Defining Malaysian socio-political structure

We have delved into what is actually democracy in Malaysia in the previous article. From the comments received, I believe most people do not understand what is democracy in the context of Malaysian social structure. Many have rubbished the analysis made by the astute commentator without even giving a viable anti-thesis to impress upon us their very own definition of what democracy is. What we had was a barrage of complaints over purported lack of freedom or examples of law abuses made by the government.

Some had erroneously defined democracy as the right of an individual to protest. To some extent, that is agreeable to the principles of democracy. But when the same individual decidedly trying to destroy the peace and livelihood of other individuals, then he or she is no longer prescribing to the concept of democracy. They have in reality, subscribed themselves to another form of social political structure – Anarchy.

Realistically speaking, no government is perfect. Even the great opposition governments in all 4 states are facing so many problems by which, their remedy is often slant towards the same style of governance of the ruling federal government. We have yet to see any feasible socio-political structure that suggests new type of social fabric for Malaysians to analyze in replace of the current social and political structure.

In this light, before anyone could jump into conclusion or trying to cough up new set of rules on how Malaysia should be, it is better for each one of us to learn what Malaysia is. We must learn the intricacies that balance each of the elements within our nation’s scope of existence.

Below are a few factors that must be known in order to ascertain the very nature of our society. There is no right or wrong in the degree factors as every country is unique with each other. I hope I had simplified this quite dry subject into something that is palatable to everyone.

1. Individualism vs. Collective rights

Individualism means the rights of an individual are more important than groups that they may belong to. It aims to let each person grow or fail on their own. Collective rights simply means that the rights of the family, group and country is much more important than the individual. It sees individualism as selfish and short sighted. I firmly believe that the US is number one here in the first category and followed closely by Great Britain and Australia. Malaysia and other Asian countries on the other hand are somewhere in the latter category.

2. Equal opportunity vs. Equal outcome

Equal opportunity means equality in the rights of individual in accessing prospects and chances for a better position in life. Everyone is entitled to get the same amount of opportunity regardless of their own social background and the overall outcome. Meanwhile, equal outcome seeks to find equilibrium in the outcome among everyone in the society. If in the pursuit to have equal outcome, any individual is being discriminated by an affirmative action, then the collective rights of the society take precedent. Most homogeneous countries take the first category while multicultural, and multiethnic countries fall in the second category. The multi-ethnic US unfortunately falls somewhere in the first category when instead they should focus on the second. As the result, their income disparity and unemployment rate between the variety of ethnics are high.

3. Sacred authority vs. Secular authority

Theocracy is one of a few factors that most countries are saddled with in recent times. It infuses religious hegemony in all aspects of the government and the free society. Secular authority simply means separating religion from governance. Malaysia and to a lesser extent, the US fall in  between the two categories where religion are practiced unobtrusively and had permeated in everyday lives of the people whether in governance or in lifestyles. However,  the laws of the land is largely secular.  To simplify this further, the phrases ‘God Bless America’ and ‘In God We Trust’ are prevalent in the  minds of Americans. This strong belief of a Higher Being is equally  important in the mindset of Malaysians too. On the other hand, communist countries clearly separates religion from administration with very minimal religious overtones and references in their governance. At the opposite end of this communist countries are the pure theocratic nations of Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and Iran.

4. Social assimilation vs. Social segregation

Most of the countries in the world assimilate their citizens with a common unifying factor. National language, standardized culture or even one paramount religion are used as the based factors in determining the degree of assimilation in a particular country. United States lead the way of assimilating its people which goes as far back in the  early 19th century when John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the US, said that in the effort towards nation-building, “immigrants must cast of their European skin, never to resume it” and Horace Mann, a US early education reformer in the 19th century noted that national schools was built “with the need to make Americans out of Europeans”. Many other countries in Asia follow this approach such as Thailand, Philippines, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. These countries opted either to have a common language or a standardized culture onto their people. If there were an assimilation index, or a scale on how to measure a country’s assimilation rate, then the most probable quantitative measure would be the degree of similarities of the main community and the ones with foreign ancestry.

5. Masculinity vs. Femininity

Each country has the unique peculiarity in the roles of gender among its people. Traditional gender roles are more prevalent among the males within Asian countries as opposed to the countries with western values. Men are generally considered aggressive and competitive while arguably, women are expected to be domesticated and more gentle. Countries which value masculinity over femininity include Japan, China, surprisingly Austria and Venezuela. Malaysia falls in this category too.

6. Meritocratic capitalism vs. Social obligation

Meritocratic capitalism can be summed up as ‘survival of the fittest’. While social obligation simply means, the rich is subsidizing the poor. Many countries try to subscribe themselves to the first category although more and more countries such as the US, under the present President Barack Obama is indulging themselves  in socialism in order to maintain social fabric by subsidizing the poor. It is ironic that the strongest economy in the world, which built its strength virtually through market capitalism is so fragile when faced with an economic crisis. In fact, it is more fragile than governments who had laid more importance in social obligation. Malaysia is categorised to be in the second category whereby Asian values of ‘prospering thy neighbours’ and strong, empathetic family ties remain the pinnacle of its culture. However, social obligation will only work should there is a strong centralised authority managing the government apparatuses.

Below is the web chart of the factors above:


Note : Theories partly composed from works of Geert Hofstede, Georg Hegel and Fons Trompenaars.