The Politics of Accommodation and the Problem of National-Building in a Plural Society: The Case of Malaysia
The issue of pluralism in Malaysia has attracted keen interest among scholars and commentators from this country as well as from outside the region. It is an issue that has pre-occupied the Malaysian government since Malaysia’s independence from British colonial rule in 1957. Since then the Malaysian state has been concerned with containing and managing the ‘vulnerabilities’ that can cause conflicts among diverse ethnic and religious groups in the country. The method used to manage ethnic relations has been termed the ‘politics of accommodation’ which is essentially based on the principles of bargaining, cooperation and accommodation among different ethnic groups. It is argued that while it has contributed to the peaceful - albeit precarious - coexistence between them, it also has had an impact of delaying the nation-building process in Malaysia. The pre-occupation of the state with ‘national unity’ and ‘national integration’ and the constant reminders to the public on the importance of ‘unity’ are proof that the ‘politics of accommodation’ as a tool for keeping the country and its diverse segments together are faced with serious challenges. This article attempts to look at the functioning of the ‘politics of accommodation’ as strategy for managing politics and society in a multiethnic society and its impact on nation-building in Malaysia.