The May 1969 clashes…again reaffirmed the UMNO-MCA-MIC “historic bargain” as the cornerstone of the new Malaysian nation. Whether the “bargain” will continue to form the basis of Malaysian politics and society indefinitely in the future remains to be seen.

– Cheah Boon Kheng, Red Star Over Malaya

For over 60 years, Malaysians only knew one power-sharing formula: consociationalism, in which the elites from each ethnic group in a plural society are presumed to represent that ethnic group, and form a government by consensus-building. Writing in 1969 – the year Malaysia had a bloody ethnic riot – political scientist Arend Lijphart described consociational democracy as “government by elite cartel designed to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy”.[1]

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Ooi Kok Hin

Ooi Kok Hin is Monbukagakusho scholar and research student at the Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University and research affiliate at Penang Institute.