The Plural Society and Consociational
Democracy Theory Malaysias Case
M. Sami DENKER*
Abstract: In this study, we try to examine the views and points on “The Plural Society and Consociational Democracy Theory”. Although, A. Lijphart’s assertions about “The Plural Society and Consociational Democracy Theory” proved to be important to understand the political, social and economic structures of some European states, but Malaysia’s case proved that there is a need to develop these assertions further, taking into account the historical, cultural and various human factors.
Keywords: The Plural Society, Consaciational Democracy Theory, Malaysia, Human Factors
Çoğulcu Toplumlar ve Konsensüse Dayalı
Demokrasi Teorisi: Malezya Örneği
Özet: Bu çalısmada,“Çoğulcu Toplum ve Consociational (konsensüse dayalı) Demokrasi”
görüslerini, Malezya örneği çerçevesinde ele alarak, bu görüslerin, Malezya için ne derece
geçerli yada geçersiz olduklarını göstermeye çalıstık. Literatürde, oldukça elestirilen A.
Lijphart’ın görüsleri, her ne kadar, Avrupadaki bazı ülkeler için geçerli olsada, Malezya
örneğini, tarihsel, kültürel ve değisik insan özelliklerini ele almadığından dolayı, açıklamada
Anahtar Kelimeler: Çoğulcu Toplumlar, Konsensüse Dayalı Demokrasi Teorisi, Malezya,
Our purpose for this explanatory study is threefold. The first aim is to
review the literature on “The Plural Society and Consociational Democracy
Theory”; to clarify the views and points which have been asserted. The
second aim is an attempt to analyse the Malaysian social and political
structure for a better understanding of the conditions of stability for society.
And the third and the final aim is to try to reach some evaluative results on
Malaysian Society in the light of the theory on plural society and
consociational democracy. Therefore, this article is divided into three
sections. The first section is the theoretical framework, the second section is
the analysis of Malaysian social and political structure and the third section
is the conclusion.
I.THE PLURAL SOCIETY AND CONSOCIATIONAL
DEMOCRACY THEORY: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
* Prof. Dr, Dumlupınar Üniversitesi ĐĐBF Kamu Yönetimi Bölümü
The concept of “Pluralism”* has been used at three different levels in
political analysis. First, it has been used by J.N. Figgies, H.Laski and G.D.H.
Cole who were influenced by L.Acton and F.W.Maintland who were
inspired by the German Otto von Gıerke. These scholars are all British
pluralists and “ their primary concern was with voluntary associations as a
alternative foci of citizen loyalties, as bullwarks of liberty against the danger
of a powerful state..(they) all appeared to have taken the underlying social
and cultural integration of political system for granted”(Mc Rae,1979:677).
Second, the concept of pluralism has been used by American scholars, such
as, A.F.Bently, D. Truman, R.Dahl, whose central concern was “the
competition of counterveilling interest groups on the central movement of
policy formation.”(Mc Rae,1979:678). Many studies which were made in
this area assume that “ membership of individuals in more than one interest
groups will create cross-pressures and moderate inter- group conflict,
thereby counteracting and reducing the potentially harmful effects of
societal cleavages”(Lijphart,1980:3-4). The third usage of the concept of
pluralism arose in the literature on colonial societies and their post- colonial
successor state. J.S. Fuernivall, M.G. Smith, L.Kuper and Pierre Vonder
Berghen, studied communities which carry ethnic differentiations.
Following the abovementioned studies, interest spread to these countries
which are marked by a high degree of cultural or social segmentation.
Arend Lijphart, G. Lehmbruch, H .Dealder, Jurg Steiner and V.Lorvin who
see themselves as a “consociational school”, deal with societies which are
sharply differentiated on the basis of race, communal or ethnic identity,
language, religion, ideologies, in its social and political structure and Mc
Rae(Mc Rae,1979) uses the term societal or cultural pluralism for
distinguishing the third approach from the other two approaches.
