Not Quite What It Says On The Cover

September 26, 2008 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

Written by Yusseri Yusoff  from The Other Malaysia 
Monday, 25 June 2007

Title: May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969
Author: Dr. Kua Kia Soong
Publisher: SUARAM (2007)
Pages: 136

Price: RM 20.00 

This May 13 book has generated a lot of controversy in the past month and a bit since it was published, partly because it deals with a very controversial and painful time for Malaysians, but mainly because it is a subject that the government has actively discouraged from discussing openly. And as we all know, where there is prohibition, there is desire. I obtained this book late last month but only got into it a week ago. A slim tome, it was not that difficult to finish. It was, however, a difficult read because in spite of myself, I was often left quite incredulous by its contents.

The author maintains that the “May 13 Incident” was above all, a coup d’etat by the then emergent Malay state capitalist class to depose the Tunku who represented the outdated Malay aristocracy. It was a critical political putsch which changed the course of Malaysian political history and ensured the rise and entrenchment of the new Malay capitalist class through the New Economic Policy

Introduction, pg. 3.

One did not have to read far into the book before the author’s predetermined bias was made clear, as shown in the excerpt above. In fact, one did not even have to open the book at all to see it, since the blurb at the back said the same thing. In and of itself, that’s not really a problem. Where this book breaks down is that Dr. Kua seems to have failed to provide his assertions with actual, solid proof.

In a sense, it wasn’t what was written in the book that left me dissatisfied, it was what was left out. The blurb at the back of the book also claimed that it is “the first credible account of the May 13, 1969 riots in Malaysia …”

I don’t think so.

For example, in the Introduction, the author wrote that Chapter Two, The 1969 General Elections, examines the 1969 elections, and states that “… But as observers have noted, the jubilation and celebration by the opposition parties after the election results could not possibly be sufficient excuse for the hoodlums to run riot.” (pg. 5). However, in Chapter Two itself, there were no citations or statements from the “observers” refuting the official government line that puts the “blame for the riots on the provocation by opposition parties after they had made significant gains in the 1969 general elections.” (pg. 29).

In Chapter 3, Record of the Riots, the author all to briefly touched on the May 9 Labour Party funeral procession and the May 12 “Victory Parade”, with no real details included. Contrast this with Mubin Sheppard’s biography of the Tunku[1] where he chronicled the events leading up to May 13 to include the genesis of the May 9 Labour Party funeral procession, and the May 12 “Victory Parade” organised by the DAP and Gerakan. While the May 9 funeral procession omission may be understandable, it was inexplicable that Dr. Kua did not elaborate on the May 12 parade. In the Tunku book, Dr. Sheppard wrote “When the main body dispersed, groups of troublemakers, Indian and Chinese, toured the main Malay residential area and deliberately insulted the residents, sometimes accompanying their remarks with indecent gestures. No breach of peace occurred, but the deliberate provocation contributed powerfully to a demand, the next morning — May 13 — for a Malay counter-procession: a demand which could not be refused.” (pg. 163)

One gets the feeling that Dr. Kua deliberately put his blinkers on, and choose to not mention several incidents leading up to the May 13 incident, just so that he can assert his own take on things. And his take was that it was a coup d’etat.

I was hoping for some mega revelation, of clandestine meetings, planting of agents provocateur in mobs and some sort of steady eradication of the aristocratic rulers’ (as personified by the Tunku) influence which then led to the May 13 incident and the culmination of the coup by the setting up of the National Operations Council (NOC) and suspension of parliament. The way the book was promoted, you got the feeling that the incident itself was a planned event as part of the coup rather than resulting in the NOC and suspension of parliament.

Indeed, one would better assume that May 13 represented the culmination of disparate events which were used by certain UMNO leaders as leverage to remove the Tunku from power. This was also the opinion expressed by Dr. Syed Husin Ali, in an interview in Malaysiakini.

Going through the rest of the book, I get the impression that the book is more of a diatribe against the racial policies of the government (rightly or wrongly) than an in-depth account of the May 13 incident, betraying the author’s DAP credentials[2]. And that, in the end, is the main reason for my dissatisfaction with it. The claims made in promoting the book were not substantiated by the contents. Never has the cliche’ to not judge a book by its cover (and its propaganda) been more true.

For what it’s worth, one cannot but commend Dr. Kua for taking the time to go through the archives in the Public Records Office, London. However, this book is not a balanced account of the incident, and in that sense, cannot be a “credible” one. And what a shame that is.


[1] Tunku: His Life and Times: The Authorized Biography of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj; Mubin Sheppard; Pelanduk Publications (1995).


Entry filed under: Comment.

The Conspiracy Behind May 13, 1969…. Bury ghost of May 13 once and for all

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