It is usually assumed that instability within a country produces insecurity, a broadly shared sense of helplessness and foreboding. With elites divided, an economy in crisis, and social forces restive, procedures are rapidly eroded, leaving state actions to become erratic and threatening. This chapter argues, however, that a strong national leader, when facing instability, may purposively exaggerate insecurity. In this way, he intimidates wavering elites and social forces, while exposing and isolating disloyal ones, thereby perpetuating his own paramountcy and the stability of his regime.
This chapter features Malaysia and its leader, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as its illustrative case. It begins by elaborating more fully the links between insecurity and stability. Next, it outlines Malaysia’s traditional commitments to the rule of law and their gradual erosion, producing an insecurity that Mahathir was able to exploit in order to contain instability during the late 1980s. A third section then explores these themes more fully in the context of renewed instability during the late 1990s. It shows how Mahathir was able to dispel a variety of destabilizing pressures, though less through any recovery of the rule of law than the accelerated erosion of rule-bound procedures.