Tuesday 15 May 2007

FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW 's Reports on Malaysia's Race Riot in 1969

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Vol. 64, No. 21, 18/24 May 1969, 437

MALAYSIA: Requiem for Democracy?



Kuala Lumpur: "Democracy is dead in this country. It died at the hands of the opposition parties who triggered off the events leading to this violence."

Such was the epitaph delivered last week by Tun Dr Ismail, Malaysia's new Minister for Home Affairs, after the worst racial rioting the country has ever experienced. Hatreds flared up in Kuala Lumpur on the evening of May 13, and by early this week, the official number of dead stood at 137, with more than 300 injured, hundreds of houses gutted and scores of vehicles burnt.

In the early hours of Sunday last week, it had become obvious that the ruling Alliance Party had received a major setback in the general election although it had managed to retain a simple parliamentary majority. Penang had been lost to the Gerakan Party; Kelantan had been held by the PMIP (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party), and the Alliance was struggling to retain control of Perak and Selangor.

The Alliance had almost certainly lost its old two-thirds majority which had enabled it to amend the Constitution; three of its ministers and two parliamentary secretaries had lost their seats; its share of the valid votes had dropped by 9% since 1964 to 49%; and it faced the prospect of a vociferous and effective (largely Chinese-based) Opposition in the Federal Parliament for the first time since Independence.

Foreign correspondents in Kuala Lumpur who had observed the elections filed despatches praising the Malaysian democratic process and predicting five years of peace, prosperity and more efficient government. The Tunku's initial reaction was naturally one of disappointment, but he conceded that the people had wanted a strong opposition, which they had now got.

Exultant supporters of the Democratic Action Party and the Gerakan filled the capital's streets on Sunday and Monday night with their flag-waving cavalcades of vehicles. Their delight in breaking the Alliance's myth of invincibility inevitably irritated Malay supporters of the Government. Malays were also alarmed by boasts that the Chinese had now achieved some measure of political power.

By 2pm on Tuesday, the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), which had suffered badly at the polls, announced that it would withdraw from the Cabinet while remaining within the Alliance.

Tun Razak pronounced sentence on the Chinese voters who had been warned before the elections that unless they voted MCA, they would forfeit all Chinese representation in the Government. At UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) headquarters in Batu Road, the feeling was that democracy had gone too far -- in other words, that the political hegemony of the Malays, papered over in the Alliance by the multi-racial front of MCA and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), was in real danger. A non-Malay Mentri Besar in both Selangor and Perak seemed dangerously likely.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, young Malays from the whole of Selangor began to assemble outside the residence of the Selangor Mentri Besar, Dato Harun. A retaliatory march had been planned by the UMNO youth to end in a rally at Suleiman Court near Batu Road, but police permission was withheld. While people were still assembling for this parade, trouble broke out in the nearby Malay section of Kampong Bahru, where two Chinese lorries were burnt. By 6.30 pm, a crowd was raging down Jalan Raja Muda towards Batu Road. Another group came out of Kampong Bahru into Jalan Hale, another exit from the Malay section into the Chinese areas.

By 7.15pm I could see the mobs swarming like bees at the junction of Jalan Raja Muda and Batu Road. More vehicles were smashed, and Chinese shop-houses set on fire. The Chinese and Indian shopkeepers of Batu Road formed themselves into a "district defence force" armed with whatever they could find -- parangs, poles, iron bars and bottles.

I watched one old man pathetically grasp a shovel. Men, standing in the back of a truck travelling up and down the road, urged the people to unite. A 16-year-old boy tore strips from a piece of cloth to be used for identification.

When the Malay invading force withdrew as quickly as it had arrived, the residents took their revenge. Shop-fronts and cars suspected of being Malay-owned were smashed or burnt. Several attempts were made to set fire to the nearby UMNO headquarters where three propaganda jeeps had already been set on fire. A bus, whose Malay driver had allegedly knocked over two Chinese on a bicycle, was also attacked.

The police arrived at about 9pm but did not remain in the area. Later, truck-loads of Federal Reserve Units (riot squads) and the Royal Malay Regiment drove past. The Chinese in the street ran into their shop-houses as soon as the convoy came into sight, but were quickly out on the greets again when they had passed. By midnight, I found the street almost deserted but sounds of gunfire and the glows of fires showed that trouble had flared up elsewhere.

From my own observations, the curfew was not imposed on Tuesday night with equal rigidity in all areas. In the side streets off Jalan Hale, I could see bands of Malay youths armed with parangs and sharpened bamboo spears assembled in full view of troops posted at road junctions.

Meanwhile, at Batu Road, a number of foreign correspondents saw members of the Royal Malay Regiment firing into Chinese shop-houses for no apparent reason. The road itself was completely deserted, and no sniping or other violence by the residents had been observed by the journalists.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, troops and police were in effective control, although incidents were still taking place. At one point, Malay youths came out of nearby kampongs to drop bricks on passing cars from a footbridge on the Federal Highway which leads to the airport. Another nasty scene saw groups of armed Chinese youths attempting to make their way to Malay kampong areas.

By Friday, curfews had been imposed in Malacca, Negri Sembilan, parts of Perak, southern Kedah, and Penang as well as Selangor. Six battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment together with Federal Reserve Units and police were spread very thinly over this large area, and all army and police reserves were mobilised.

The formation of a Civil Defence Corps was announced, and "loyal" youths were asked to volunteer. Hundreds of houses, deserted during the panic, were set on fire, but by Thursday the Fire Brigade appeared to be on the job. The presence of the police and the army had restored a measure of confidence by Saturday morning, although the Government ignored earlier offers by opposition party leaders to co-operate in damping down the violence.

In a speech on Wednesday last week, Tunku Abdul Rahman said the riots were due to an attempt by disloyal elements to overthrow the Government by force of arms: "The terrorists, under the cover of political parties, are trying for a comeback."

This interpretation of events was repeated by the new Minister for Information, Enche Hamzah, and by Tun Abdul Razak at press conferences on Friday. According to Deputy Prime Minister Razak, the Labour Party boycott of the elections had only been a feint.

The real strategy of the communists had been to "intimidate" people into voting for the opposition parties. "The unseen hand of communism," elaborated Tun Ismail, "had manoeuvred events using the opposition parties as its tools."

In a second speech, the Tunku said that a great deal of money had been poured into the country by communist agents: "They branded the MCA as pro-Malay... it was astounding to see the response they got through intimidation and threats." By contrast, the Tunku added that the communists had earlier tried to prevent the elections and took the opportunity of parading in their armed thousands for the funeral procession of a youth reported to have been killed in self-defence by police when he was discovered pasting up anti-election posters.

While it was true that some Mao-slogans and flags were seen during this parade, the discipline of the 14,000-strong crowd in their eight-mile march may have been due to genuine restraint rather than to communist organisation.

The violence, which the Tunku described as triggered off by the behaviour of opposition supporters after the announcement of the election results, had provided, he said, a situation which the communists "had always tried to create". As if to demonstrate this, it was announced on Friday night that "93 hardcore terrorists" had been arrested in a building in Batu Road with home-made arms and were alleged to have confessed to the intention of attacking innocent people. Another 60 "armed communists" were taken into custody over the weekend.

A day earlier the Yang di-Pertuan Agong had proclaimed a State of Emergency under Section 150 of the Constitution. This gave the Government powers similar to those which it assumed in 1964 during the Indonesian confrontation. On Thursday afternoon, the local press was suspended until censorship regulations could be drawn up but no attempt was made to supervise reports sent out by foreign correspondents. (However, on Saturday, some overseas journalists had their curfew passes removed by armed troops.)