Arend Lijphart defines plural society as “ that political parties, interest
groups, media of communication, schools are voluntary associations which
tend to be organized along the lines of segmental cleavages…cleavages may
be of a religious, ideological, linguistic, regional, cultural, racial, or ethnic
nature…, The growth of the population bounded by such cleavages will be
referred to as the segments of plural society”(Steiner,1982:340).
But, this definition does not clearly indicate the element and the
measurement that are used for separation of a society as plural or non-plural.
In other words, the question “ How do we differentiate one society which is
plural, from that which is non-plural?, or “ What is the criteria to
differentiate a society as plural or non-plural?”, is still ambigious. But later
* For the definition of the concept, see, Kenneth D.MC RAE, “The Western
Political Tradition.”, Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol XII/4, December 79.
writings of Lijphart as an answer to such questions asserted four criteria to
measure the degree of pluralism in an empirical way. He states “ Four
criteria may be used to determine whether a society is completely plural or
deviates from perfect pluralism to a greater or lesser extent on one or more
of the four dimensions”(Lijpart,1981:251).The criteria asserted by
1. In a completely plural society , it must be possible to identify exactly the
segments into which the society is divided.
2. It must also be possible to determine the size of each segment and how
many people belong to each of the segments.
3. In a completely plural society, there must be perfect correspondence
between segmental boundaries, between the political, social and economic
4. Political parties are one type of organization covered by the third
The final test of a completely plural society is that, party and segmental
loyalties should coincide. There should be little or no change in the voting
support of the different parties from election to election. In a perfectly plural
society, an election is a segmental census.
He also stated that above four criteria can be used, (not for all cases) mostly
to measure the degree of pluralism in a society, that we distinguish a society
as a plural one rather than non- plural, therefore these criteria (especially the
third and fourth ) may serve as indication of pluralism for South Africa, (as
stated by A. Lijphart.) So, we can say that “ all societies deviate from the
ideal type and the degree to which they deviate can be used as an indication
of their degree of pluralism.”(Lijphart,1981:356)
Lijphart’s main subject is the conditions of political stability of plural
society or the term “Consociational Democracy”. Consociational
Democracy, Lijphart terms as “government by elite cartel designed to turn a
democracy with a fragmented political structure into a stable
Gabrial Almond ranked the political sytems by distinguishing three types of
western democratic system:
1. Anglo-American political system (Britania, U.S.A.)
2. Continental European system (France, Germany, Italy)
3. Scandinavian and low countries ( those countries which combine
some of the features of the continental European and Anglo-American
political systems and stand somewhere in between the continental pattern
and the Anglo-American.)
Almond’s criteria for distinguishing the three types of society was
“overlapping membership”, which was actually formulated by A.F. Bestly
and D.B. Truman and very similar to the term “ cross-cutting cleavages
proportion” of Seymour, Martin Lipset. But the criteria sub-system
autonomy which was asserted by A.Lijphart, seems more convenient to
system role structure. If two criteria, political culture and role structure are
used together to distinguish the societies, Lijphart asserts that “western
democracies can be satisfactorily classified into two broad but clearly
bounded categories”(Lijphart,1974:211) which are:
1. The Anglo-American, old Commonwealth and Scandaniavian states.
2. The other European democracies, including France, Italy, Weimar
Germany, low countries, Austria and Switzerland.
But he implies that the political stability of a system apparently cannot be
predicted solely on the basis of the two variables of political culture and role
structure,…a third variable used to account for the stability of the
consociational democracies. The behaviour of the political elite. These
deviant cases of fragmented but stable democracies will be called
“Consociational Democracies”(Lijphart,1974:211). Whereas H.Dealder
stated it as “ the conditions of effective and stable democratic
So, by this definition, Consociational Democracy, is a democracy of plural
societies which are differentiated by sharp cultural, social, and political
cleavages than unique societies. But, it is also possible to hold the political
stability in plural societies by consociational decision,which works for the
political aggregate function. Grand coalition, universal participation, cartel
of elites, advisory council and committees are the typical consociational
II. THE GENERAL VIEW OF MALAYSIAN SOCIETY
It is very difficult to understand the Malaysian social structure because of its
unique character. “Malaysia is anything but a homogenous society being the
home of numerous ethnic groups, each with their own sets of social mores
** Also see, Brian Barry, “Consociational Model and Its danger.”, European Journal
of Political Research, 1975, p.390
and values. It is a conglomera and each group is only a part of this
conglomera”(Fisk and Rani,1982).
