Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


History, Politics and International Relations


What are the prospects for a robust Malaysian democracy?On 3 December 2015,the Malaysian Parliament approved a security law allowing for the strengthening of its National Security Council. The passing of this bill will allow Malaysia’s premier to declare a state of emergency without royal consent. The Prime Minister can order lockdowns, curfews, and unwarranted searches and seizures of selected areas for up to six months—a duration renewable at his discretion. Prime Minister Najib Razak provided the rationale that such legislation is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, but opposition leaders and civil rights NGOs disagree—the Malaysian government had used draconian laws to suppress dissent in the past.The broad ambiguity of this absolute power placed in the hands of one man infuriated Malaysians and the international human rights community. A chief Malaysian opposition leader lamented the decay of Malaysia’s democratic prospects, saying, “This law will take us only to one path, and that is the path to dictatorship.”

Malaysia is a pseudo-democracy. Pseudo-democracies share certain aspects of democracies, but scholars observe even these to be limited. This essay will examine the relevant work of Robert Dahl, who not only committed his scholarship to the understanding of pluralistic democracies (such as Malaysia),but wrote extensively on key institutional features of a democracy. While Dahl does not specifically discuss pseudo-democracies, he described the unattainable “ideal democracy” and the achievable “polyarchy”.No country can become an ideal democracy. However, through appropriate reforms, any country—including pseudo-democratic states—can meet Dahl’s criteria fora polyarchy, a realistic version of democracy at the nation-state level.

In any case, thoughtful study of Dahl’s work might allow one to conclude that it is not universally applicable. While Malaysia displays clear aspects of pluralism, the nation is home to a host of other factors that disallow the smooth unfolding of Dahl’s ideas of democratic pluralism. Considering the multi ethnic and religious politics that are so deeply infused in contemporary Malaysian society, how far is Malaysia from achieving Dahl’s polyarchy?Thesis With the tensions that erupt from politicized ethnic, racial, and religious issues under the structurally ineffective government led by the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, Malaysia’s prospects for democracy are dim unless there are dramatic and lasting reforms in government focusing on transparency and competent governance.