Straits Times editor-in-chief, Tan Sri Hoffman, made an impressive plea against these official moves both editorially and at a press conference. (This was particularly significant both because of the standing of his newspaper and because of his own reputation -- especially for courage during the Japanese occupation.) He remarked to Information Minister Hamzah that only Malaysians were to be prevented from finding out what was going on. In reply, Hamzah's explanation was that the ban was due to the inflammatory nature of articles printed by the local press, before and during the elections. Hoffman protested: "Is a civil servant going to tell me what is inflammatory and what is not inflammatory?"

Tun Razak revealed that the National Operations Council, of which he is the head, would consist of the Ministers for Information and Home Affairs as well as representatives of the police and the armed forces. A mini-cabinet was also to be formed, including MCA ministers Tan Siew Sin and Kaw Kai Bo, but it was not clear what its relationship would be with the Council. Tun Razak is still responsible to the Tunku, but all the powers under Emergency Regulations are vested in him. The Council has responsibility for restoring law and order and will be built on a hierarchy of councils at state and district levels.

It is too early to write an obituary for Malaysian democracy -- all the facts are not yet known. However, since they may never come to light, speculation is inevitable. It seems that the Alliance was unable to accept the criticisms which the electorate -- Malay, Chinese and Indian -- registered at the polls.

The sole rays of hope are the peace which prevailed in the former Labour Party stronghold in Penang where Dr Lim Cheong Eu has been sworn in as Chief Minister, and in cholera-stricken Kelantan, where PMIP's Dato Asri announced immediately after the election results that people of all races in his state were to be considered to be "Kelantanese


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Far Eastern Economic Review

Vol. 64, No. 23, 1/7 Jun 1969, 566

Down -- but not Out


T. G. McGee

MALAYSIA: On the face of it, the results of the recent West Malaysia election should not have provided a catalyst for the communal riots which followed, says T. G. McGee, a well-known authority on urban problems in Asia with a specialised knowledge of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian politics.

In this article he provides a detailed analysis of the West Malaysia Parliamentary Election results -- the backdrop to the disorder which followed.

THE current disastrous sequence of events in West Malaysia -- communal rioting, the imposition of Emergency Regulations, the postponement of scheduled elections in East Malaysia, and the apparent inability of the Alliance Government to hold together the divided ethnic elements of Malaysia's society -- have forced a realistic analysis of the 1969 Parliamentary Election results into the background.

An analysis of this Parliamentary election when compared with the electoral patterns of Alliance and Opposition support in the 1959 and 1964 elections provides considerable insight into the unresolved tensions and problems of West Malaysia. Such tensions also exist in the territories of East Malaysia, but there has not been as much time to undertake remedial policies.

To understand these conflicts as they emerge in the electoral patterns, it is necessary to briefly sketch the demographic, social and economic features of West Malaysia. West Malaysia (and Malaysia as a whole) is unique among Southeast Asian nations in that immigrant groups form almost 50% of its total population.

In 1966 the Malays made up 50% of West Malaysia's population, while the remainder was composed of Chinese (37%), Indians (11%) and other racial groups (2%). This almost equal balance between the indigenous and alien communities has been the most important deterrent to extreme measures being taken by the indigenous populations against the minority groups as have occurred in other Southeast Asian countries, notably against the Indians in Burma and the Chinese in Indonesia.

Malaysia's unique multi-racial situation has been complicated by the fact that the Malays, traditionally located in rural areas, are poorer and less educated than the predominantly urban Chinese (63%) who are economically better-off.

In an effort to prevent a polarisation between the "have" and "have nots" of the Malaysian society in the form of a communal war, the British were careful to ensure that their political power of the colonial period devolved effectively to the Malays. Thus the formation of the Alliance Party -- comprising the predominant UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) but including also the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), which won the 1955 election and every election thereafter -- was looked upon with favour.

Secondly, the distribution and allocation of constituencies ensured a dominance of Malay rural constituencies at the expense of the more heavily-populated Chinese urban constituencies. Since this original constituency demarcation, there have been several changes in parliamentary constituencies boundaries but this basic inequality has not been corrected. For example the urban electorate of Bungsar won by the DAP (Democratic Action Party) in this year's election had a valid vote of 46,698 compared with the Hiler Perak constituency which had a valid vote of 12,221 won by the Alliance.

Since the Independence of Malaya in 1957 several trends have emerged to complicate earlier hopes of maintaining some kind of balance between the Malay indigenous political power and the immigrant economic power. First the growth of towns which had accelerated between 1947 and 1957 has continued.

In particular Kuala Lumpur, the capital, has experienced very rapid growth. In 1967 the Municipal Health Officer for Kuala Lumpur estimated that the city would reach a population of 750,000 by 1968; almost a 100% increase in 10 years. More relevant to current events is the fact that many of those moving to the city have been rural Malays who have not always found employment opportunities. In addition lack of adequate housing has forced them into squatter settlements and the overcrowded Kampong Bahru has been the foci of recent communal clashes.

This Malay movement has not been so marked in other parts of the Malayan Peninsula but the same problems of unemployment exist elsewhere for the Chinese; particularly in George Town (Penang), Malacca, Ipoh (Perak) and Seremban (Negri Sembilan), important centres of Chinese disaffection with the Alliance Government.

To remedy these situations, the Alliance Party has attempted to follow a policy of government investment in the rural sector to uplift the standard of living of the Malay population while providing incentives for private enterprise to invest in the industrial expansion of the cities. It has also attempted to ease Malays into the urban sector by providing government positions and industrial jobs.

Despite considerable success in solving their complex dilemma, the pace has evidently not been sufficient to create sufficient labour opportunities for either the Malays or Chinese, and indeed a growing dissatisfaction in both communities has become apparent.

Among the Chinese, the Alliance Party's policy seems to excessively favour Malays. Among the Malays, the Alliance Party's policies are regarded as not getting results fast enough. In the face of this situation, the PMIP (Pan Malayan Islamic Party), drawing its support largely from the most backward, rural Malay communities through a dual appeal to Malay chauvinism on the basis of their Islamic religion and their inherent rights, has been growing in power.

In the urban areas of the western states several parties, the Democratic Action Party, the Gerakan Ra'ayat Malaysia and the People's Progressive Party, all of them multi-racial in membership but drawing support largely from the Chinese with their promises to improve the community's conditions, have similarly increased their political strength. It is against this background of growing communal polarisations that the results of the 1969 election must be analysed.

The most striking fact emerging from the 1969 Parliamentary election is not the substantial loss in the number of Alliance Party parliamentary seats and in its percentage of the total vote compared to 1964 but that the pattern of Alliance and Opposition support is strikingly reminiscent of the 1959 elections. Looked at in the context of the three elections, the substantial Alliance victory of 1964 could in retrospect be viewed as reflecting the threat of Konfrontasi which encouraged the voters (particularly the Chinese) to put aside their concern for local issues of economic development and social welfare when casting their votes.

In 1959 the Alliance Party was already clearly entrenched in its regional areas of support -- Johore, Pahang, Kedah and the dominantly Malay constituencies of the West Coast states of Penang, Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan. The Pan Malayan Islamic Party controlled the states of Kelantan and Trengganu. The Socialist Front and the People's Progressive Party were dominant among a mixture of opposition parties in the urban areas of the West Coast states.