Today’s Malaysian social, political and economic structure is the result of
the colonial policies which were carried out by Great Britain. To understand
today’s Malaysian social structure and differences in society, we must
carefully examine the subject and the colonial period.
The Malaysian society consists of a number of distinct ethnic groups. These
groups, are chiefly, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians in Peninsular
Malaysia, and the Ibans and the Kadazans in Sarawak and Sabah.
These five main groups together “comprised 95 percent of the Malaysian
population of 19 million people”(Fisk and Rany,1982:105) and the other 5
percent covering the many other ethnic groups such as the aboriginal people,
the Europeans, Arabs and Pakistanis.
In Peninsular Malaysia “the population of 12 million is complicated by the
diversity of religion and race the most being the Malays, Chinese and
Indians”(Fisk and Rany,1982:105). These ethnic divisions have received the
greatest attention in the New Economic Policy (N.E.P.) and remains both
important and sensitive.
Before colonialism and the early period of the colonialism, Peninsular
Malaysia was a place which was inhabited mostly by Malays and there were
a limited number of Chinese and Indians and some nomadic aboriginal
people. It was during the colonial period that the British encouraged and
accelerated the migrations to Peninsular Malaysia from India, China and
Indonesia because of the need for a labour force which resulted in today’s
Malaysian mozaic or a Malaysian Plural Society.
Migration to Malaysia can be considered in three waves:
Migration from Indonesia, China and India. “Migration from Indonesia, had
been taking place slowly over the centuries, but this accelerated during the
colonial period with the opening up of new land for production of rice and
From about the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the British
colonial administration began to encourage the recruitment of Chinese
labour, particularly for work in mining tin. Not long after, the development
of large-scale agriculture, first in the cultivation of sugar and later in rubber,
plus the development of public works such as ports and railways created
further demand for a labour force for these purposes, and the recruitment of
Indian labour was encouraged and supported . These three waves of
migration to Malaysia are not only different in the racial aspect but also
resulted in different economic function and 1ocation.
Firstly, early Indonesian immigrants were located in the low-lying areas of
the west coast where rice could be grown, whereas the Indians were
concentrated in North Perak and Province Wellesley, in the rubber areas. At
the same time, many of the Indians were grouped in newly-growing towns
as labourers in the Public Works Department and as traders, shopkeepers
and as civil servants, and the professions. On other hand, the Chinese were
concentrated in the tin-mining areas and also in towns where they held a
dominant economic role.
The social effects of the these waves of migration to Malaysia can be viewed
at two levels. One is the Indonesian migrants, who because of close cultural,
social and religious contact with the Malays and inter-marriages with
Malays resulted in easy assimilation of this culture.
On the other hand, the Chinese and the Indians are not only culturally very
different from the Malay society but the adaptation of these two different
societies into the Malay society is very difficult, which resulted in today’s
Malaysian plural society, In addition, these three different societies are not
only different from each other ethnically and culturally, but also different
The Malays have been kampung (rural/village) dwellers, whereas the
Chinese generally are town (city) dwellers and the Indians are concentrated
According to the 1970 Census, 58.5 percent of the Chinese, 12.8 percent of
the Indians and 27.5 percent of the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia lived in
urban areas, while in the rural areas 69 percent were Malays, 26 percent
Chinese and 10 percent Indians .(Fisk and Rany,1982:106)
This urban and rural division had some far-reaching social and economic
effects in Malaysian social and economic life. What we mean is mainly that,
“the opportunities for healthy growth and higher education have been far
more readily available to the urban dwellers than to the kampung people,
thus giving the majority of the Chinese a great advantage over the majority
of the Malays”(Fisk and Rany,1982:106). So, the geographical separations
led to the economic and social imbalance between the Chinese, Indians and
Malay societies. The N.E.P. is aimed not only at improving and extending
the level of services to rural areas, but also to redress the Malay society and
correct the imbalance in the three segments and between towns and villages.
