The Politics of Human Rights in Southeast Asia

By Philip J. Eldridge | Go to book overview

4

Malaysia

'Illiberal democracy' and human rights

Despite rapid economic growth, Malaysian politics are not following classical patterns of evolution towards western-style democracy. Jesudason (1993) describes Malaysia as a 'statist' democracy, linking interventionist forms of government, based on the state's pivotal role in national and economic development, with a structurally weak civil society. Another paradigm portrays its system of government as a 'semi-democracy' (Crouch 1996a: 3-12; Case 2001), neither fully dictatorial nor democratic, partially responsive to public opinion but uncompromising in suppressing challenges to its authority. Strong institutionalisation of 'semi-democratic' structures and processes over time are cited as evidence of their appropriateness to Malaysia's situation. But currently unrelenting repression of opponents renders claims of even fifty per cent democracy far too sanguine.

Malaysia's patchy performance, ambivalent and often hostile approach to human rights are contextualised within this framework. Earlier discussion in Chapter 2 indicated that state-initiated Asian values cum democracy polemic has dominated Malaysian human rights discourse, unequally opposed by partially liberalising civil society advocacy. Entrenched security and other repressive legislation remain totally at odds with major UN human rights treaties (Amnesty International 1999d), most of which Malaysia shows little inclination to ratify.

Overthrow and detention of former Deputy-Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, has upset the overall balance of Malaysian society and politics. The short term outcome has been a deeper lapse into illiberal democracy (Bell 1995), with only the outward forms of electoral democracy observed, and concentration of power in the Prime Minister's hands. This trend is dysfunctional to Malaysia's changing needs, and is unlikely to survive his foreshadowed departure from politics. Democratic change is also held back by conservative religious and populist authoritarian outlooks permeating civil society and some opposition groups. Contrary to official wisdom, incorporation of universal and indivisible human rights principles could greatly improve Malaysia's public life and national development.


Overall context

The Federation of Malaya was established as an independent state in 1957. In 1963, this was incorporated into the Federation of Malaysia, together with Sabah,

-90-

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The Politics of Human Rights in Southeast Asia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface and Acknowledgements viii
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - International Human Rights 12
  • 2 - Human Rights, Democracy and Development in Southeast Asia 32
  • 3 - Asean and International Human Rights 60
  • 4 - Malaysia 90
  • 5 - Indonesia 116
  • 6 - East Timor, Indonesia and the United Nations 151
  • 7 - Australia, Southeast Asia and Human Rights 160
  • Conclusion 196
  • Glossary of Indonesian and Malay Terms 201
  • Notes 202
  • Bibliography 208
  • Index 222
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