Question marks hang over Malaysia's longstanding power-sharing arrangements after leaders of ethnic minority parties in the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition were bundled out of the federal Parliament in yesterday's general election.
The rout followed a larger sweep of seats nationwide by opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who is president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), was defeated in the contest for Bentong in Pahang by Mr Wong Tack of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a member of PH. He lost to Mr Wong by a margin of 2,032 votes after beating him by 379 votes in the last election.
Datuk Chua Tee Yong, Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister, similarly lost his parliamentary seat in Labis, Johor, to DAP veteran Pang Hok Liong by a margin of some 3,000 votes. In 2013, Mr Chua had triumphed with a slim 353-vote margin.
Over in Perak, MCA Perak chief Mah Hang Soon lost the Tanjong Malim parliamentary seat to his Parti Keadilan Rakyat challenger Chang Lih Kang in a three-cornered fight. The seat was previously considered "safe" for MCA, having been won by the party's secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan with a majority of over 4,000 votes in 2008 and 2013. Mr Ong, the Second Minister of International Trade and Industry, was not fielded in this election.
Meanwhile, Health Minister S. Subramaniam, president of BN's Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), was defeated by a 5,476-vote margin in Segamat, Johor, a seat he had held since 2004.
As members of BN, ethnic minority parties like MCA, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) and MIC are usually offered ministerial posts when the coalition comes to power. Such appointments can take place even if a particular candidate loses an election, as the politician can be appointed as a senator.
MCA has repeatedly stressed the need for Chinese voters to give the party a mandate so that it can adequately represent this ethnic minority in government.
But the party's defeats in the past three elections have raised doubt over the sustainability of this power-sharing arrangement.
MCA won only seven federal parliamentary seats and 11 state assembly seats in 2013. Gerakan, another Chinese-dominated party, won just one parliamentary seat in 2013 - a figure which it doubled after its president Mah Siew Keong was elected in a Teluk Intan by-election. In response to the major losses in 2013, both parties did not take up ministerial posts. This self-imposed retreat ended about a year later.
Penang Institute political scientist Wong Chin Huat said: "Non-Malay BN parties are being wiped out now. It is inevitable as they have failed to represent the Chinese and Indian interests under Umno's hegemony after 1969."