integration.

This paper will investigate the manifestations of polarizing identity politics and competing nationalism during the PH regime. For example, it will examine how the occurrences of the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple riot, the Anti-ICERD Movement, and the Jawi Khat Controversy, all within less than two years of one another, demonstrated already brewing tensions over identity. The paper will show how the exponential revitalization of Ketuanan Melayu [Malay Supremacy], a political concept of Malay supremacy, and Islamic radicalism, along with extremisms from ethnic minority Chinese and Indians have hampered the progress of formulating a unified Malaysian national identity. Evidently, the contemporary polarization of identity from the multi-ethnic and multi-religious population indicates that the attempts of national acculturation have failed.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access