Ten years later, the Alliance Party had gained Trengganu at the expense of the Pan Malayan Islamic Party. The latter party had made substantial gains in Kedah, a dominantly Malay Alliance stronghold. Despite these changes, the pattern of electorate support for these two parties was not radically different.

The DAP and the Gerakan had inherited the Socialist Front and other miscellaneous parties' strength in the mixed and dominantly Chinese urban constituencies of Penang, Negri Sembilan and Selangor. The PPP (People's Progressive Party) still retained its position in its urban stronghold of Ipoh and the surrounding areas.

The implications of this regional pattern of electoral support at the parliamentary level can be more fully explored by the investigation of the patterns of communal support and rural-urban support for the principal parties. Earlier elections have revealed strikingly the influence of the communal structure of Malaysian society. The principal Malaysian political parties with the exception of the PMIP have always recognised this fact despite their avowed adherence to a policy of anti-communalism.

For instance the Alliance Party has usually followed a policy of nominating from its threefold party alliance a candidate whose race is that of the dominant race in each constituency. This is one of the principal reasons for the easy recognition of the MCA's bad showing in the 1969 polls since their candidates failed to win many seats in the Chinese constituencies. There have been exceptions -- for instance, V. Manickavasagam in Klang constituency and Tan Siew Sin in Malacca Central -- but these are few, certainly the exceptions rather than the rule.

It should be made clear that the present distribution of the races -- predominantly Malays in rural areas and Chinese in urban areas -- creates a situation in which the Malay vote is more important than its size in the population might lead one to believe because of the heavy concentration in the over-represented rural constituencies. The pattern of communal support in the elections of 1959, 1964 and 1969 indicates that the Alliance has not markedly lost the support of the dominantly Malay constituencies. However, this conclusion must be seen in relation to the pattern of the contested electorates since the PMIP contested far fewer seats than the Alliance.

The PMIP drew practically all its support from the Malay constituencies but also increased its votes in mixed constituencies principally among the Malays in the West Coast states of Selangor and Perak. The growing appeal of the Socialist Front Party in the mixed and Chinese constituencies has been inherited by the DAP and the Gerakan. The other parties appear to have declined in Chinese areas despite the fact that the PPP, the principal party of this group, won four seats in the 1969 election.

In the 1964 election, the PPP, the DAP and the Labour Party were also included in this category. Certainly there has been a decline in the Alliance support in Chinese areas, but it is scarcely as bad as the election results appear to indicate viewed in terms of the total vote of these constituencies. Overall the pattern seems to be very much back to the 1959 pattern of communal support.

While the division into rural and urban constituencies is necessarily crude, the emergent trend resembles that which existed in 1959. This is particularly true of the Alliance Party. The most marked change has occurred in the urban constituencies where the combined vote of the PAP and the Gerakan has taken almost 50% of the vote. If the PPP is added to this, then over two-thirds of the urban vote went to the opposition parties. The other marked change is in the considerable increase in PMIP's share of the rural vote. Thus the ethnic division between rural and urban populations is amply supported by these data.

The implications of this analysis of regional, communal and rural-urban suport for the various parties point to a growing polarisation which indicates that the policies of the Alliance Party have not succeeded in convincing the majority of the West Malaysian population of the need for continuing to support the ruling party's policies.

On the face of it, the results of the 1969 election should not have provided a catalyst for the communal rioting which ensued. True, the MCA has lost the support of the majority of Chinese. True the UMNO has lost some support among the Malays. But these trends should serve as indicators to the Alliance Party of the inadequacy of its policies for building a multi-racial society. They need not be interpreted as an irrevocable disenchantment with the Alliance Party or the successful manoeuvring of another party or parties to overthrow the existing Government.


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Vol. 64, No. 24, 8/14 Jun 1969, 598

Some Teaparty



Kuala Lumpur: Some wags claim in Kuala Lumpur that the Information Control Centre is aptly named. A typical recent announcement was that "the situation is returning to normal except for certain sensitive areas where rumour-mongers and undesirable elements continue to cause tension".
With the mass media behaving as if the riots never took place, Malaysians are becoming rumour-prone. Although the curfew was relaxed a further two hours in Kuala Lumpur last week, the city continued to be racked by nervous spasms.

The tension is such that the slightest incident can bring the city to a standstill. A quarrel last week between two intoxicated Indians cleared the satellite town of Petaling Jaya in a flash, and another between two pork sellers in the centre of Kuala Lumpur resulted in blind panic.
This nervousness is partly due to the fact that the first people killed on May 13 (the official total of dead is 177 although more than 500 are still missing) were innocent passers-by caught in the streets leading off Kampong Bahru. Injuries later in the night and over the next few days were mostly gunshot wounds.

Kuala Lumpur is a Chinese city with pockets of Malay and Indian settlements. Although the Government had dropped its earlier line that communists were responsible for the riots, official statements continue to imply that the instigators were Chinese.
The Chinese, on the other hand, are well aware that eight out of 10 bodies were Chinese, nine out of 10 refugees were Chinese, almost all the hundreds of houses and vehicles destroyed were owned by Chinese and that, apart from the Government, it is the Chinese who are footing the bill for emergency relief.

They are convinced that during the first week of rioting the curfew was not strictly enforced in Malay areas of Kuala Lumpur, and they believe, rightly or wrongly, that there was favouritism in the distribution of relief. They fear that if trouble breaks out again, the predominantly Malay security forces will not shoot at Malays.

For their part, the middle-class Malays (who were also taken by surprise on May 13) fear Chinese retaliation. However, it is difficult to see what the Chinese could do to organise this. Many Chinese gang and secret society members who organised the first real resistance to the racial rampage on the night of May 13 have been rounded up in house-to-house searches. The other potential organisers are the communists but, so far, they have shown no signs of wanting to take responsibility for leading a racial campaign on behalf of the Chinese.

The Government's philosophy seems to be that any discussion of the events of three weeks ago can only fan the flames of racial passion, but until an official inquiry is actually established, the credibility gap will grow wider each day. With official restrictions on the mass media, rumours are sought after by the public as their chief source of news. Apart from some early appearances by the Tunku and Tun Razak, television has not been well used to reassure the public. On Monday last week, it took Radio Malaysia two hours to broadcast the news that a curfew had been reimposed in part of Kuala Lumpur. With the credibility gap the secret societies have achieved a new level of respectability.

Many Chinese now explain the racial violence as a "conspiracy". They believe that UMNO (the United Malays National Organisation) was anxious to retain political dominance by introducing emergency rule. Their contention is that immediately after the elections, with 66 seats in West Malaysia, 10 uncontested USNO (United Sabah National Organisation) seats in Sabah and the possibility of an MCA withdrawal, UMNO was fighting for its life. Even if it could have won three of the remaining six seats in Sabah -- and, optimistically, six seats in Sarawak -- it would still have depended on the MCA to form a simple majority in Parliament. Some younger members of UMNO felt before the elections that the MCA should be dumped, and after its bad showing at the polls, these UMNO elements saw no alternative but UMNO rule through emergency regulations with the support of the military.

No doubt UMNO had worked out its electoral arithmetic shortly after the election results became clear. But the reaction of its leaders indicates that they were taken by surprise on May 13. The 7,000-strong funeral procession organised by the Labour Party the day before the elections for a Labour supporter shot by the police led UMNO leaders to believe that any trouble during the elections would come from the leftists responsible for the boycott. Curfew passes were then issued to some government departments in this belief. Paradoxically, the traditional leftist areas of Kepong, Ampang, Cheras and Jinjang remained trouble-free, and it is highly likely that the communists themselves were taken by surprise.

