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COMMENT | An evolving legitimacy crisis?

COMMENT | Malaysia’s politics is entering unchanneled waters. On the surface, the situation may appear to be the same – the government of the day is going about its business (some of the time) and those in power have turned a deaf ear to the concerns being raised from above and below, echoing the ho-hum reality of lockdown amidst devastating pandemic.

Yet, over the last few months and epitomised most clearly in the ‘acknowledgment-without-action’ response (so far) to the 'ASAP' statements from political elites on the emergency and Parliament, the powers that be are deviating from established practices. This ongoing shift is not about the personalities or changes in power but rather how they are wrestling with staying in power.

Allow me to unpack this further.

A concept of political legitimacy – the right to rule – is at the core of normative and substantive discussions of politics. Often captured descriptively in its forms or with attention to the sources of legitimacy, many a scholar have espoused on the morality and obligations of those in power and those consenting to power.

The famous sociologist Max Weber is among those most known for his description of the different types of legitimacy. In 1918 he wrote: ‘People may have faith in a particular political or social order because it has been there for a long time (tradition), because they have faith in the rulers (charisma), or because they trust its legality—specifically the rationality of the rule of law (Weber 1990 [1918]).’

These types of legitimacy – traditional, charismatic and the legal-rational – capture why the publics give their consent to those in power. They also relate closely to the different grounds where legitimacy might be founded – in cultural beliefs and loyalties, through good governance and performance, and the respect for established processes and procedures governing political life in the rule of law.

Authoritarian governments rely on governance and economic performance to sustain them, and when they lack this, as in the case in Myanmar today, they turn to ...  

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