I had argued that two events had shaped the course of Malaysia forever – the formation of UMNO in response to the Malayan Union and the May 13, 1969 race riots. (Read here).

I came across this interesting working paper by Abdillah Noh that analyses institutions that Malaysia inherited from the British and argues the importance of “institutional genesis” in the evolution of Malaysia. (Read here)

The abstract states:

“…In analysing Malaysia’s consociational political and economic arrangement, current works choose to see Malaysia’s institutional arrangement as a given and pay little attention to the issue of institutional genesis. This paper holds the view that Malaysia’s political and economic character, described as a variant form of consociationalism, can be better understood by tracing the set of institutions that Malaysia inherited as a result of its colonial experience. In making such an analysis the paper gives centrality to the historical process and will apply concepts like path dependency, critical juncture, timing and sequence. In doing so, it intends to highlight the relevance of institutional genesis and that incremental, piecemeal changes which could be seen as so slight as to appear trivial could, over the long haul, produce profound transformation…”

Noh essentially argues that critical junctures, institutions, timing and sequence played a critical role in setting up institutions which then had profound impact in shaping social, economic and political outcomes in Malaysia.

A key conclusion from the paper to consider and to apply to what is happening in Malaysia currently would be:

“…The nature of Malaya’s political and economic development trajectory since British rule made it inevitable that a lasting and durable Malayan solution must be one that is based on a power sharing arrangement arrangement or to borrow Lijphart’s term, one that is consociational in nature, which involves consensus at the elite level with broad mass support from the larger Malayan community…”

Must it always be about power sharing and elite consensus?

Is there a better model for Malaysia – something that decentralises power away from the elites and distributes it equitably?