The dramatic outcome of the Malaysian 2008 elections has been interpreted within a Gramscian framework. It has, for example, been suggested that the hegemony created by the Malaysian ruling class is being contested, leading to a weakening of its legitimacy, and that an active class of organic intellectuals is emerging and helping to develop potential bases for counter-hegemonic participation. We employ an alternative Gramscian approach, restoring relevant aspects of Gramsci's theories to the centre of analysis. We, therefore, focus on mutual perceptions in coalitions between civil society organisations and trade unions as a key indicator of the strength of counter-hegemonic forces. We conclude that accounts that claim that “counter-hegemony” is developing are questionable at best. Fundamental differences exist between these central institutional actors which sit uneasily with claims that the construction of counter-hegemony is under way.