The Alliance Government's conditioned reflex resulted in the communists being the first to be blamed but this accusation appears to have no more validity than the "UMNO conspiracy" theory. A complete reconstruction of the events of May 13 is impossible, but it is clear that the tea-party given by Selangor's Mentri Besar for his supporters attracted Malays from all over Selangor. These welcomed the UMNO solidarity march planned for 7.30pm (a permit for 10,000 marchers had been obtained by the Mentri Besar's political secretary) as an opportunity to wallop the Chinese. Many came prepared with parangs (long knives), daggers and religious talismans, and by 6.15pm they had begun to attack Chinese passers-by in the street outside the Mentri Besar's house.

If these people had been rounded up and arrested, the Chinese community would have been reassured. Instead, they allege, the army fraternised with the rioters and stood by while they looted and burnt. Chinese "self-defence" groups who threw road-blocks across streets all over the city did so under the impression that the army lorries were transporting armed Malay youths to fight them.

The Government is in a quandary. Credibility could be restored by admitting that Malay religious fanatics and gangsters were involved. But the authorities evidently feel that in the present situation they cannot afford to antagonise the Malays whom they see as a more immediate threat to law and order than the Chinese. The situation is still explosive, and a strong case can be made for retaining emergency administration under the NOC (National Operations Council) for a few more months. However, the NOC will quickly be labelled an UMNO administration unless it can demonstrate its impartiality. There is some hope in Home Affairs Minister Tun Dr Ismail's early assurance that all the culprits will be punished.


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Vol. 64, No. 25, 15/21 Jun 1969, 662

The Parting of the Ways?


Bob Reece, Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA: Already the Malaysian Government's allies are putting pressure on Tun Abdul Razak, now the strongman in Kuala Lumpur, to return the country to parliamentary rule as soon as possible. If he does not, writes Bob Reece, Malaysia could find itself with a second Communist Emergency on its hands, much more difficult to contain than the first.

THE next three months will be the most decisive since Malaya gained its independence from the British in 1957. Tun Abdul Razak, who now holds the reins of power, will have to decide whether Malaysia should return to the parliamentary system or adopt a new system of government more in keeping with the demands of Malay nationalism.

The recent elections and the communal riots which followed have brought to a head a number of problems which have always existed but were never expected to explode so soon. It is clear that the 1957 agreement, by which the Chinese were given citizenship (and therefore the vote) and the Malays were given special rights, has broken down. The Chinese have used their political power against the Malay-dominated Alliance Party by voting for the Chinese-based opposition parties instead of the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association). The MCA has served as UMNO's (United Malays National Organisation) chief partner (MIC, Malaysian Indian Congress, being the other) since 1952.

UMNO's idea of democracy was that the Chinese community should vote MCA which would ensure that their business activities continued unhampered. Now that the Chinese have shown that they want to use their political power in their own way, the Malays have become worried and insecure. The Chinese, together with the Indians, outnumber them and the election results suggested that the Alliance Government would not survive the 1974 elections. UMNO by itself could maintain a simple majority in West Malaysia by going it alone and winning back support from the PMIP (Pan Malayan Islamic Party) but a parliamentary majority could only be managed by combining with USNO (United Sabah National Organisation) and SNAP (Sarawak National Party) in East Malaysia.

The problem of Sarawak may force the UMNO leaders to abandon East Malaysia altogether. A combination of Sarawak opposition parties with those in West Malaysia poses a real threat to an UMNO wanting to go it alone.

West Malaysia is the power base of an UMNO which is fighting to regain votes lost to the PMIP. Many UMNO politicians believe that the cost of retaining East Malaysia is too great. Despite charges of colonial exploitation, the Alliance Government has spent much more on East Malaysia than it could ever hope to recover.

More importantly, the maintenance of four battalions in Sabah and a border force in Sarawak is seriously taxing the limited resources of the Malaysian Army at a time when it needs maximum strength in West Malaysia. Already the burning of two buildings in Sarawak has shown that the seed of violence had taken root again there -- and the fact that they were Government buildings would indicate that the communists have had a hand in this.

Efforts to bring the MCA back into the Cabinet and the executive councils of the state assemblies have been largely the work of Alliance Secretary-General, Senator T. H. Tan, who has been pulling strings behind Alliance scenes for many years. As chairman of the Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce he was able to secure a resolution calling upon the MCA to reconsider its decision and a meeting of the Associaetd Chinese Chambers of Commerce on May 9 was also the result of his prompting. He is believed to have tried very hard to dissuade Tan Siew Sin from pulling out.

Significantly enough, T. H. Tan's efforts have received no public support from anyone within UMNO and recent articles and editorials in the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia have made a point of supporting Tan Siew Sin's decision. Former UMNO backbencher, Dr Mahathir bin Mohammed, was quoted as saying: "If the MCA wants to make sure that they will be supported by the Chinese they will have to wait for another general election, but this will be too long . . . The MCA should accept the present situation that the majority of Chinese do not support them." Syed Nasir added ominously that relations between UMNO and the MIC would also have to be "reviewed".

It is impossible to say with any real confidence what Tan Siew Sin's motives were. Many people still put it down to a fit of petulance with Tan Siew Sin saying to the Chinese: "See how you can manage without us." Now it seems much more likely that his decision was a calculated move to forestall pressure from within UMNO to kick out MCA and MIC as electoral liabilities. This would save face as well as allowing the Tunku to make an impassioned plea for them to come back into the Government at a later date.

If this was Tan Slew Sin's strategy, it was based on two faulty premises. The first was that the Tunku would still be able to have his own way with UMNO despite the failure of his nominees in the elections and his own poor showing in Kuala Kedah where it is generally agreed that he won only with the support of Langkawi Island where he was once a district officer.

The second premise was that the MCA was still a political force in its own right with considerable support from an influential section of the Chinese community. Unfortunately, the major part of the Chinese community is indifferent to MCA's future and T. H. Tan's call for support is being disregarded. The MCA has lost whatever reputation it had for interceding on behalf of the Chinese community and mediocre leadership over the years has discouraged young men of talent from coming up. DAP and Gerakan now have the lion's share of the middle-class vote and MCA's participation in the agreement of 1957 has long been forgotten.

One of the strongest bonds linking UMNO and MCA has been the friendship between the Tunku and Tan Siew Sin. But the Tunku's position within UMNO has weakened considerably over recent years and when the election results became clear the "dump the Tunku" movement within the party gathered further momentum. No doubt this is what the Tunku was referring to on his return from his country home at Alor Star on the morning of the riots when he said that he would "go quietly" if he was "kicked out" but would not surrender the country to "these people".

The previous evening an unofficial meeting of UMNO had called on him to consult the party before appointing the Cabinet which was due to be announced on Wednesday, May 14. They suggested that the Education portfolio be given to Syed Nasir (former Director of the National Language Institute and the most vocal advocate of the implementation of the national language).

Ghafar bin Baba, chairman of MARA (a government-financed body designed to raise the economic status of Malays) and FAMA (Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority) and a strong advocate of bumiputra (assistance to the Malays) economic policies was mentioned for Commerce and Industry while Tan Siew Sin was shifted from his strong position in Finance to the relatively minor portfolio of Defence. At UMNO headquarters on the following day (May 13) the announcement of MCA's withdrawal was received as something which had been inevitable. Some people even expressed relief.

