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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A society transformed : a political analysis of rural Malay society Clark, Mark William


This thesis presents a political analysis of rural Malay society in Peninsular Malaysia. Like other traditional societies in Southeast Asia, Peninsular Malaysia has had to contend with the intrusion of economic modernization and the adoption of western democratic institutions and processes. These influences have had a profound affect on how politics is conducted in these states. Since governments must now acquire and maintain the support of a largely rural based population through the electoral principle, these governments must link their bureaucracies and political structures with the peasant in order to maintain stability for their governing bodies. One important way of achieving this goal is to coopt into the institutions of state, those persons viewed by the villager as leaders of their community. What, then, becomes the glue which bonds the villager to state institutions? That glue is the patron-client relationship. The coopting of a patron produces the necessary linkage between state institutions and the villager. But in order for this connection process to be completed, these leaders must in turn connect with higher level leaders (patrons) who operate within pyramidal structures of patron-client relationships throughout the various levels of the bureaucracy and political structures. I refer to these linkage connections as "linchpins". By examining a number of village case studies in Peninsular Malaysia, I provide evidence that the nature of the patron-client relationship has been transformed by the modern state influences. The political dominance of the government has created patron-client structures influenced by the political institutions (e.g., political parties). This political influence has weakened the ability of the bureaucracy to function with any effective linchpins between it and the villager. On the other hand, the political influence has strengthened the linchpin connections between the villager and the politicians. The effects of this dominance has not only shifted patron-client relationships but also has created the environment for either alliance formation, through the existing power structure as factions (within a political party, for example), or has created the potential for peasant group action which could be manifested in protest movements generated outside the patron-client structure. The result could be a weakening or dissolution of patron-client structures. Combine these possibilities and the result will be inimical to state stability.

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