Edited by Felia Allum and Stan Gilmour
Chapter 26: Malaysia: gangster boogie, bosses and politics
In Malaysia, the end of the first Mahathir era paved the way to a relative liberalisation of the public sphere. Despite power transition from Mahathir to Abdullah then to Najib, the political system remained characterised by the connivance of powers maintaining an intricate relationship between political, social and economic actors. This ersatz of democracy has indeed favoured the emergence of civil surrogates of political parties. Civil society became a gauge of good governance, andan alley to promote the rise of proxies/subcontractors of political partydiscourse and actions. Numerous non-governmental organisations are umbrellascreated and registered by gangs for which politics (from campaigning to demonstrations) has become a service they offer to political parties. This chapter focuses on Pekida and its sattelites group, one of the largest underground networks of the country strongly entangled with the former ruling party. In 2016–2018, the shift occurring on the political scene have led to a re-negociation of power and allegiances, this chapter analyses the role of complicit militants during the campaign of former and newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir, and in the aftermath of the election; in ‘New Malaysia’.This chapter is drawn from original ethnographic research in Malaysia conducted over a decade (2008_2018). It explores the rise of complicit militants in semi-authoritarian system as a conjectural and/or systemic phenomenon. It introduces the original concept of ‘complicit militancy’,which defines an unspoken, if not secret, political arrangement by which a formal political actor (that is, a political party, a government or a politician) subcontracts legal and/or illegal political actions or uses a proxy to serve its interests, from advocacy, to demonstrations and violence, to groups of individuals. This study challenges the idea that civil society has a prerequisite for, or a barometer of, democratisation. It shows that ‘civil society’ may indeed be an umbrella for a grey zone where the rule of law does not apply, and where complicit groups, or militants, flourish.
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