Most foreign correspondents seized upon the MCA's action as the event which triggered off the bloody riots the same evening. However, this interpretation is not borne out by the facts of the situation. The mood within a strong section of UMNO was that MCA had let them down badly in the elections and that there was no further point in continuing with the coalition. The suggestion that the MCA withdrawal was read by the Malays as a signal for an open season on the Chinese can also be discounted since no signal was needed. When the announcement was made by the MCA at 2pm on May 13, trucks and buses loaded with armed Malays were already rolling into the capital.

The internal politics of UMNO remain a dark secret. Although a great deal is said about the extreme nationalists or "ultras", the only names mentioned are those of Syed Nasir and Syed Jafhar Albar who is believed to have pressed for the arrest of Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet in 1965. Most of the UMNO extremists are the faceless men from the UMNO stronghold of Johore, and from Kedah, now almost eclipsed as an UMNO fortress by the build-up of PMIP strength.

Was there a coup d'etat within UMNO after the riots by which Tun Razak took over most of the Tunku's powers, brought in Tun Dr Ismail to contain the ultras and ensured the support of the army by appointing General Ibrahim as Executive Officer of the NOC?

Some kind of compromise was certainly reached -- Tun Ismail was acceptable to the Tunku and his ill-health meant that he would not become a power rival to Tun Razak. The Tunku was allowed to appoint his Emergency Cabinet but it was clear from the beginning that it was subordinate to the NOC in every way. There was no announcement of the swearing-in of the Cabinet two weeks ago and Commerce and Industry Minister Khir Johari was curiously reluctant to admit that the Cabinet had met for the first time last week.

If the Cabinet was the Tunku's ploy to stay on the political stage, there must have been a deliberate effort to stifle any mention of it since the NOC has been receiving all the publicity. The Tunku has not appeared on television since the first week of the troubles and Tun Razak and Tun Ismail are now the familiar faces. The Tunku's eye operation last weekend came at an interesting time with an important UMNO meeting planned for June 9. It is possible that he was taking the graceful way out.

At the moment the NOC's spokesman is Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazali bin Shafie. Rumoured before the elections to be on the point of launching himself on a political career, Ghazali is now the key man in the NOC's relations with the foreign press and diplomatic corps. A forceful man, possessing considerable intelligence and wit, he is striking fear into the hearts of the less-secure members of the Tunku's phantom Cabinet.

Unlike Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, he has style. And it is a style much more in keeping with the times than the Tunku's own unique style. Ghazali combines the experience of an administrator with the flair of a politician and he is without doubt the most interesting person to watch in future. Visiting the Tunku in hospital last weekend he is reported to have quipped: "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Ghazali, together with Tun Ismail and General Ibrahim, are key members of the NOC headed by Tun Razak, and it is believed that this foursome was responsible for the declaration of Emergency and the institution of the NOC as the instrument of Government. All this hardly adds up to a dramatic coup or even a palace revolution but it is clear that on the day after the riots began (May 14) the Tunku allowed Tun Razak to take over.

The simplest and most obvious course of action is for Tun Razak to continue governing the country through the NOC and the Emergency Regulations. This enables him to deal with opposition "politicking" while buying time to establish a political alternative.

The inherent danger of an extended Emergency is that the Communists will find many new recruits among the young Chinese and Indians who voted for the Gerakan and the DAP in the belief that they could express a political voice through the opposition parties.

With no prospect of a return to the parliamentary system and the pro-Malay bias of the NOC becoming more exasperating, they will be attracted to more drastic means of expressing their frustrations.

Already there is romantic talk among university and secondary school students of going into the jungle, and some evidence that those extremist members of the Labour Party who had not been detained before the riots are slipping into the jungle to go underground in large numbers.

The first Emergency took the British, assisted by the Gurkhas, the Australians and the New Zealanders, 12 years to put down. Clearly the Malaysian Government is in no position to deal with a second Communist offensive. The British would not buy in again, the Americans are unlikely to do so after their experience in Vietnam and the Australians and New Zealanders could only hope to hold a terrorist campaign in its earliest stages.

The task would be more difficult this time with the Chinese middle-class alienated from the administration and the Communists well-versed in the lessons of the first Emergency and ready to offer their protection to the Chinese community. Already it is rumoured that the Communists have come down from the border to Grik where they have warned the Malays in the area not to lay a finger on the Chinese community there.

Sources indicate that the Americans and the Australians have already warned Tun Razak not to prolong the Emergency longer than is necessary and no doubt there will be further pressure to rehabilitate opposition politicians V. David (Gerakan) and Lim Kit Siang (DAP). It has also been made clear that no one believes that the trouble was the work of the Communists and that the Government will not profit by persisting in this line.

However, a return to parliamentary democracy must inevitably revive the Malays' fears of being eclipsed by the predominantly Chinese opposition parties. It was the prospect of a non-Alliance Government in Selangor and the possibility of a non-Malay Mentri Besar which led to the troubles in Kuala Lumpur. Here the Malays, living in an 85% Chinese city, were filled with fear and insecurity when they felt that the Chinese were taking over completely.

The blind hatred and violence which erupted on the night of May 13 was the direct outcome of this feeling of desperation. The Chinese had been taught who was boss -- that they could make money but were not to meddle in politics. Now that opposition leaders are coming out again, the attitude of many Malays is one of: "Haven't the Chinese had enough? Haven't they learned their lesson?"

The "special position" of the Malays, as defined in Section 153 of the Constitution, has done very little to elevate their economic position. Its real significance is symbolic -- it represents their belief that it is their country, that the Chinese are newcomers who have grabbed everything in sight and that political power, Islam and the national language are all that remain. A real or fancied challenge by the Chinese to ill-defined Malay rights is a sign that the Malays must fight or go under. And fight they will, with all the desperation of a civilisation on the edge of destruction.


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Vol. 64, No. 25, 15/21 Jun 1969, 647


Thicker Than Water

THE people most ignorant about what is going on in Malaysia today are the Malaysians themselves. Foreign correspondents are at last being well and honestly briefed by Ministers and officials. Further, external information is being reorganised under the energetic and capable permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazali bin Shafie, which should soon ensure that Malaysia's missions abroad begin some effective counter-propaganda to repair some of the damage done to the country's image in recent weeks.

At home, however, information is at a premium. The aptly-named Information Control Centre daily produces such meaningless bulletins as: "The situation continues to improve but tension remains in certain sensitive areas due to rumour-mongers and other undesirable elements. No major disturbances were reported in the last 24 hours, but certain incidences involving secret society members occurred." Such ludicrous jargon is doubly dishonest: it could almost be designed to create uncertainty and encourage rumour-mongers, who are promptly arrested. Also, the phrase "secret societies" is indiscriminately used to describe all gangsterism, including Malay -- although it is a phrase usually employed only to describe Chinese triads. The Malaysian authorities argue weakly that it would be wrong to identify the racial origin of troublemakers, but this Malaysian high-mindedness is merely increasing Chinese suspicions that they will not only have to foot the bill for the riots, but become the scapegoat for them and subsequent disturbances.

