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Chiu, "Ethnic politics and democracy in Taiwan and Malaysia," 2001

USC Dissertation in Politics.
August 24, 2009

Pai-Ming Chiu, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
This study examines ethnic politics as an explanation for the contrast in democratic performance of Taiwan and Malaysia, two ethnically bipolar states, from the 1950s to the early 1990s.

During this period, the level of democracy increased in Taiwan but decreased in Malaysia. Given the similar levels of ethnic conflict, the contrast in democratic performance between Malaysia and Taiwan is a puzzle for the ethnic conflict perspective, in which ethnic conflict is disadvantageous to the prospects for democracy, and the scale of conflict is usually related to the degree of democracy. To solve this puzzle, I propose power-centered structural approach built on the institutional perspective. The institutional perspective holds that institutional arrangements, as regulation and management of ethnic conflicts, make a different in democratic performance in ethnically divided countries. However, I contend that it is the power structure behind institutional facades that plays the more significant role in understanding democratic prospects in ethnically divided countries. The relative power resources among ethnic groups, which refer to the balance of ethnic power, shape the institutional arrangements that in turn affect democratic performance. The structure of ethnic power includes ethnic cohesion, economic power, and political power, which can be subdivided into external support, ideological power, and bureaucratic/institutional power. Based on the theoretical framework, the hypothesis is that the more the ethnic power of the dominant group increases, the more likely the prospects for democracy decrease; the more the ethnic power of the subordinate group increases, the more likely the prospects for democracy increase. The two cases under research generally support the hypothesis. In the case of Taiwan, where the Mainlanders had controlled economic and political power, the increase in Taiwanese ethnic power promoted democracy; in the case of Malaysia, where the Malays took advantage of their control of the state to expand their political and economic power, the increase in Malay ethnic power was conducive to the setback of democracy.

Advisor: Hamilton, Nora