After 1970, many young Malays migrated to the cities in search of
employment opportunities and benefits of city life. But, they are poorly
educated, relatively unskilled and they found employment opportunities only
in the police department, millitary service and in factories. Only a very small
portion of Malays, the Malay elites who have been well-educated, are able
to find jobs in the civil service. But most Malays in the kampongs are
engaged in small farming, fishing and rubber-tapping.
The Chinese, on the other hand, are engaged mainly in the modern sector of
the economy such as banking, commerce, industry and mining.The Indians
remained as estate workers but many of them in the urban areas became
shopkeepers, civil servants and traders.
As regards the socio-cultural differences, the Ma1aysian Society today
consists of three different sub-societies or segments, which are mainly the
Malays, Chinese and the Indians. Each segment of the Malaysian society has
its own language, traditions and religious norms and value systems that are
very different from one society to another. Not only the economic imbalance
of the society leads to polarization, but also the socio-cultural elements
create polarization between the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Here I will try
to examine, briefly, the socio-cultural elements of each society to show the
Culturally, the Malays are Muslims, speak Bahasa Malaysia and maintain
their own traditional customs and practices. The Chinese are mostly
Buddhists, Confucians or Christians on a religious basis and speak a variety
of Chinese dialects, whereas the Indians are mostly Hindus and speak a
variety of dialects of the Indian language.
The Malays, generally live in rural areas that are traditionally engaged in
rural agricultural production and fishing. In other words, they are
characteristically peasants. Because of the rural life, the Malay society is a
cooperative society which means that the relations in the rural area are based
on mutual help.
‘Gotong Royong’ is a form of cooperation that occurs both in social and
economic spheres. This institution operates especially during the padiplanting
, harvesting , house-building, celebrating weddings, where one is
expected to help another, anytime, anywhere. But because of the cash
economic system, the “gotong royong” institution is going to be
weaker(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:111).
Another institution which unites the Malay society is the concept of Ummah
that binds the Malays to each other by the way of believing in the Unity of
Allah, and in the messengership of His Prophet Muhammed. In this
conceptual frame, everybody is responsible to help his fellow Ummah. He is
expected to help his fellow members at anytime, anywhere.
The Unity of the Malay community thus rest on the adat resam (social
customs), which includes the institution of “gotong royong” and the concept
of “Ummah” and “Malu”***2 (self- respect).
“The feeling of solidarity arise among the Malays as a result of the
observation of “gotong royong”, reinforced by the concept of Ummah. The
spirit of Ummah, particularly binds the villagers together culturally and
socially; the Malays always emphasize their close relationships in terms of
brotherhood in Islam”(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:109).
The majority of the Chinese in Malaysia are urban dwellers. This is the case
because mainly a considerable portion of the Chinese population earns its
livelihood in the towns and cities which are the centers of trade and
economic activity. Secondly, many Chinese who lived in rural areas
shifted to protected areas during the Emergency period and these places
turned into the cities and towns in recent years.
So, the“Chinese in the modern Malaysia are mostly found in the urban areas,
and their social characteristics are adapted to town and city 1ife”(Abdullah
and Yusoff,1982:113). But they are still many Chinese who work in the
rural areas and live there.
The language of the Chinese community in Malaysia is an important factor.
To communicate with each other, many dialects such as Cantonese, Hokkien,
Teochiew, Hailam and Hakka are used for daily communication and only
the educated people (Chinese) of different language groups communicate
with each other readily through the medium of Mandarin(Abdullah and
The basis of the Chinese social system is the family unit which is very large;
in other words, the extended family. In the family concept, the elders or
ancestors have special places that are strongly emphasized and always
exercised their decisions in family matters.