THE ELECTION results which precipitated the riots have unfortunately been interpreted as confirmation that political power will accrue to that party which most blatantly appeals to narrow communal interests. The shattering of the MCA will undoubtedly tempt would-be representatives of the Chinese community to ape the dangerous and essentially dishonest tactics of the DAP, which dismissed the MCA as "running dogs" of the UMNO and promised equal rights for Chinese -- a promise which would necessitate overthrowing the Constitution.
At the same time UMNO'S losses to the PMIP have ensured that its leaders will come under increasing pressure from the Malay "ultras". Tun Razak is a liberal man of goodwill, but he is new to supreme power and his anxiety to do the right thing too often involves a willingness to listen to too much advice from too many people. Indecision and inaction now, with the real issues being swept under the carpet in the forlorn hope that tension will disappear, will only increase doubts in the minds of both citizens and foreign investors. And for how long can the dry political tinder of Sarawak supinely accept rule by decree on the part of an UMNO-dominated National Operations Council, which is made up of four Tuns, four Tan Sris, and one Tunku?

UMNO's myopic ultras may rejoice if they can now gently elbow Tunku Abdul Rahman out of power, since they feel he has made too many concessions to the non-Malays.
But it would be tragic if Malaysia has to face the task of national reconciliation without the Tunku's unique political gifts. It is now inevitable that some concessions will be made to Malay nationalism and the country needs more than ever the leadership of the only Malay politician who has won the trust of most of the Chinese community.


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Vol. 64, No. 25, 15/21 Jun 1969, 658

MALAYSIA: News from the Outside Only



Kuala Lumpur: Despite the NOC's (National Operations Council) call for the suspension of all "politicking", the Malaysian opposition parties continue to make a lot of noise. Their offers of assistance immediately after the May 13 riots rejected out of hand, their frustration has been increased by the unwillingness of the local press to print opposition views.

When the China Press, one of the country's largest Chinese-language dailies, published a strongly-worded press statement from the DAP (Democratic Action Party) on June 5 protesting against the detention of its organising secretary, Lim Kit Siang, Home Affairs Minister, Tun Dr Ismail, suspended its publication for 30 days.

All newspapers in Malaysia operate on the rather insecure basis of having to apply each year for renewal of their licences. This has resulted in a considerable amount of self-censorship by some editors. One of the requirements of the licensing act is that a newspaper published both in Malaysia and Singapore must maintain a substantial staff in Malaysia. When the Eastern Sun found that it could not afford to duplicate staff in both countries it was obliged to suspend publication in Malaysia in December 1968. Since then the Straits Times and its sister the Malay Mail have monopolised the English-language press although Penang's Straits Echo battles on.

Now that all party publications, pamphlets and posters have been banned (including those of the Alliance), opposition leaders find there is little they can do except issue press statements to the wire services and the foreign press. Consequently the Gerakan Party's Secretary General, Dr Tan Chee Khoon, and the DAP's Goh Hock Guan and Lim Kit Siang are achieving international reputations.

The failure of the local press to give an adequate day-by-day coverage and the general refusal to mention the communal issue have made everything except foriegn news practically unreadable. Consequently Kuala Lumpur's demand for foreign newspapers has reached an all-time high. Copies of the New York Times are circulating even in low-cost housing estates while banned articles from the Review, Time, Newsweek, and the London dailies are enjoying a popularity normally reserved for pornography.

The breakdown of communications within the country is such that very few people outside Kuala Lumpur have any accurate idea of what happened on May 13 and the wildest rumours have been circulating. People from Penang and Ipoh coming into the city for the first time since the riots were surprised to find that it had not been razed.

It is clear that the NOC must re-examine its policy of gagging the local press at a time when there is a tremendous need for public examination of the problems which led to May 13. One of the most obvious failures of the Alliance Government in the past has been its lack of communication with the people. Its leaders have often behaved like administrators rather than politicians and their response to the present troubles has been one of administrative clamp-down. But goodwill committees, exhortations, warnings and threats can never take the place of information and discussion.

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Vol. 65, No. 30, 20/26 Jul 1969, 250


Divided Loyalties

SIR: As a British volunteer attached to the Forest Research Institute in Kepong, Selangor, I have had an excellent opportunity to evaluate the situation in this country. I was unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle of the riot on the night of May 13. I must therefore take you to task concerning the report that members of Chinese secret societies exacted bloody vengeance on the Malays in the Federal cinema (REVIEW, June 26) which was, according to Derek Davies, showing a film entitled "The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism".
I regret to say that this is totally incorrect. There was a fierce fight between Malays and Chinese (who were only defending themselves) outside the cinema during the performance, but attempts to break into the cinema by the Malays were apparently unsuccessful. They were driven off by the Chinese. After this some Chinese did break into the cinema and the audience quickly dispersed. At no time did I see any Malays being attacked inside the cinema. Outside it was quiet. I stayed to give first aid, and found a number of both Malay and Chinese injured and two dead.

At that time the Chinese had control of the area which is almost entirely Chinese. Incidently I know of at least one Malay (from Sarawak) who was sheltered by the Chinese in this area. In my opinion the Chinese were very well controlled considering the Malays had entered their area and killed at least some of its residents, setting on fire many shops and vehicles. The film shown at the time of the riot was "They planned to rob Las Vegas".

I must add however that I totally agree with his assessment which is fair and unbiased. I would like to add that one major failing of the Government news services within the country (radio and television) is the way information is cloaked to such an extent that people at large no longer trust this source.
There are any number of examples, but one such example occurred two weekends ago when six people died, a number were injured and houses burnt. This incident happened on Saturday night in the early evening. At 9 am (local time) the following day it was reported on the World Service of the BBC, but not reported locally until 11 am on Radio Malaysia. I worked for the Red Cross for about three weeks after the initial outbreak and was responsible for feeding operations in many areas of Kuala Lumpur. Even in the poorest areas people were tuning in to Radio Australia and the BBC . . .

Before the outbreak I was really convinced that racial harmony worked in this country, and I think if Malays are given every opportunity to reach the same standards a the other races, and then compete fairly with them for opportunities in jobs, they will get the respect that at present they do not receive. I have heard on too many occasions non-Malays objecting not to the special training programmes but to the preference given subsequently in jobs. I think that this is specially so in the award of University places and places for overseas training.
Kepong, Selangor

SIR: With the MCA's decision to pull out from the Alliance as a result of the shift in votes by the Chinese electorate, it seems MCA leaders are not dynamic enough to be looked on as "saviours of the Chinese". The Chinese, mainly from the working classes, are seeking another "Lee Kuan Yew" in Malaysian politics.

It is evidently clear to Malays that the Chinese are exponents of racial disintegration and, if the MCA really sticks to its decision to go, there seems no other option left for the Malays but to rally support for a merger of the two Malay political giants, UNMO and PMIP. This might seem like conspiracy to the Chinese to obtain a Malay majority in Parliament, which would prevent them challenging the rights and privileges as conferred on Malays by the Constitution.
Incidentally, the Malaysian Constitution at the time was drawn up by a body chaired by Sir Ivor Jennings). Another way out is a 100% Malay government maintained with the backing of the Armed Forces. This situation, if it arises, would result in a bitter racial "tug-of-war" . . .

Now, I feel, is an appropriate moment for the Malays to question the loyalty of the Chinese and find out whether their loyalty extends to mainland China, Taiwan or Malaysia? The Malays have no country other than Malaysia, and they are not willing to make it a "second Singapore" . . .
Johore Bahru

SIR: Among the various races living in Malaysia and even among the young generation of Malays and Chinese there exists an ignorance of the existence of the Baba Chinese who are completely loyal to Malaysia. They are Chinese domiciled in the country for the last three to ten generations or longer who are thoroughly Malayanised. They have no ties with Communist China or Taiwan. These Baba Chinese were not involved in the recent disturbances.

