China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

Malaysia Inc: Political Leadership and Economic Growth

Southeast Asia is a region with great diversity of political systems and institutions – autocracies, democracies and dictatorship aligning with monarchies as well as republics. Likewise, economic performance varies to a considerable extent among the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Among the best performing countries economically is Malaysia, considered a moderate autocracy by regime type. By contrast, the Philippines, while having far more democratic features than Malaysia, is not as economically successful. Although both countries are ranked as “moderate” transformers on the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI), the data on political and economic management of transformation processes suggest that Malaysia's authoritarian leadership has been more conducive to the country's economic development than democratic leadership has been to development in the Philippines.

This lecture examines the period of intense economic progress in Malaysia, from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, demonstrating how it has been pivotal for today's economic achievements. It is argued that the development of this period in Malaysia came about primarily because of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad's self-understanding as the “CEO” of Malaysia. Malaysia’s development trajectory over the past several decades is compared to that of the Philippines in order to explore the relationship between political leadership and economic performance.

Claudia Derichs is professor of Comparative Politics and International Development Studies at Philipps University Marburg, Germany, and an appointed member of AcademiaNet (, a network profiling Germany’s most outstanding female scientists. She studied Japanese and Arabic in Bonn, Tokyo and Cairo and holds a PhD in Japanology (1994, University of Bonn, Germany). Her habilitation addressed the topic of nation-building in Malaysia. Her research interests include political Islam and transition in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as well as gender and development studies in Asia and the Middle East. She has published numerous books and articles on Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and the Arab world, and is an advisor to several academic and political institutions, journals and think tanks. Her latest monograph is Knowledge Production, Area Studies and Global Cooperation, published by Routledge (April 2017). Prior to her studies of Japanese and Arabic, she worked as a journalist.

Prof. Derichs' homepage.

Recent publications:

2016. Knowledge Production Area Studies and Global Cooperation. London & New York: Routledge, 2017 (April).

2015. Shifting Epistemologies in Area Studies; in: Middle East – Topics & Arguments

4(2015): 29-36 [open access:]

2014. Derichs, Claudia (ed.): Women’s Movements and Countermovements. The quest for gender equality in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Suggested reading (available on ILIAS)

Derichs, Claudia (2014): "Asiatische Zeitenwende? – Von der bipolaren zur polyzentrischen Weltordnung"; in: Jakobeit, Cord et al. (Hg.): Entwicklungstheorien. Weltgesellschaftliche Transformationen, entwicklungspolitische Herausforderungen, theoretische Innovationen. Baden-Baden: Nomos (PVS Sonderheft 48), S. 41-66.

Derichs, Claudia (200): "Mahathir Mind Block? Think Tanks and Intellectuals"; in: Welsh, Bridget (ed.): Reflections: The Mahathir Years. Washington, DC: Johns Hopkins University, Southeast Asia Studies (SAIS), S. 377-387.