Democracy, to be successful, does not only follows the constitution with own interpretations but also depends on democratic practices and norms. The democratic culture and respect to others' opinion is a prerequisite for democracy. Developing nations have their own practices and cultures. Thus the definition of one's democracy hardly matches with that of another. Political steadiness, taken as a peaceful political situation in a country, is indeed beneficial for socio-economic progress of a country. When one speaks of political stability in terms of having one party or a coalition of several parties in office for a long period of time, it is a type of political stability that may be detrimental to the country, sooner or later. The economy may suffer either because of conflicts or rampant competition between various political parties.
Investment and growth highly depends on political stability while economic recovery becomes faster under a stable political environment. Issues like employment, human capital development and business development can be dealt faster and effectively in an environment free from any risk of unsafe political change and conflict.
But, some see political stability as a condition that not only precludes any form of change, but also demoralizes the public. Innovation and ingenuity take a backseat. Many seek change in all sectors of life--politics, business, culture--in order to have a brighter future through better opportunities. Of course change is always risky. Yet it is necessary. Political stability can take the form of complacency and stagnation that does not allow competition. The principles of competition do not only apply to business. Competition can be applied in everything - political systems, education, business, innovation, even arts. Political stability in this case refers to the lack of real competition for the governing elite. The 'politically stable' system enforces stringent barriers to personal freedoms. Similarly, other freedoms such as freedom of press, freedom of religion, access to the internet, and political dissent are also truncated. This breeds abuse of power and corruption.
There are four dimensions of political instability: (1) civil protest, (2) politically motivated aggression, (3) instability within the political regime and (4) instability of the political regime. We see that individual political instability indicators are generally poor proxies for the underlying dimensions of political instability.
Economists provide two reasons why political instability may affect economic outcomes. First, political instability creates uncertainty with respect to future institutions and policymakers, which, in turn, alters the behavior of private agents and firms with respect to the accumulation of capital. In addition, it changes the incentives of policymakers who either try to increase their term in office or take benefit of the position they have while they are in office. Secondly, political instability can have a direct effect on productivity, because it disrupts market functioning and economic relations. The political instability has different form and patterns guerilla war, civil War, revolutions, assassinations, internal conflicts, medium civil conflicts, ethnic tensions, riots, strikes, demonstrations, major constitutional changes, regime Changes, religious Tensions, government instability, cabinet changes, political polarization, coups d'état, executive changes, government crises, fractionalization, veto players who drop from office, number of elections, years that ruling party in office, minor civil conflicts, purges etc.
There are some different categories of political stability in different parts of the world. China has political stability with its own brand of democracy but one party rule. No one can contest election without nomination of Communist Party of China. Its' miracle economic development and lack of democracy is a conflicting to theory of economic development.
Another example of development of Malaysian economy is an example of political stability and economic development without democracy. The current coalition of the 'Barisan Nasional', has managed to achieve great progress for Malaysia, realising high levels of growth and gaining much respect for its economy, at least, from Western, liberal societies.
Malaysia, constitutionally, is a democratic nation. This should mean that the electorate is free to vote in free and fair election processes whichever party they want to represent them. The electoral system is questionable high possibility of rigged election result and corruption. There exist opposition parties, and the people have the right to vote for them to a minimal level, as the ruling coalition has been in power ever since Malaysia's independence and the opposition party does not seem to be able to concentrate many votes. Political stability has been a norm in Malaysia all these years. And indeed it has served the country well. Its economy has seen massive progress over the years, and the country has managed to win the respect of many other nation-states in the international arena because of its economic achievements. The widespread public belief that the society's governing institutions and political authorities are worthy of support, is commonly held to be a precondition for political stability in advanced capitalist democracies.
Malaysia suffers from at least mild oppression of freedoms, whether freedom of speech, freedom of electing whoever you want, freedom of press, and with the recent passing of the freedom of assembly bill, freedom to assemble and express opinions in that way. Furthermore, the government's systems, as well as the society as a whole are plagued with corruption and a severe lack of transparency.
The Washington post mentioned the Malaysian ruling party an 'authoritarian regime' (Washington Post, Jan 2012), arguing that the US government should demonstrate its disapproval of the regime and the curtailment of democratic values and the rule of law, demonstrated, for one, by the opposition leader's, Anwar Ibrahim's trial.
Malaysia's system is flawed in many ways - there are no checks and balances in place, with the executive branch overshadowing and controlling the legislature and judiciary, and the democratic institutions and electoral systems are evidently weak.
The government argues that political stability is the advantage that Malaysia holds, and that foreign direct investment comes to the country precisely because of this stability. This is backed by many theories and empirical studies, as mentioned in the first section of this treatise, as well as by companies stating explicitly that political stability is the main reason that attracted them to Malaysia.
Instead, it is a question of having a truly democratic system, as prescribed in the country's constitution, even if not in its purest sense, or having a semi-authoritative regime as the international community perceives it that has been in office, since 1955.
Perhaps a bit of political instability is precisely what is needed in order to make Malaysia move forward, in terms of its democratic values, but also closer to its 'Vision 2020'. Perhaps that is the answer to escaping the middle income trap and moving towards higher levels of growth and standards of living for its citizens.
The economy, in terms of attracting foreign direct investment may be doing well, as investors know exactly what policies to expect, based on the government's ideology and past performance. However, other aspects of the society might suffer because of complacency, lack of competition, and obscurity. And eventually, the economy suffers because of these as well.
Not all forms of political stability are equally development friendly; much depends on the extent to which stability translates into good governance.r
The writer is a Legal Economist.
He can be reached at [email protected]