Malaysia's Path to Modernization and
On August 31, 2003, Malaysia celebrated forty-six years of political independence. A nation of 22 million, with Muslims forming slightly more than half the population, Malaysia is precariously multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural. Yet it is unique among Muslim nations as a politically stable, modernized, and prosperous country enjoying relatively peaceful interethnic and interreligious relations. Malaysia's success in maintaining a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, with only a yearlong interruption of the democratic process because of the May 13, 1969, racial riots in Kuala Lumpur, is equally remarkable. The election of five prime ministers in fifty years, through democratic means, testifies to Malaysia's political stability.
Internationally, Malaysia is known for its independent foreign policy and its leadership in regional and multilateral organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
This chapter analyzes the major factors that have contributed to Malaysia's success and the remaining obstacles to further progress.
Modernization and democratization, although distinct, are interrelated societal phenomena. Modernization can take place without democratization, but democratization requires a degree of modernization. Malaysia had embarked on the process of modernization and on the introduction of parliamentary democracy before independence. But later, democracy accelerated the pace of Malaysia's modernization.
Malaysia's modernization has encompassed all sectors of national life, in