Mr N. H. Rito (REVIEW, July 3) is unfair in lumping the Babas together with first and second generation Chinese and with the disloyal Chinese in Malaysia. Indians, too, participated in provoking the Malays on May 13, but all the blame was laid on the Chinese.

Indians from India and Ceylon Tamils are disillusioned that their children born in this country cannot easily join the civil service. For this reason they forsook the Malaysian Indian Congress and joined the Democratic Action Party and the Gerakan . . .

The Baba Chinese are English-educated and Malay-educated. They are a loyal and law-abiding people whose leader is Tun Tan Siew Sin, Minister for Special Functions. The tragedy of the Malaysian Chinese Association is that it is composed mainly of China-oriented Chinese masquerading as Malaysian citizens.

The Chinese members of the ADP and Gerakan are Singapore-oriented and they want to convert Malaysia into a Chinese Malaysia, just as Singapore is now a Chinese island state. That is why the Malays are frightened of the Chinese taking away their political power.

I am writing as a Baba Chinese, belonging to a minority within a minority which is completely identified with Malaysia . . .
Kuala Lumpur

SIR: I must first say that it is a great delight to read the REVIEW's impartial articles on Malaysia, particularly on the racial riots . . .

It is noticeable that in Penang ,where the state government is in the hands of Chinese, industrial expansion is booming. Prai is showing signs of growth in industry while Butterworth could become a very sound industrial town. Kelantan is also making remarkable progress in agriculture under the administration of the purely Malay party PMIP, without federal aid and without Chinese capital.

All this indicates that economic achievements need not be a victim of racial disharmony . .


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Vol. 65, No. 38, 14/20 Sep 1969, 697

MALAYSIA: Under the Skin


Bob Reece, Kuala Lumpur

Despite the emergency powers assumed by the Malaysian authorities after the race riots in May, critics of the government are still free to voice their vigorous opposition to the administration's policies. Bob Reece recently obtained interviews with three of Malaysia's most controversial politicians

LIM Kean Siew and Kassim Ahmad, who represent a wide range of Malaysian "dissent", are committed to merging their political organisations, the Labour Party and the Party Rakyat, into a multiracial socialist opposition. Lim has had a brilliant legal career and, until he resigned last year, was a member of Parliament. Ahmad, a young intellectual, is an academic who has now turned his talents to writing.

Q: What is your position in regard to the NOC?

Lim: The NOC is the Tunku's instrument to maintain a dictatorial hold over the country whilst giving himself an opportunity to consolidate his party's position, to maintain power, seek new alliances and to take time to reconsider the establishment of an amended form of Parliament which would perpetuate the party's control over the country whilst giving a pretence of democracy.

Ahmad: A return to Parliamentary rule will not solve the basic problems of national unity and economic and social welfare of the people. We would press for an all-party conference, primarily to discuss the problem of race relations in this country and other related problems, since this is a national problem which encompasses the interests and aspirations of all parties and all nationalities.

Q: What is your evaluation of the Malay opposition to the Tunku, including the so-called "young Turks" within UMNO?

Ahmad: I think that the present Malay opposition to the Tunku is largely unideological and takes the form of narrow nationalism. This is mainly the fault of the Tunku's policies themselves, but I believe that in time this opposition will learn to recognise its real friends and enemies. At the moment that problem is not clear within the movement.

Q: What significance do you attach to May 13?

Ahmad: We feel that the May 13 incident was a race explosion of a relatively big size and was a manifestation of economic contradictions. It is not a turning point in the development of our domestic politics. It may serve as a point where leaders of Government, parties and the communities can begin to think more deeply about the Government's failure to solve the problems, but due to the fact that the Government has removed many of the political freedoms -- such as statements to the press and political meetings -- it is not likely that this thinking can be satisfactorily conducted and any useful and far-reaching conclusions drawn.

Q: What is your analysis of the racial tension in Malaysia?

Ahmad: Racial tension in this country has been building up over the years extending from the time of the British colonial rule. It is the result of colonial policies of divide and rule which the Alliance has carried forward since their assumption of power. To eliminate the racia1 antagonism means, therefore, to remove those policies from the area of our national life. The present leadership of the Alliance is not likely to do this and, therefore, we can expect this trend of racial antagonism to continue and not to decrease.

Q: Race consciousness in this country has taken the place of political consciousness. What future do you see for political development?

Ahmad: I think that the prospect for solution of the race problem within the next few years is rather dim but, by that token, the people will learn from the negative lessons and develop not a race consciousness but a class consciousness which is the genuine solution to our problem. It also depends on how you view this problem and what you mean by racial clash.

Lim: If you examine the May 13 riots, you will find that one body is making more economic demands whilst the other body is trying to exert a demand for greater political rights. It so happens that these two groups are Malays and non-Malays. Viewed from that aspect it is also an economic and a political clash because it is not so physically easy to identify this aspect which has been ignored by many people. Therefore, the struggle is still economic and political rather than racial except that it appears to be racial.

Q: For the economic improvement of the Malays is it necessary to retain the special position of the Malays as set out in the constitution?

Ahmad: No. The special rights and position of the Malays are the privileges of getting a quota of university scholarships, top civil servant posts, transport licences and licences in certain trades. But these are only for a handful of Malays who are largely drawn from the upper classes, and geographically they are for urban Malays, while it is intended to solve the problem of rural Malay poverty. The rural problem is land and Malays have no special rights or privileges in this matter except for the paddy lands and jungles. Mines, rubber estates and oil palm estates are not in the Malay reservations. To tackle the problem of rural poverty the Government must carry out land reforms, help to provide easy credit for the farmers and for the transport and marketing of rural produce. At the moment these matters are still under the control of landlords, money lenders and capitalist middlemen whose main aim is maximum gain and profit.

Q: Although you talk about Malay rural poverty and special rights only benefiting urban Malays, May 13 was essentially an urban affair.

Lim: The fact that it took place in Kuala Lumpur town does not mean that urban Malays were the only people involved or that it represented Malay urban thinking.

Ahmad: There were certain immediate factors which caused it to break out in Kuala Lumpur. For example the events immediately after the elections, the fear of the Malays losing political control in the state assembly in Selangor and provocative acts by certain groups.

Q: What do you expect to happen when the Tunku finally goes?

Ahmad: The Tunku at the moment is only getting support from the upper class groups from all races and those who wish to maintain the status quo. From the point of view of popular support his position is insignificant. Therefore, race relations cannot become any worse if he should leave the political stage.

Lim: What he has done is to delay what must be decided by anybody who comes into power after him. Sooner or later these conflicts have to be resolved; that is to say, there must be a radical change of policies. If not, there could be a further bloodbath.


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Vol. 66, No. 42, 12/18 Oct 1969, 150

MALAYSIA: The Hunt for a Formula



Kuala Lumpur: Hot on the heels of Premier Tunku Abdul Rahman's book about Malaysia's May 13 riots came the National Operations Council's own report. Although it bore all the signs of careful thought and preparation, its production was rushed and many people last week wondered if its early release was designed to offset Tunku's "May 13 -- Before and After". "It is the Tunku's book. It is part of his memoirs," Home Affairs Minister Tun Dr Ismail tactfully declared on his return from London.

The NOC report probably is Tun Razak's book. According to his introduction, it was "written with the conviction that the objective of national unity must be confronted squarely, and the alternatives before us decided upon sincerely and courageously". On May 13 he had been "jolted into a sharp realisation that the racial problem in this country is a serious one and measures taken in the past to cope with it have not proved adequate".