Encouragement rather than suppression is very important for the growth of a
young Chinese. The Family works those who are bright in the family. The
father gives a chance to his young Chinese son to learn the trade and
economic activity. So the “young Chinese will respond in accordance with
his upbringing with respect, loyalty and hardwork, which is the one point of
Chinese economic supremacy in Malaysian society. They are involved in
*** The Concept of Malu (Self-Respect), is important feature of Malay social value
system which means to expect of every one (Malay) who should at all times
maintain his own self-respect.”Loss of Malu”,is particularly associated with certain
types of misbehaviour, such as disobeying parents
almost every aspect of commercial agriculture and fishing. In urban areas
they own or operate most of the trade and commerce; retail and wholesale
outlets, and private sector banking. The capital market is largely operated by
the Chinese and they are the largest employers and suppliers of wage labour
outside the government. In the rural areas as well as in the towns, the
Chinese role as a middlemen places them in an economically strategic
position. In all these ways the Chinese play a decisive role in the economic
life of the whole Malaysian society”(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:116).
The religious system of the Chinese are not centralized under one single
authority, thus “ there are various temples and places of worship with loose
membership of worshippers and devotees who are also members of some
other temples as well”(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:117).
Like the concept of “malu” in Malay society “the concept of face” is very
important in social interactions among more traditional Chinese, so to “lose
face” becomes synonymous with dishonesty in the eyes of the community.
To the concept of honesty, trustworthiness and loyalty values, the Chinese
attach important sociological values.
The Social Structure of the Indian community, depending on the nature of
migration from a town or small vilage of India or Sri Lankan, have been
divided into many sub-groups.
The vast majority of the Indians in Malaysia are Tamils, Malayalis and
Telugus. Accordingly, in their customs, practices of Dravidian India
predominate, with emphasis on Sivaism and the worship of the female deity
in its various forms(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:118).
The Indians in Malaysia are mainly engaged in estate-work and live in rural
areas. In other words, they are estate workers. “While rural Indians are
involved mainly in the plantation economy, urban Indians are mostly
distinct groups, including many Sri Lankans, and are involved in many
occupations ranging from traders and businessmen, retailers and wholesalers,
professions such as a doctors, administrators and teachers right down to
manual workers and labourers. Some Indians known as Chettiars, are noted
for their money-lending business”(Abdullah and Yusoff,1982:119).
Another value related to the Indian community in Malaysia is the cultural
value attached to caste system. The consciousness of caste among the
Indians in Malaysia tends to be very much eroded while caste consciousness
in India tends to be perpetuated by numerous existing economic, political
and social structure. Another interesting point of the Indian community is
that there are quite a number of Indian Muslims who have a special place in
their relation with Malays.
The Stratification of the Malaysian Society which is the result of socioeconomic
and political development after 1969, that in the light of the N.E.P.
can be summarized as follows(Ali,1982).****:
a. The Upper Class: made up of (i) the nobility, (ii) leading government
politicians and administrators, (iii) successful capitalist or businessmen, and
(iv) successful professionals. Those in category (i) are exclusively Malay, in
(ii) mostly Malay, while those in category (iii) and (iv) are mostly non-
Malay, the majority of whom are Chinese. Some Malay and non-Malay
members of this class are closely linked with one another, through various
institutions and associations. For example, politically some of them are
leaders in the component parties forming first, the Alliance and then later the
National Front (NF), and the Government. Economically, some of them
have entered into partnership or joint- ventures, and also many ex-politicians
or ex-civil servants have become directors or senior executives in some of
the big non-Malay companies.
Socially some members of the upper class are also members of certain
exclusive clubs, e,g. the Royal Selangor Golf Club and the Lake Club.
b. The Middle Class: made up of (i) middle-range government or public
servants, (ii) the professionals, and (iii) businessmen, managers etc. Whereas
membership of the civil service in (i) is largely made up of Malays,
technical and educational services, for example, consists largely of non-
Malays. In category (ii), the majority is non-Malay, but the Malay
component is increasing. As for those in category (iii) they are still mostly
non-Malays, in spite of government policy to encourage Malays. Most
members of the middle class share a common life-style, and those in
categories (i) and (ii) are often westernised. A large number of them,
especially from categories (i) and (iii) are leading participants or strong
supporters of the governing political parties, either at the state or district
levels. As for those in category (ii), although quite a good number are
activists or supporters of the governing parties, a significant number are also
active in the opposition. Socially, in certain big towns some of them become
members of inter-ethnic clubs, e.g. the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.
