Democracy Without Consensus: Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia

Democracy Without Consensus: Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia

Karl von Vorys
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Democracy Without Consensus: Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia
    Book Description:

    Since World War II the democratic systems adopted by states emerging from colonial rule have in some cases been abandoned and in others suspended or transformed. Two questions arise: Can democracy succeed in newly independent states dominated by communal cleavages? If so, what adjustments are necessary in Western models of democracy? Karl von Vorys contributes new answers by examining the political development of Malaysia, a country which has experimented with changes in the democratic model.

    He surveys the conditions under which democracy was established in Malaysia, considering the compromises made with communal groups. Particular attention is paid to the reconstruction of the political system after the race riots of May 1969, which the author observed at first hand.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7161-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-16)

    Hardly anyone believes anymore that viable democratic systems can be established in Asian and African states which emerged from colonial rule since World War II. It is a sudden, radical reversal. Just two decades ago scholars rhapsodized about the magic powers of popular participation and predicted with confidence that democratic politics would through compromise successfully manage human conflict and by contributing to a dynamic balance between order and change would assure the viability of the political system.

    Political leaders perhaps were not as sanguine. Some, of course, had neither understanding nor appreciation for democracy. They simply exploited the tactical advantages...

      (pp. 19-20)
    • CHAPTER ONE A Society Dominated by Communal Cleavages
      (pp. 21-52)

      By the time the Second World War was approaching its shores, the Malayan Peninsula had become the homeland of three major communities. On the Peninsula proper, Malays had a plurality of the population, 46.4 percent; the Chinese accounted for 37.5 percent; and the Indians 14.4 percent.

      All three of these communities included a variety of more or less autonomous sub-units. (See Table 1-1.) The Malays, for example, represented an extraordinary conglomeration of antecedents. Some descended from “native settlers” arriving with Parameswara in the fourteenth century; most others (for example the Bugis or the Menangkabau) entered much later. They were joined...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Failures of Extreme Designs
      (pp. 53-70)

      It was not a propitious time for developing a new viable political system. World war was raging and even after it was over, for a while at least, legitimacy was a function of military power. Soldiers enjoyed an inordinate measure of influence and being specialists in organized coercion typically overvalued its utility for public policy. Invariably they were attracted by simple, straightforward formulas, which they were convinced only had to be imposed with firmness to be made to work. Indeed, for about five years the people of Malaya had to endure political systems in which first one then another community...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Federation of Malaya: The Beginning of Compromise
      (pp. 71-82)

      It is remarkable how radically the relationship among the various communities changed in less than five years. Gone was the confidence that the minimum interest of each would not be violated at the hand of another, and so was the comforting illusion that except for the most prominent members of each community, most everyone could indulge himself in a casual indifference toward the existence of other groups inhabiting the Peninsula. The experience of direct contact during the Japanese Occupation and the MPAJA terror left in its wake an intense awareness of the presence of others and the unlimited threat they...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Emergency: Rebellion and Retrogression
      (pp. 83-104)

      Nearly an impossible challenge: to discover generally acceptable terms of inter-communal relationships. No reliable blueprints were available, no guidelines how to proceed. Even at the highest levels of British administration there was a notable lack of agreement. The High Commissioners—and there were four in rapid succession—were generally fascinated by the ideal of a homogenized polity. Their momentum had been restrained; nevertheless, they still were motivated by a desire to accomplish, perhaps in the distant future, a political system where the individual or at least non-ascriptive groups would serve as the salient components. The Commissioner General for South East...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Independence: A Constitutional Contract among Communal Groups
      (pp. 105-140)

      Actually the plans and designs of British administrators, even those formulated at the highest level, were becoming less and less determining. To be sure, Britain still controlled a formidable coercive capacity, one perhaps more massive than ever before. It could, if it chose, define government policy. In terms of guiding long range political development in Malaya, however, its effectiveness was visibly declining. Unmistakably, the initiative was passing to indigenous political leaders, and no less unmistakably the appeal of a homogenized polity, never especially potent, was fading fast. Political parties catering to communal interest and solidarity were demonstrating with some regularity...

      (pp. 143-145)
    • CHAPTER SIX Vertical Mobilization: Popular Support for the Directorate
      (pp. 146-161)

      If election results are decisive tests of the confidence of the population, then the Alliance approach was vindicated. During the first dozen years of independence, the electorate went to the polls twice to select federal and state legislators, and indirectly federal and state executives. Both times the Alliance won overwhelmingly.

      Within two years, the first general election of the Federation of Malaya was called. The Alliance was still basking in its achievement ofMerdeka,and some undoubtedly preferred independence on practically any terms. Even so, in a fundamental sense, the elections of 1959 were a referendum of the constitutional contract....

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Horizontal Solidarity: Cohesion of the Directorate
      (pp. 162-198)

      All the same, whatever stresses and tensions were building within the political organizations of UMNO, MCA, and MIC, the mutual trust and confidence among their top leaders did not weaken. The Directorate composed of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, and Tun (Dr.) Ismail of UMNO, (Sir) Dato Tan Cheng Lock, Colonel (Sir) H. S. Lee and T. H. Tan initially, then Tun Tan Siew Sin and T. H. Tan of the MCA, and all along, Tun V. T. Sambanthan of the MIC formed a stable core.¹ Around it, in the immediate proximity of the fulcrum of power were Aziz...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Implementation of Cultural Terms: Slow and Halting Progress
      (pp. 199-218)

      Whether the cohesion of the Directorate would remain firm, and for that matter whether the vertical pattern of mobilization of UMNO, MCA, and MIC would continue to win elections, however, was yet to be seen. More than anything else, the answer would depend upon the Government’s implementation of the constitutional contract. To be sure, the Chinese and Indians had already received the fruits of the compromise. Nearly all were citizens, their properties were protected, they were eligible to vote. Even so, they were not entirely satisfied. Their access to the political system was still less than completely equal and unrestricted....

