Semi-democracy in Malaysia: pressures and prospects for change



Case, William

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Canberra, ACT : Dept. of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.


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 attainable. 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.






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Open Access

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