Society has changed, May 13 will not replay
Last Updated: 9:03pm, Nov 30, 2012
WHEN Umno Wanita chief Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil warned on Nov 28 that “May 13 (1969)” may recur if Umno becomes weak, many would recall the quasi-official explanation for the 1969 ethnic riot: Non-Malay or Chinese voters had abandoned the Alliance.
It is quasi-official because it has never been the official reason of the tragedy but in the eve of almost every post-1969 election — with the exception of 2004 — similar reminders have been heard.
In a month before the 2008 elections, MCA deputy minister Chew Mei Fun reminded the Chinese about the “1969 lesson”.
But what really happened in the 1969 elections? Who abandoned the Alliance (the predecessor of Barisan Nasional)?
Because voting has been — and still — is secret, we can never know the truth. But we can make educated guesses. Given the alignment between parties and ethnicity, we may deduce the voting pattern of the ethnic communities by looking at the vote shares of the parties they supported.
Since direct elections were not held in Sabah and Sarawak in 1964, and also the May 13 riot erupted when only the elections in the peninsula (West Malaysia) were completed, the comparison shall be focused on the peninsula.
While the Malayan Alliance was represented by the same parties — Umno, MCA and MIC — in 1964 and 1969, the opposition camp had witnessed significant evolution of parties.
In 1964, the opposition parties predominantly supported by the non-Malay voters were the Socialist Front (SF), United Democratic Party (UDP), People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and People’s Action Party (PAP).
By 1969, SF became defunct with its two main components having gone separate ways over the issue of language amongst others. The Chinese-dominant Labour Party decided to abandon the parliamentary path and boycotted the elections while the Malay-led Partai Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) continued to fight in only six constituencies.
UDP leader — Lim Chong Eu — had also built a new vehicle in Gerakan while PAP was succeeded by Democratic Action Party (DAP) after the expulsion of Singapore in 1965. Only PPP remained the same.
In contrast, the Malay opposition parties underwent smaller changes between 1964 and 1969. While Pan-Malaysia Islam Party (PAS) stayed on, Parti Negara went defunct soon after the demise of founder Datuk Onn Jaafar, while PRM reemerged as a Malay-based party in 1969.
The table below shows that contrary to the quasi-official explanation and popular belief, the non-Malays did not seem to have abandoned the Alliance in 1969 much more than they did in 1964.
Party vote shares in Peninsular Malaysia in the 1964 and 1969 elections
|Parties||1964 vote %||1969 vote %||1964-1969, change in vote %|
|= SF (1964) *||16.08%||–||16.08%|
|= PAP (1964) / DAP (1969)||2.05%||
|= UDP (1964) / Gerakan(1969)||4.29%||8.48%||+4.19%|
|= Parti Negara (1964)||0.36%||-0.36%|
|= PRM (1969) *||1.28%||1.28%|
* PRM was a member of SF in 1964, together with the Labour Party
The vote share of the non-Malay-based opposition parties remain the same at 26%. Their victory in 22 constituencies in 1969, a spike from six in 1964, was mainly due to their success in avoiding multi-corner contests.
In 1964, the non-Malay-based opposition parties were competing against each other in 31 out of 102 constituencies.
The real desertion of the Alliance in 1969 happened in the Malay constituencies. The Malay-based opposition parties increased by 10%, from 15% to 25%. Because their votes were more efficiently translated into seats in 1964, this brought only an increase of three seats, from nine to 12.
In this sense, Sharizat was right — Umno was weakened. Its vote share dropped by nearly five percentage points, from 38.62% to 33.98%. In sharp contrast, PAS’ vote share increased by 9%, from 14.64% to 23.74%.
The Umno:PAS vote share dropped from about 5:2 in 1964 to 3:2. Because of its disconnect from the masses, the aristocratic Umno would lose its claim to the sole representative of the Malays if this trend continued.
This means the non-Malays could enter a power-sharing deal with other Malay parties like PAS. They could accept the Malays’ political dominance without Umno.
Surely, some Umno-voting Malays would be upset, as Shahrizat said. But why should those PAS-voting Malays believe that their votes against Umno have weakened themselves?
Now, if the coming elections make some Umno supporters upset, will the blood-stained racial clash of May 13, 1969, recur?
The answer is no.
In 1969, PAS was not aiming to replace Umno and rule the country. They did not take the advantage to woo the distressed non-Malays. In fact, PAS joined Umno in BN in 1974 on the ground of communal unity, only to bitterly leave the coalition four years later.
In 2012 or 2013, May 13 will not replay because the Malaysian society has changed. If Chinese Malaysians are targeted in post-election riot, very likely they will be protected by their Malay friends, acquaintances and even strangers.
Many Chinese protesters who joined the Bersih 2.0 rally remember how their Malay counterparts asked them to flee the police first because “if there must be blood-shed, let it be the Malays’ blood, because we cannot afford another May 13”.
Last Sunday, when 20,000 Green Walkers marched through Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, which was a stone’s throw away from Kampung Baru where May 13 started, there was only a jovial and carnival mood, no fear, no hatred.
In fact, their leader Wong Tack was flanked by a Buddhist monk and a kopiah-wearing Malay elder Haji Ishak Surin when marching towards Dataran Merdeka. Ishak has been in the forefront of the protests to preserve Jalan Sultan (or China Town).
To those who care much about May 13, the poor spectre has been stepped on and it died on July 9 last year. And it was buried deeper by subsequent footsteps of citizens.
Dr Wong Chin Huat, political scientist, was former sociology lecturer at Monash University (Malaysia). He is currently attached to Penang Institute, a think tank linked to the Penang government.
Note: The Bersih 2.0 rally was a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur held on July 9, 2011 as a follow-up to the 2007 Bersih rally. The rally, organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) headed by former president of the Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan, was pushing the Election Commission of Malaysia to ensure free and fair elections in Malaysia.
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