Political analysts appear increasingly to agree on the procedural and normative worth
of democracy as a way of organizing political relations. Many have also become
confident that where it has recently been established, democracy will persist, and that
democratic regime change may occur in more countries. Accordingly, investigations
have focussed upon facilitative conditions, transitional processes, and features of
democratic consolidation. Case studies of change from often harsh authoritarianism
in Southern Europe and South America, has shown that a wide variety of leadership
patterns, social structures, and developmental levels can intersect within short or long
time frames to produce regime opening. The transformation of totalitarian rule in
Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has unveiled additional contexts in which such
change can take place, thereby strengthening the sense of democracy's inevitability. 1
Thus, it seems reasonable to argue that movement from a category of 'semi-', 'quasi-
', or 'limited' democracies toward greater regime openness is desirable and readily
In this article, I draw upon Malaysia's political record, first to examine 'semidemocracy'
more closely than is usually done in discussions of regime change.
Secondly, I assess some recent socio-economic trends and political calculations that
have implied further, perhaps even rapid democratization. I conclude by presenting
some evidence which suggests that Malaysia's semi-democracy is stable in its
present limited form, and that, in contrast to many countries that have recently
undergone regime change, it may persist unchanged for a considerable period.