by Kevin YL Tan*
Malaysia, consisting of the Malay peninsula and the two territories of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, is a multi-ethnic federal state. Since its independence from British rule in 1957 the country has experienced a nearly uninterrupted development of constitutional government. Nevertheless, parliamentary elections have not brought any change of power because the Alliance/ National Front—a multiethnic coalition—has held the hegemony over politics until today.
After the British decision to withdraw from the Malay peninsula, which they dominated for over 150 years, political life began to awake and political parties started to emerge in the early 1950s. From the very beginning, most parties organized themselves along communal lines, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the peninsula's population, made up of a rural Malay majority, an urban, economically powerful, Chinese minority and an Indian minority in the western coast.
The first elections for the Federal Legislative Council of the colony were held in July 1955. The three main ethnic parties—the United Malays' National Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC)—contested these elections in a coalition named Alliance. This multi-ethnic coalition enjoyed a strong support on the part of the British, who preferred it against more radical parties; thus, it succeeded in winning nearly all contested seats. For the election, the coalition presented a single slate of candidates, thus avoiding the danger of vote-splitting. Through this relatively disciplined approach the Alliance was rewarded at the elections. After the polls, its leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, became Malaya's first elected Chief Minister (this post changed to Prime Minister in 1957,