c.The Lower Class: made up largely of (i) the peasantry, (ii) lowest ranking
personnel in government or uniformed services, and (iii) workers in
commercial and industrial enterprises. A big majority of those in (i) and (ii)
are Malays, but there are some Chinese peasants in certain villages and some
****. For the Development of Class and Race, also see, Hing AI YUN,” Capitalist
development,Class and Race in W. Malaysia”(1983); Lim Teck Ghee, “Malaysia:
Changing Occupational Pattern:The Growth of The Worker Class and Its
implications for Social Relations”(1983); Zakaria bin Haji Ahmad,Political
Structure of Malaysia (1982)
Indians working as labourers in a number of government departments. As
for those in category(iii), they are mostly Chinese, but the Indians also form
a large group, especially in the rubber industry. Among the peasants, the
Chinese minority are often absorbed into the way of life of the Malay
majority; this is especially so in states such as Kelantan, where the non-
Malays have been almost completely assimilated. At the same time, among
the working class, especially those in the same factories or industries, there
is also close understanding and cooperation, especially when facing crisis
situations, such as strikes. But overall, between the predominantly Malay
peasants and the largely Chinese workers, there is a great social distance,
and often their ignorance of each other’s values have led to stereotyping and
suspicion amongst them.
This social stratification of Malaysian society shows that ethnicity ( or
race ) factor divides the Malaysian society in vertical lines which means
Chinese, Malays, Indians and other ethnic groups. At the same time, the
vertical lines (ethnic groups) are divided by factors in the shape of
compartments. In other words, the Malaysian society has been divided along
the line of compartmentalized vertical columns.
Compartmental division is especially clear in the Malay society, because of
special privileges given them by the Government and which resulted in
many problems in this society or polarization in the Malay society. Firstly,
because of the N.E.P, urban and village differences are going to increase,
where young Malays who are kampung dwellers, start to migrate to cities for
the benefit of city life, but at the same time they would make up the core
Secondly, because of the difference in income and monetary terms in Malay
society, those Malays who benefit more from these circumstances are going
to be changing their values and perceptions.
For a better understanding of the Malaysian Political Structure, “it is useful
to examine the development of the ruling political coalition, the features of
the federal/state relationships, the characteristics of, and origins of the
Alliance which has been the major coalition of The United Malay National
Organization (U.M.N.O.), The Malaysian Chinese Association (M.C.A.),
and The Malaysian Indian Congress(M.I.C.), has been the government since
Alliance after 1969, became National Front (N.F) or Barisan Nasional
(B.N.), covering several other parties in its fold. U.M.N.O., has been the
major political party in Alliance and its successor National Front (N.F.) or
Barisan Nasional (B.N.). Both the National Front and Alliance may be seen
as the crystallization of political power at federal level.
All of the societal segments in Malaysian society (mainly Malay, Chinese
and Indians) can be represented, partially, to govern the state at the federal
level by the formula of Alliance and National Front which was also asserted
by Lijphart “for the agreement of political elite to govern the
United Malay National Organization (U.M.N.O) which has been
representing the Malay society, with majority support from the Malays,
whereas the other parties Malaysian Chinese Association (M.C.A.)
supported by the Chinese and Malaysian Indian Congress (M.I.C.) is
supported by the Malaysian Indians.
P.M.I.P or later known as P.A.S has been trying to challenge the (N.F) with
the most support for PAS coming from those who desire to govern Malaysia
in the light of Islam and its principles(Meaden,1983:610; Ahmad,1982:92).
On the other hand, another party, the Democratic Action Party(D.A.P), is
supported mainly by non-Malays, especially by the Chinese who live in
urban areas. It challenges Malay political supremacy as well as offers a
possible alternative to the non-Ma1ays or Chinese components in the
National Front (N.F.) (Ahmad,1982:92).
