Malaysian politics has been turbulent over the past two decades, as seen in the damaged tradition of leadership transition, non-violent revolts against successive regimes, and unstable realignments of opposing forces. Two startling symptoms point to disorder. One is the heavy electoral losses and loss of legitimacy suffered by the post-Mahathir regimes. The other is the political re-entry of Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Mohamad. The persisting turbulence raises certain questions. Why has the ruling party, the United Malays National Organization, been susceptible to internal fighting, being at once a source of hegemonic stability and systemic instability? Why has the apex of the United Malays National Organization repeatedly jeopardised its traditions of leadership succession? Why has one leader, Mahathir Mohamad, been involved in all the disputes? How did the crisis of the party, not just the regime, become intimately tied to economic crisis? Conventional paradigmatic explanations of Malaysian politics – inter-ethnic rivalry in a plural society, elite solidarity, and regime type (semi-democratic, hybrid, or competitive authoritarian) – are of little help even if ethnicity, elite conduct, and authoritarian rule are relevant. Instead, this essay suggests that the turbulence is part of a long trajectory of oligarchic reconstitution bound to a peculiar nexus of state, ethnicity, and class. The paper does not construct a theory of Malaysian politics. It offers a historically informed exploration of a leitmotif of an unfinished project that runs through much of the past 20 years of political conflict and struggle.