The report -- it could not be called a white paper since there is no parliament before which it could be tabled -- was at its best in analysing the background to May 13. Historians may quarrel with its version of events since the Japanese occupation but a genuine attempt was made to place Malaysia's racial problems in some kind of perspective.

Whatever opposition leaders might say, the evidence of provocative behaviour on the part of their supporters and hangerson during the two evenings following the election results could not be ignored. The Malays could ignore it least. The authors of the report went to great pains to demonstrate there was trouble at Setapak, a predominantly Chinese area just outside Kuala Lumpur, which was interpreted by the 5,000 Malays gathered in Kampong Bahru as a Chinese attack. Rumours of racial violence began early on May 13, and it was for this reason that Dr Tan Chee Khoon of the Gerakan Party was advised by the police to cancel the procession which he had planned for his own people that evening. Fear of a Malay backlash may also have influenced his decision not to join with the Democratic Action Party in forming a coalition government in Selangor.

Nevertheless the Selangor branch of UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) persisted in its plans for a procession which would counter those of the two previous nights. This was to leave the residence of Selangor's Mentri Besar, Dato Harun, at 7.30 pm after the announcement that the Alliance would still be able to form the government in Selangor. In view of the rumours that the procession would be attacked as it passed through the heart of the Chinese gangster area of Chow Kit Road, it remains almost incredible that the procession was allowed.

But after the Labour Party procession of May 9 and the victory processions of the opposition parties, "Malay feelings in the capital . . . were running high and to cancel the licence for the procession at that stage would inevitably precipitate racial trouble".

In fact the procession never took place. By 6.50 pm three Chinese had been killed on the road outside Dato Harun's house and a Federal Reserve Unit detachment arrived just in time in see three or four hundred Malays racing down Prince's Road toward the Batu Road-Chow Kit area. Another officer had passed earlier and seen "a crowd of four to five thousand" some of whom were "armed with parangs and kris". The same officer then went on to the Batu Road-Chow Kit Road to examine the likelihood of the procession being attacked but apparently could find no evidence of such preparation.

The account of the next 48 hours is understandably sketchy but police evidence does indicate that large groups of Chinese, armed with whatever crude weapons they could grab, openly defied the security forces and were consequently fired upon. In the largest encounter, in the Freeman Road area, 11 were killed. The work of the security forces also was impeded by barricades thrown up by the Chinese, although the army did not arrive in the worst areas until 10 o'clock that night and the multi-racial Police Field Force some time later.

This raises the question of whether the authorities, after some experience of racial troubles over the last 10 years, had any contingency plan for racial violence in the capital. On the other hand the work of the police was hampered by the fact that they had been kept busy for four days and needed a rest.

It is pointless now to conduct an investigation to discover "who started it". The fact is that trouble was expected and. it should have been obvious that a counter-demonstration ran a great risk of being jeered and even attacked by those people who had been roaming the streets for two nights.

In spite of all the criticism levelled at the foreign press for allegedly being anti-Malay, the statistical tables appended to the report bear out the initial impression that the Chinese got the worst of things. Of an official total of 196 persons killed, 143 were Chinese of whom 35 died from gunshot wounds. A further 125 were injured by gunfire and 145 by other weapons. A total of 25 Malays died, 10 of them from gunshot wounds; 127 were injured by various means.

What formula is there for the future? In his introduction Tun Razak announced his intention of inviting people from various groups, including the opposition parties, to serve on a "consultative council" where "issues affecting our national unity will be discussed fully and freely". The National Operations Council, it seems, is here to stay although there will be few mourners for parliamentary democracy if the NOC can project an image of impartiality.

Implicit in the report is the idea (already spelled out by NOC member Ghazali bin Shafie) that the 1957 Constitution embodies a racial contract which cannot be renegotiated. This consists of four sections dealing with citizenship, the national language, the Malay rulers and Malay special rights which are collectively described as "entrenched provisions". The government will pass laws making it an offence to question these provisions; it hopes to amend the constitution (on the authority of the NOC?) to "protect" Article 159 (5) which deals with the Malay rulers. "The passing of these laws", the report concludes, "will provide the basis for an assurance that racial feelings will not again be exploited by the operation of normal democratic processes".

Racial feelings will always exist in Malaysia's multi-racial society where cultural differences seem to be insoluble. Malays, Chinese and Indians will always feel "different"; the "Malaysian identity" is an empty slogan -- about as convincing as Lee Kuan Yew's "Malaysian Malaysia". The problem is how to defuse the economic and political situation in such a way that people will not be seized by the urge to kill one another. Passing new laws will not necessarily change anything. Besides, what is a constitution worth if it has to be protected by laws?

The NOC report is a prescription based on the aftermath of May's racial tragedy. The population may now want peace at almost any price, but can it be permanently restrained from a hankering to return to normal parliamentary politics?


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Vol. 67, No. 3, 15 Jan 1970, 32


May Remembered

Malaysia: "Death of a Democracy" by John Slimming
John Murray 1969. 30s

THE first non-official account of the May 13 riots in Kuala Lumpur, this book will be welcomed by those who found the Tunku's own book May 13: Before and After and the NOC report unsatisfactory. A policeman and assistant protector of aborigines in Malaya before 1957, Slimming revisited the country shortly after the riots and conducted his own investigations. However, his account leans heavily on press reports and he is not always scrupulous in acknowledging his borrowings.

Commendably, he does not dwell on the horrors of the first night although the enormity of the tragedy comes through clearly. If the book is allowed free circulation many Malaysian readers will agree with his contention that Selangor's Mentri Besar Dato Harun has a great deal to answer for. The UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) solidarity procession was very much his idea and he seems to have ignored police advice that there would be trouble when the procession reached Chinese areas.

May 13 was a racial riot which developed out of the political situation in Selangor where the opposition parties had come in neck to neck with the Alliance at the national elections three days earlier. The possibility of a Chinese-dominated government in Malaysia's leading state, together with the boisterous behaviour of opposition supporters and hangers-on after the elections, roused the Selangor Malays to a show of strength. The procession quickly turned into a "mass amok".

What Mr Slimming has neglected to explain is why violence did not break out in the countryside where the predominantly Malay population would have had no difficulty in slaughtering thousands of Chinese. Thanks to a complete breakdown in the government information services, rural Malays believed that the Chinese had decided to massacre Kuala Lumpur's less than 10% Malay population. After the first wave of violence on the edges of Kampong Bahru -- a Malay reservation fringing the Chinese urban area -- the Chinese (many of them gangsters) retaliated and the pattern of casualties during the second phase bears this out. By the time the army arrived (and no one has yet explained why the security forces took so long) Kampong Bahru was in a state of siege. Most of the casualties during the final phase were Chinese killed or wounded by gunshots.

Mr Slimming believes Malaysia's "multi-racial" experiment is over and that the NOC or something like it will maintain a Malay dictatorship. In point of fact, democracy in Malaysia could only "work" so long as Malay dominance was guaranteed through the UMNO-dominated Alliance party. The Malay-dominated NOC administration has brought few changes.

"The Malays and the Chinese have quarrelled for several decades," admits Mr Slimming. So they have, and May 13 forms part of a pattern of communal bloodletting followed by nervous calm. But communalism feeds on economic inequality and communally-organised politics. Death of a Democracy is of great assistance in setting the record straight but it will not help anyone to understand what happened. -- BR

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