TOP SECRET WRITERS
Malaysian politics have always been defined by stability. From its previous incarnation as Parti Perikatan (Alliance Party) to its current form born in 1973, Barisan Nasional (National Front) has always been the federal ruling force in Malaysia’s history.
But the 13th general election, which will happen sometime before April 2013, may well see that end.
Part of why Barisan has never lost ruling power is Perikatan’s legacy of gaining then-Malaya’s independence from British rule and, subsequently, the formation of Malaysia as we know it today.
When Malayan Union was formed in 1946, United Malays National Organization (UMNO) — the leading party in Perikatan and Barisan today — led protests against the compromise of Malay rulers’ powers and the position of Malays, eventually contributing to the Union’s dissolution.
After a landslide victory in 1954 state elections, it was Perikatan politicians who went to London seeking Malaya’s independence. For many, Perikatan and subsequently Barisan has been the champion of the people.
Another part is the absence of organized opposition. Until recent times, political parties not part of its great coalition acted individually during national polls. Without a systematic opposition, Barisan continues its predecessor Perikatan’s image as the people’s champion, with its historical contributions augmented by every good thing done as the ruling government.
Indeed, doing good things for a government of a developing nation. Its different component parties cater to different races in the populace; in a political scene intertwined with racial issues, having something for everyone is Barisan’s key to power.
The Mahathir Era
In 1981, Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad was sworn in as Malaysia’s fourth prime minister after the third’s failing health forced a resignation. None expected a 22-year reign would follow; the Mahathir era had begun.
Mahathir’s strong and authoritarian administration provided the stability for Malaysia to complete its transformation from a mining and agricultural-based economy to a newly industrialized market economy.
Under Mahathir-led Barisan, Malaysia grew rapidly. In the Mahathir era, Malaysian living standards rose; we also saw the rise of the Petronas Towers, then-tallest buildings in the world (still the tallest twin buildings in the world).
Malaysia started producing its own cars. Malaysia’s growth was such that Mahathir is now known as the Father of Modernization. However, that growth came at a price.
“There is a general agreement on the fact that, although authoritarianism in [Malaysia] preceded the administration of the fourth prime minister, Mahathir Bin Mohamad, he carried the process forward substantially …” 
Under Mahathir’s heavy-handed rule, the judiciary’s independence was compromised and eventually vaporized.
His political dominance suppressed his political rivals, even inside UMNO and Barisan. Mahathir even battled the royalties and emerged victorious, managing to limit their powers and remove their immunity from prosecution.
Barry Wain, author of Mahathir’s biography Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, wrote that Mahathir by the mid-1990s had become the country’s uncrowned king. By extension, Barisan’s power reached unprecedented heights.
It was then a surprise to many that Mahathir announced his resignation in 2002, which was followed by protests by UMNO and Barisan supporters asking him to remain. Eventually, he fixed his retirement for October 2003 so that he could pass the torch to his handpicked successor, Abdullah Badawi.