This is an accompanying article to the feature article on the end of Barisan Nasional’s consociationalism – the rule, in a plural society, by an alliance of elites from respective ethnic groups – and traces in length the historical context and the foundation of consociationalism to the days of the struggle for Malayan independence, and examines how it survived the trials of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Japanese Occupation (1942-45) set the stage for the birth of consociationalism in Malaysia.

Prior to the Occupation, ethnic relations between the Malays and Chinese had been largely peaceful. Colonial policy kept these ethnic and linguistic groups legally, administratively, and socially apart, and each group occupied different roles in the economy. This generally limited interactions to commercial spaces in the public sphere. The exceptions were the  economic and political elites of all races, who formed a colonial elite and mingled far more frequently.However, the Japanese Occupation violently disrupted the economic, social and political conditions of colonial Malaya, bringing to the surface  many contradictions and tensions which the British had suppressed or papered over.[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.