The challenge from the (DAP) and (PAS) towards (N.F) National Front is
essentially in Peninsular Malaysia. But also in Sarawak, (SNAP) Sarawak
National Party has been the major opposition of N.F till 1970. After 1970 or
late 1970, (SUPP) and (SNAP) both has become a party of the National
Front Coalition (Ahmad,1982:93).
So, the need for communal solidarity, may sustain the notion of intercommunal
cooperation (Political elite cooperation) as practised in the
concept of the National Front (N.F) as a sort of “democracy without census”
according to one observer ”(Ahmad,1982:92). But observations show that
the Islamic movements and Islamic groups in the Malay society seek
political power increasingly, yet these groups do not deny the rights of the
other religions, although, Islam is the state religion, and the Islamic
competition with the other countries is forcing the government to toe the line
in a more Islamic way as possible. This is showing a growing impact in
Malaysian Political life. The notion is that “How long UMNO will be able to
resist becoming more Islamic to offset the criticism of PAS will be a
significant problem in the coming years and one fear amongst non-Malays
(non-Muslims) is the seemingly increasing use of Islamic symbols in the
nation’s ways of life”(Ahmad,1982:94).
One other aspect of the strong political structure of Malaysia is utilizing a
strong and non-partisan bureaucratic apparatus, such as the civil service and
the police which shows a growing impact after 1969, and that most of the
positions in these areas are filled by Malays”(Ali,1982).
The existence of these organs and the quality of personnel and their nonpolitical
behaviour, make it easier for the government to achieve
government goals. On the other hand, the bureaucracy could also run to
destroy the regime’s credibility, in the case of inefficiency and incapacity.
Inter-communal coalition formula which is the notion of a strong
government is the another aspect of Malay political supremacy which means
that “Federal structure of the state ensure Malay majority at the hands of the
central government” that implies weakness of the local authority
POLITICAL STRUCTURE PRE— 1969 and after 1969
Inter-Racial riots and violence followed Malaysia’s Fourth General election
in May, 1969 which is mainly localized in Kuala Lumpur and “widely
awakened those who had come to think of Malaysia as a prosperous
extremely rational and democratic country in which all groups worked
together harmoniously for the common good, what is surprising in retrospect
is not that the dream was shattered but that it lasted so long”(Gibbon ,1971).
It was assumed that if political power is in Malay hands and economic
power is in Chinese hands, the Malaysian political and social stability will
be achieved. But the racial differences could not be considered seriously till
that time. Tun Haji Abdul Razak bin Hussein wrote “..on that day ( 13th May
69 ) we were jolted into a sharp realization that the racial problem in this
country is a serious one and measures taken in the past to cope with it have
not proved adequate”(Gibbon,1971:116). In other words “communal
considerations, generally considered the silent feature in decision-making
were often of little importance and the end result was generally more
beneficial to non-Malays than to Malays”(Funstow,1980).*****
If we accept the definition of politics by H.D. Lasswel as “ who gets what,
when, how”, we say that mainly the causes of the Riots of 13th May 1969
were based on the economic and social status of the Malay community in
Malaysian Society. The Second Malaysia Plan and its scope and aims also
proved this assertion.
The plan incoporates a two-pronged New Economic Policy(N.E.P.) for
development. The first prong is to reduce and eventually, eradicate poverty
***** See also, S. Husseyin Ali (1983): Chandra Muzaffar (1983): Hing Aı Yun
by raising income levels and increasing employment opportunities for all
Malaysians, irrespective of race.
The second programme aims at accelerating the process of restructuring
Malaysian society to correct economic imbalance, so as to reduce and
eventually, eliminate the identification of race with economic function. This
process involves the modernization of rural lives, a rapid and balanced
growth of urban activities and the creation of a Malay commercial and
industrial community in all categories and at all levels of operations, so that
Malays, other indigenous people will become full partners in aspects of the
economic life of the nation (Ahmad,1982:96).