    • CHAPTER NINE The Implementation of Economic Terms: Rapid Growth of Production, Little Change in Distribution
      (pp. 219-246)

      Few Malays expected the cultural terms of the constitutional contract to be fully implemented within a decade of independence. The vast majority of Malays, however, did anticipate spectacular progress toward its economic provisions. The Chinese had gained their citizenship and their almost free access to the political system. It was the turn of the Malays to collect their rightfulquid pro quo,and they were not fussy about how they got it. The government’s position, of course, was rather more complex. UMNO, MCA, and MIC leaders recognized that existing economic disparities aggravated communal cleavages, but they also realized that hasty...

      (pp. 249-250)
    • CHAPTER TEN Preparing for Elections (1969): The Parties
      (pp. 251-264)

      The time for a new mandate had arrived. On March 20, 1969, Parliament was dissolved by theYang di-Pertuan Agong.The Rulers and Governors followed suit, and thus the terms of the state legislatures also came to an end. The specific date for new elections was left to the discretion of the Election Commission, and after a relatively perfunctory discussion it selected May 10 as the time for the expression of popular sovereignty in West Malaysia (Malaya) and May 17 for Sabah and Sarawak.

      The Alliance leadership thought they were ready. Unlike in the past, discussions among UMNO, MCA, and...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Political Confrontation: A Battle for Votes
      (pp. 265-288)

      Following the custom of democratic politics, the first formal act of the election was the publication of formal public statements. Through them the parties sought to present an appealing image of their goals and accomplishments. More important, they tried to define the issues and thus to force the electoral debate upon the other contestants in terms most favorable to their own purposes.

      The task proved to be no easy one for the Alliance. Given the cleavages which separated the communities, the electorate was particularly vulnerable to unabashed appeals to parochial sentiment. The leadership could ignore such obvious political realities only...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Judgment of the Electorate
      (pp. 289-307)

      It almost seemed an ordinary day: Saturday, May 10, 1969. The skies were clear; the weather was pleasant. Shops were open for business as usual. Inkampongsand towns work was going on; the routines continued unbroken. Almost, but not quite an ordinary day. Indeed, it marked a milestone in Malaysian political processes, a regularly recurring test of the government’s commitment to democratic institutions and of its capacity to sustain them. Early morning election officials and party observers arrived and the polls were opened. Throughout the day voters lined up in small groups, presenting in unison as it were the...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Armed Confrontation: From Polls to Parangs
      (pp. 308-338)

      It cannot be said truthfully, however, that on the morning after elections many were particularly concerned with the government’s evident devotion to democratic processes. The country was in no mood for detached objectivity, nor had it the patience to wait for a comprehensive factual assessment. People were convinced that the hegemony of the Alliance had ended and that the political system was in crisis. It was only a matter of time before both would collapse. The atmosphere had become absolutely volatile, especially so in the federal capital and the state of Selangor.

      At the end of an arduous election night...

      (pp. 341-344)
    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN A Barrier to Political Reconstruction: A Credibility Gap
      (pp. 345-369)

      The Alliance was determined to restore normalcy with all deliberate speed. It would restore order; it would reconstruct the political system. Suggestions by the Opposition and specifically by Dr. Tan Chee Khoon of theGerakanfor an all-party cooperative venture was rejected out of hand. The Alliance did not need them, was Tun Razak’s decision; besides the Opposition was primarily responsible for all the troubles in the first place. Within the Alliance, moreover, the Directorate remained intact. Thus, when the membership of the National Operations Council was announced, the name immediately following its chairman’s was Tun Tan Siew Sin, head...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN A Challenge to Political Reconstruction: Leadership Crisis in the Alliance
      (pp. 370-385)

      A serious credibility gap, however, was not the only handicap the government had to master. If it was to proceed to political reconstruction from a solid base it was also required to establish firmly the position of Directorate members as the senior leaders of their respective parties.

      This was, of course, the purpose of the MCA gambit of with drawing from the Cabinet. Chinese businessmen who had become too passive and the English educated professionals who were moving toward the Opposition were to be taught the political facts of life in Malaysia. In any case, the violence of May 13...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Program of Political Reconstruction: The Return to Democratic Politics
      (pp. 386-422)

      Communal violence made political reconstruction necessary. A credibility gap and the crisis within UMNO made it difficult. Potent countervailing trends, however, were soon taking hold. If it was a time of troubles, it was no less a time of new opportunities for Malaysia. The popular mood had become more sober, perhaps even more mature. Having once again witnessed the consequences of intemperate speech and provocative behavior, most people wanted no further repetitions. Remarkably, from the time it appeared that the country and its political system was in peril, practically everyone wanted to help. People everywhere became sensitive of the feelings...

    (pp. 423-438)

    Some thirty years have elapsed since the surrender in Sin gapore. Remarkably eventful, hectic years. The Malayan peninsula was ravaged by world war, menaced by domestic insurgency, and throughout was buffeted by fundamental shifts in global power relations. Undeterred, political leaders proceeded to develop a democratic system suitable to their conditions.

    By 1971 they felt that they had succeeded. There would be no further experimentation, declared Tun Razak. Much remained to be done, of course, but the direction was definitely set and the momentum or reconstruction would carry the system along—at least for a while.

    The National Education Policy...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 439-444)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 445-445)