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COMMENT | A Bloomberg columnist wrote an article for which the introduction reads: “The country used to punch above its weight on the global stage. Now, white flags seem like a surrender to dysfunction.”

These words touched a nerve. That’s what the gods of WhatsApp groups tell me, at least. And I have great faith in them. I think it made thousands of Malaysians feel just that much more defeated and that much more hopeless.

It was a charge made right when the latest developments in Malaysian politics suggest that the Sheraton Move has not, in fact, actually ended. Before we talk about what our next steps should be, let’s examine the term "failed state".

It is a term of some personal relevance to me. My degree in university was called (in full) a “Special Concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies.” The cases I was most interested in at the time were countries that seemed to be falling apart in the 1990s amidst the end of the Cold War.

The transition from a bipolar to a unipolar world was marked by considerable violence, as is often the case with political transitions. The former Yugoslavia was one such case, and sub-Saharan Africa was probably the continent that saw the most of such violence in that decade.

I studied the latter mostly, spending some time in Sierra Leone as part of my work. In the course of said studies, we came across the term "failed state" a lot. I don’t usually engage in academic discourse in my articles, but just for today, perhaps we shall briefly indulge.

Max Weber defined the state as an entity that succeeds in maintaining a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. This is generally accepted as a basic, fundamental defining principle.

In this sense, the breakdown into "might makes right" civil wars experienced by places such as Sierra Leone, Somalia and others definitely made the term "failed state" apt.

At the height of these civil wars, power was defined by the amount of firepower one had at their disposal, and not in any way by legitimate institutions of government.

In some cases, bullets cost less than rice, and that really is sometimes just about all you need to understand the situation on the ground. In essence, there was no functioning government, only warlordism.

In Malaysia, the military and police are intact, and most of our governing institutions continue to function as designed (though some would say barely).

So, by that definition, we are certainly not a failed state yet - for whatever comfort that may bring whomever. All that said, what are currently the two most important pillars of the state are indeed collapsing. The first of these is our nation’s healthcare system...

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