So, we can say that the pre-1969 Malaysian political structure system was
not as is generally alleged, a Malay-dominated one. Political decisions were
substantially influenced by financial class and bureaucratic influence, and by
the politicalised style of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
After 1969, the Malaysian Political Structure can be viewed in the light of
the NEP which enunciated two broad objectives, namely the restructing of
society and the eradication of poverty. On the one hand, giving opportunities
to those who seek political representation. On the other hand, restructing and
the eradication of poverty entails considerable modernization of bumiputra
attitudes, as well as, restructuring of regional economic imbalance.
To reach the goals stated in the N.E.P., the government plays an important
role; The National Corporation (PERNAS) and The State Economic
Development Corporation (SEDC), under the government agencies were
Rapid modernization and implementation of policies by the Government has
shown certain outcomes:
a. It may lead to anti- government feelings as a result of the beneficiaries of
such a programme.
b. Economic differentiations in the Malay community will cause change of
perception and values of certain groups within the Malay community.
c. Middle-class Malays has been increasing and they play an important role
in the business and public sectors.
d. This may lead to the creation of working-class or lumpen ploteria in urban
areas, which is the result of migration from the kampung.
e. Increasing modernization of the Malays will cause some changes in the
power structure of the community and this means that there may be a change
in the Malay political supremacy in Malaysian political life.
After a short review of the theoretical framework of the plural society and
consociational democracy concept, I started to examine/analyse the
Malaysian socio-cultural and political structure.
My proposition is that the concept of consociational democracy which is
formulated and asserted by Arend Lijphart is based on some small European
states experience whereas the other countries/plural societies in Africa and
Asia are very different, not only historically but also culturally and with
various human elements.
The general theory of all sciences must be applicable in all cases of the
scientific phenomena whereas Lijphart’s theory is based on only European
states experience. The European states which were examined by A. Lijphart
have not had the same past experiences in their history, compared to the
other plural societies in Africa and Asia, which were mostly colonized.
Lijphart, in his theory, did not consider the individual perception differences
or individual characteristics, whereas the Europeans, to some extent, have
been expected to be similar. In other words, European people are more
politicalized than the people in Asian and African plural societies.
Lijphart did not speak about the relative autonomy of government which
means that government in certain times and conditions held on to autonomy
to govern the states or to protect it against external attack or to prevent class
struggle or to protect a certain segment’s rights in the society.
Another difference between the European small states, plural societies and
the third world is that, the European states accept the liberal or open
economic system and they are mostly industrialized. But plural societies in
Asia and Africa, they accept the open economic system ,but mostly,
government intervention can be seen in all sectors of the economy.
Malaysian social structure can be divided and explained in two dimensions
which are vertical and horizontal.
The vertical division arises because of the availability of the different subsocieties
which are mainly the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians, that
brings into view the Malaysian society and its structure.
Each sub-society covers a cultural membrane which is very different from
one society to another and that the elements of the cultural membrane are the
belief system, which is the religion, language and norms, value system and
the people’s perception.
There is also the cultural aspect which is language, religion, norms and
value system polarization, cleveages that divide the Malaysian society. But,
economical and political polarization rather than the cultural polarization are
very important, that the economic and geographic (city/village,
bandar/kampung) polarization were the main causes of the May 1969 riots.
In other words, horizontal polarization seems to be the core point which is
the sensitive, balancing point of the Malaysian society. Horizontal divisions
are mainly the social, political and economic elements of the society.
The economic consciousness of each segment, especially, for the Malay
society, has been showing the growing importance of the Malay desire to
hold more economic status in the social strata of the society, by way of
In future, even as the Malay society would be divided or differentiated on an
economic basis, ultimately, political power would remain in Malay hands.
Economic recession seems a serious problem which may cause imbalance in
the social structure in the horizontal line. In other words, if Malaysia could
not overcome economic recession, it may face many political and social
A considerable number of Malays hold positions in the civil service and
eventually, even more in the business private sectors, which is the aim of
The social structure of Malaysia now, compared to the early 1969 have been
showing changes in that more Malays are dominant in each sector of
Malaysian social life.
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