The Real Cause of the May 13 Riots
Well, that’s patently incorrect!
While socio-economic inequality regretably did exist, what had led to the May 13 racial riot was not that. It was true that the Malays grew disenchanted with then Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman’s Perikatan (Alliance) party, resulting in massive losses for his coalition.
The true reason leading to the riots was the ruling Perikatan party, or to be more specific, its dominant component, UMNO, losing so many seats that it was on the verge of surrendering Selangor to the DAP, and very nearly losing Perak to the PPP of the Seenivasegam brothers.
That was what caused the riots!
The Selangor UMNO could not cope with the thought of losing Malaysia’s premier state (at that time) to the Chinese-Indian parties. When the Selangor State election results became more obvious, there was already discussion of how to accommodate a non-Muslim Menteri Besar (MB or Chief Minister) in Selangor, because one of the principal roles of a MB is to advise the Sultan of the State on religious affairs. Those issues would undoubtedly have infuriated some Malays.
The Perikatan had already lost Penang to the new rising star, the (then) mighty Gerakan Party. But, unlike Selangor, Penang had always been a Chinese-majority state, so its loss was not so sensitive to Malay pride. Also, judging by the (1969) voting trend, UMNO perceived that by the next election, it would probably lose Perak as well.
The UMNO members’ anger was further aggravated by some thoughtless jeering by the DAP-Gerakan party victors in Selangor as they conducted their jubilant victory motorcade around Kuala Lumpur (though the leaders of the Gerakan Party made a public apology the following day). That anger at the unthinkable loss of Malaysia’s premier State to a Chinese-dominated party and the jibes and jeerings by an insensitive DAP-Gerakan were what lit the racial fire, and not the socio-economic inequality.
After-note: since then, recent facts revealed by Prof Khoo indicate that it was not the DAP but the Gerakan Party which did the provocative jeering
The racial-political tension in Selangor then was like, to use a cliché, sitting on a powder keg of explosives in tinder dry conditions while attempting to light a cigarette. Two days after the final results were determined, the riots started in Kampong Baru, Kuala Lumpur, right in front of the MB’s official residence after incorrect (or fabricated) rumours that Chinese gangs in Setapak had attacked Malays.
Apart from UMNO losing support from its Malay constituencies, how did the opposition do so well?
In the 1969 election, the opposition parties comprising DAP, Gerakan, PPP, and PAS (yes, PAS) developed a joint double-prong strategy where (1) they avoided running against each other in order to prevent vote splitting, and (2) campaigned for each other, asking their supporters to vote for anyone other than the Perikatan. Many Malays had voted for the Gerakan because (at that time) it was truly a multi-ethnic party.
Digressing for a while, compare that opposition unified election strategy and discipline in adhering to the plan with the 2004 opposition debacle, where an overconfident PAS wanted to go it alone while a wishy washy PKR wasn’t sure where to put its best foot forward. To make matters worse, the Chinese-Indian component of PKR tussled with the DAP for Chinese seats.
I believe the DAP was actually sincere in wanting a coalition with PAS and PKR because Lim Kit Siang was (still is) obsessed with denying the Barisan Nasional its two-third majority, and that could only be achieved if the opposition parties are united. But with a runaway PAS that was frightening the shit out of its supporters, an annoying Chinese section of PKR trying to wrestle traditional DAP seats away, and remembering its painful lesson in 1999, it wisely (for that election) decided to stick to its usual standalone strategy which of course had a limitation in terms of winning seats.
Anyway, this posting is to set the facts correct about the real cause of the May 13 racial riots in 1969. Even the National Security Commission in its official report on the riots did not attribute the cause to the socio-economic disparity, but to ‘the Malayan Communist Party and illegal Chinese gangs’. We need to bear in mind this was a Government report so we shouldn’t expect it to say some losers were bloody unsporting.
It resulted in a silent quiet political coup d’etat within the Perikatan party, with Tengku Abdul Rahman removed from power, and the ascendancy of Tun Razak as the next Prime Minister. Because Razak wanted the Malay votes back for the Perikatan he devised the NEP to address the economic position of the Malays. The NEP was in fact based on Dr Mahathir’s seminal workThe Malay Dilemma, which proposed a strong affirmative economic programme for Malays to address their disadvantaged socio-economic standing. Tun Razak also brilliantly emasculated the Gerakan, PPP and PAS by absorbing them into a new Barisan Nasional – I’ll blog on this another time.
