The coalition is now demanding an overhaul of Malaysian electoral rules they say have given Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) a lock on political control since independence and the creation of the modern state in 1963 and led to a feudal brand of politics, with spoils sharing among the ethnic parties that back the organization. The country maintains a long-standing policy of economically favoring ethnic Malays over the country's sizable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Malaysia has achieved stunning economic growth since independence, and steadily rising living standards for its people.
But while elections have been dutifully held (the next general elections will be Malaysia's 13th), the government has long had control over the outcomes, with tight controls on the press, independent political organization, and the counting of the ballots themselves.
Malaysia ranks 122 out of 179 nations on Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index (just behind Venezuela and Zimbabwe). The country has seen rampant gerrymandering of electoral districts and allegations in the 2008 elections that the National Front might be voting the cemetery given the electoral rolls had more than 9,000 people over 100 on them.
Ahead of the last elections, Human Rights Watch charged that "the authorities’ manipulation of the electoral process appears aimed to ensure that the ruling coalition maintains its two-thirds parliamentary majority." It also charges that "police have repeatedly blocked attempts by opposition parties to hold election rallies by refusing to issue the permits required for any gathering of four or more people."
Bersih, then as now, was calling for electoral reform ahead of the election. But the movement had largely gone dormant until the Arab uprisings that began in early 2011 caught the imagination of the Malaysian public.