Malaysia fragile, not a failed state yet

Dr Lucy Sebli Seidelson

KUCHING: Political scientist Dr Lucy Sebli says Malaysia is not a failed state, but a fragile state, which is significantly susceptible to crisis in one or more of its subsystems. 

Having said this, she pointed out that a failed state is defined as a condition of state collapse in the sense that a state can no longer perform its basic security and development functions as well as has no control over its territory and borders.

She added that a failed state is also one that can no longer produce the condition for its own existence.

“In general, failed states are tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous and contested bitterly by warring factions. Occasionally, the official authorities in a failed state face two or more insurgencies, varieties of civil unrest, different degrees of communal discontent and a plethora of dissent directed at the state and at groups within the state.

“Failed states also do not have the ability to control or protect their borders or lose authority over sections of territory. Thus, if we were to use these definitions or characteristics of a failed state to describe Malaysia’s current situation, I believe Malaysia is not a failed state, at least not yet.

“Malaysia still has the ability to protect and control its borders simply because it has authority over all of its territories. There is no civil unrest although we do have a low degree of communal discontent directed at the state or a group within the state.

“However, that condition alone cannot be used to label Malaysia as a failed state.”

She was commenting on an article ran by an international news portal describing that Malaysia had gone down the path of failed statehood.

“If we were to measure Malaysia from the dimension of its performance in terms of the levels of its effective delivery of the most crucial political goods, it must be borne in mind that political goods in this context are those intangible and hard to qualify claims that citizens made on states.

“This can be expectations, credibly obligations and inform local political culture among others which together give content to the social contract between the ruler and the ruled, which is at the core of the government and citizen interactions.

“In this context, the government has, to a larger extent, failed miserably to fulfil its citizen expectations such as in terms of providing enough healthcare facility, social security, human security like job losses, lives lost, slow reactions towards the current pandemic, no obvious central authority until now and failure to provide coherence policies.”

Lucy pointed out that a state will be considered failed if it fails to provide security, particularly human security to its citizens.

“In these aspects, Malaysia can be considered as a failed state. Financially, Malaysia can also be considered as a failed state in the sense that foreign investors’ confidence is at a critical juncture.

“Having said that, now it is not so much about whether Malaysia is a failed state or not. It is about government not being able to fulfill its citizens’ expectations in all of the dimensions mentioned, at the critical moment when Malaysians needed it the most.”

She also said another key political goods is one that enables the citizens to participate freely, openly and fully in politics as well as the political process.

“This encompasses and regional political institutions such as legislatures and courts; tolerance of dissent and difference; and fundamental civil and human rights. 

“However, this is rather difficult to say because of the emergency. What I can say now is that our essential freedoms have been heavily compromised.”