I suppose one could argue through a tenuous chain of cause and effect that at the root of it, the socio-economic disparity led to Perikatan‘s loss of Malay support, which led to UMNO’s massive losses of Federal and State seats (even Dr Mahathir lost his Kubang Pasu seat to PAS), which led to fear and anger among UMNO members, which coupled by insensitive provocations by the DAP members, led to the outbreak of the riots.
But that would be stretching it. Let’s keep our eye on the fact that it was the pending loss of Malaysia’s premier state of Selangor that triggered the fear, hatred and consequential rioting. In other words the cause was UMNO’s inability to tolerate an erosion of its dominant political position. Addressing the socio-economic disparity through the NEP was merely to avoid further loss of its political powers.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
New Fact on May 13 Revealed!
“The Perikatan had already lost Penang to the new rising star …….. judging by the (1969) voting trend, UMNO perceived that by the next election, it would probably lose Perak as well.”
“The UMNO members’ anger was further aggravated by some thoughtless jeering by the DAP-Gerakan party victors in Selangor as they conducted their jubilant victory motorcade around Kuala Lumpur (though the leaders of the Gerakan Party made a public apology the following day). That anger at the unthinkable loss of Malaysia’s premier State to a Chinese-dominated party and the jibes and jeering by an insensitive DAP were what lit the racial fire, and not the socio-economic inequality.”
In the last paragraph it now seems I had been wrong in attributing the DAP with responsibility for the provocation (“…jibes and jeering by an insensitive DAP …”) that further stroked the racial fire.
Associated with a new subject for university students called Ethnic Relations, there is a textbook that purportedly offers important lessons on what not to do when trying to foster inter-communal ties.
But a coalition of students’ groups – Students Solidarity Malaysia (SMM) – said the book appears to be burning rather than building bridges between the communities.
In its references to instances of ethnic conflicts, for example, the May 13, 1969 riots, the book singled out opposition party DAP as a Chinese-majority party that had ‘upset the Malays’ and contributed to the conflagration that occurred. The textbook read:“…the DAP, which is made up mostly of Chinese, conducted a procession in Kuala Lumpur in which they insulted and uttered statements that upset the Malays.”
In its reference to the 2001 Kampung Medan incident, the textbook also blamed Indian youths as one of the factors. “The Malay community in the said area had lost their patience with the anti-social attitude of groups of Indian youths and wanted to teach them a lesson …”
Prof Dr Khoo Kay Kim, a historian and also Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner pointed out that in fact it was BN coalition member Gerakan and not DAP which had participated in the procession in Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Baru that triggered the 1969 riots.
Well, how about that? I knew the Gerakan had participated in the motorcade through Kampung Baru but I wasn’t aware the DAP hadn’t. So the DAP has to play the role of the villain when it was the Gerakan who were jeering and hurling jibes in Kampung Baru.
Professor Khoo said this was another instance where the objectives of the textbook were lost due to the ‘blame-game’ played by its writers.“You’re again blaming people. So how can you hope to bring people together? It would be better to say there was a misunderstanding on both sides. A book like that will cause no end to the damage.”
Well, the way I see it: firstly. it’s hardly likely that UMNO would admit to its role in the May 13 riots for the reason I had blogged in The Real Cause of the May 13 Riots.
Secondly, it’s a typical (traditional) Malay worldview that one can see in the earlier local movies – namely, the Malays are a very patient forgiving type (Pak Cik Ahmad Daud, dressed up immaculatedly & complete with spotted neck scarf, sitting in an easy arm chair smoking his pipe and pontificating seriously and wisely) and very reluctant to retaliate, while the Chinese have always been portrayed as an avaricious and raucous ethnic community (fat Chinaman sweating in singlet wheeling and dealing with a dodgy Chinese weight measuring tool) and the Indians as unreliable or at best, court jesters.
Views have changed since but whoever is promoting that book of burning bridges must be from an earlier school of thoughts – blame the Chinese and Indians as they are known trouble-makers
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