Government and Society in Malaysia

Government and Society in Malaysia

Government and Society in Malaysia

Government and Society in Malaysia

Excerpt

During the last decade or so political scientists have given much attention to the process of democratization. Earlier they had been challenged by the need to explain why democracies failed and were replaced by authoritarian rule. The challenge today is to explain why democracies have emerged or re-emerged in regions as diverse as Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. But not all countries are part of this process. In some, the sharp dichotomy between "democracy" and "authoritarianism" does not seem to apply. Instead, the political system seems to be an amalgam of both democratic and authoritarian features, which together form a cohesive, coherent political structure that is neither democratic nor authoritarian. Although such systems are by no means unchanging, the changes do not seem to add up to a clear movement toward either democracy or authoritarianism. One such case is Malaysia.

The Malaysian case is also relevant to another worldwide political phenomenon--the prevalence of ethnic politics. Malaysian society is ethnically divided, and its politics have always revolved around ethnic issues. In the late 1960s the nation seemed on the brink of collapse, and the prognoses of many observers were extremely pessimistic. Yet despite the continuing centrality of ethnic divisions, the Malaysian polity has not only held together but achieved a degree of coherence that has provided the foundation for a remarkably stable political order. On the basis of that stability the Malaysian economy was growing at one of the fastest rates in the world during the first half of the 1990s.

My close association with Malaysia began in 1974 when I accompanied my wife back to her homeland. After reaching briefly at the University of Malaya, I joined the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM or National University of Malaysia) in 1976 as the first lecturer in its newly established . . .

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