KONGSI’ CONCEPT: Each side has to sacrifice something so that the other can gain something
IN response to the emergence of a Malay political party, Umno and its success in rejecting the British inspired Malayan Union, the Chinese community of the 1940s saw the need for a political party of their own to present their views to the British government.
Thus was the MCA conceived and born, led by Malacca’s Sir Cheng-Lock Tan. Although it was intended to counter the influence of Umno and protect the interests of the Chinese community, events changed the strategy and role of the MCA.
In 1952 the Kuala Lumpur Umno leaders and the Kuala Lumpur MCA branch leaders decided that in the Kuala Lumpur municipal elections, they should not contest against each other, but instead should support each other’s candidates in their respective constituencies.
The results startled them as they defeated almost all the non-racial parties. Realising the political advantage of cooperating with each other the Tunku (Abdul Rahman) and Sir Cheng-Lock Tan, and senior leaders of the MCA and Umno decided to formalise their cooperation by setting up the Alliance, a coalition of MCA and Umno.
The basis of this coalition was the idea of supporting each other and sharing the power gained. Buoyed by the success of the Alliance party in the 1955 elections, in which the MIC had joined, the Tunku looked more kindly at the proposal of Sir Cheng-Lock that citizenship should be based on jus soli (citizenship by being born in the country) and not jus saguinis (citizenship based on the Malaysian citizenship of the father or mother, i.e. citizenship based on blood relation).
The Tunku did not quite agree but he nevertheless decided to give one million citizenships to unqualified Chinese and Indians.
With that the confrontation between the Chinese and the Malays changed into positive cooperation.
It was a classic kongsi that was set up. The essence is an undertaking to share. Sharing involves a give and take arrangement, in which each side has to sacrifice something so that the other can gain something.
As the Malays made up the majority of the citizens they naturally led the Alliance. But the Chinese and Indians were not without adequate power. In any case Malay political power would be mitigated by Chinese and Indians’ voting and economic power.
The Tunku saw immediate benefit from the “kongsi” as he believed Malays only wanted to be government employees and the Chinese wanted to be in business. There would be no conflict or tussle between them.
The Indians would fill up the professional posts. He did not foresee the days when government could not create enough jobs for the greatly increased number of Malays.
The kongsi Alliance worked well. But in 1963 Singapore joined Malaysia.
Immediately the PAP tried to gain Chinese support by condemning the Alliance kongsi for being disadvantageous to the Chinese. Malaysians, said the PAP, were not equal. There should be a Malaysian Malaysia where all the benefits should be based on merit alone, with the best taking everything, irrespective of race.
Without saying so in so many words the PAP was inferring that the Malays did not deserve their positions. The best people should rule the country. In the eyes of the PAP, Singapore was ruled by the best qualified people. That they happen to be almost all Chinese is incidental.
In the 1964 elections the MCA and Malaysian Chinese generally valued their cooperation with the Malays. They rejected the PAP and its chauvinistic appeal, giving it only one seat.
The Tunku realised what the PAP was up to and decided that Singapore should not be a part of Malaysia. But the PAP was not done. The remnant of the party in Malaysia set up the DAP to carry on the Malaysian Malaysia meritocratic formula for undermining Chinese support for the MCA.
Harping continuously on the so-called Malay privileges and the unfairness to the Chinese, the DAP slowly eroded the idea of kongsi in the multi-racial coalition of the Barisan Nasional.
Despite the fact that the Barisan Nasional supported Chinese education and the use of the Chinese language, the DAP convinced many Chinese that the Chinese, their culture and language are not given proper treatment by the Barisan Nasional coalition.
The MCA was attacked for not doing enough for the Chinese.