Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences

By Muthiah Alagappa | Go to book overview

4
Malaysia Aspects and Audiences of Legitimacy

WILLIAM CASE

We have always contended in this country that when everybody is unhappy, then we are doing well. It means that we are not giving any community all that they ask for. Everybody feels deprived. The Malays are not happy, the Chinese are not happy, the Indians are not happy. They all say the government is not doing enough, which means we are being fair.
-- Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, interview in Newsweek ( May 2, 1988)

WHILE mindful of the self-congratulatory tone and mildly convoluted logic of the prime minister's statement to Newsweek, one can nonetheless appreciate the thrust of his assessment. Such perceptions about the fair use of state power lead swiftly to a discussion of political legitimacy. In examining legitimacy in Malaysia, this chapter begins by outlining some of its features, indicating which audiences find the political arrangements legitimate (governing elites, most business elites, much of the new Malay middle class, incorporated populations of Malay workers and peasants, and dispersed groups of Indian estate laborers) as well as those that are more equivocal in their judgments (some Islamic elements in the Malay middle class and among rural populations in the peninsula's northern states, many middle-class Chinese and Indians, most urban Chinese workers, and many indigenous Iban and Kadazan communities in East Malaysia). I also propose a mechanism through which the government's legitimacy among specified audiences can be shown and examine ways by which the government has sought' to blunt perceptions of illegitimacy among others.

Second, the chapter notes traditional, colonial, and ethnic factors that

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