Regime crisis, not just a ‘race riot’ — Clive Kessler

September 3, 2013 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

SEPTEMBER 3, 2013

 A regime crisis, a complete implosion of the then existing national ruling formula and framework: that, and not a “race riot”, was what occurred in May 1969.

And that fact, that distinction, needs to be emphasised and repeated.

Even now.

Especially now.

Now that Tanda Putra is being widely screened, amidst heated and acrimonious controversy.

A regime crisis, not just a “race riot”: that is a truth that has long been denied and is still routinely resisted.

But is it an essential truth that cannot forever be evaded.

Why?

Because so long as that fact is not understood, so long as it is “glossed” and “fudged” and avoided — at times artfully, as in the Shuhaimi Baba’s controversial film Tanda Putra — the Malaysian nation will never know, and never be able to understand, itself.

It will never be able to move forward with clarity and well-formed purpose so long as it fails to grasp, and resists knowing, the ground upon which it now stands, how that terrain was formed, and how the nation got to the difficult ground where it now finds itself.

In hope of encouraging that better understanding, I offer here, now in a “return appearance”, a modest contribution of my own to that task.

Under the shadow of Tanda Putra — and in the midst of the swirling and often bad-tempered polemics that this loosely factual, and imaginatively revisionist, work of historical fiction has inspired — it may be appropriate to republish here some excerpts from a brief comment of mine that was published several years ago in the now defunct, and much missed, Malaysian monthly of “political analysis, cultural commentary and awkward ideas” that, while it flourished, was known as Off the Edge.

It appeared there, in mid-2009, under the title “May 13 1969: A Regime Crisis”.

What follows is an excerpt of some key parts of that earlier text, offered again here with only a few minor stylistic amendments.

May 13, 1969: A regime crisis

Congratulations to Off The Edge! We are all indebted to it [and to the four discussants whom it brought together] for initiating, after some forty years of polite obfuscation and prevarication, the first serious discussion of “the meaning of May 13”.

This thoughtful exchange [among some key participants in the “national rescue effort” of carrying the nation forward after that trauma] is, to my knowledge, the first realistic attempt available on record to Malaysian citizens to probe the nature of that terrible national crisis and of the continuing longer-term implications of the way in which, over the next two years, that crisis was overcome: through the suspension of parliamentary democracy and “ordinary politics” and their replacement by rule through a National Operations Council or, in effect, a supreme state executive directorate.

I was myself both a bystander to those fateful events (as outlined in my comment on the 1969 elections, viewed from the standpoint of those of March 2008, in Off The Edge May 2008) and also a “small bit-player” in their aftermath.

I earned my youthful “15 minutes of fame” when the news got around that I had predicted, with some accuracy, both the election outcome and the ensuing eruption of those events to a journalist from The Times of London a week earlier. As a result political analysts and observers, both local and from overseas, made the journey to talk to me in the small Malay rural house in which I was living at the time. It is a confession that I perhaps should not make, but I do think I hear some faint echoes of my youthful self in some of the official British documents from that time that K.K. Soong has seen and cites in his book on May 13. (*)

On that experiential basis and from that perspective, a useful point or two may be offered. The main one is this. That so long as the nature of that 1969 crisis remains less than clearly understood — less than accurately identified and precisely defined — for that long too will Malaysians misunderstand their own history and remain caught up in the consequences of their inadequate understanding.

Specifically, it has become a cliché to talk of “the 1969 race riots” in Kuala Lumpur. People use the phrase routinely, automatically, unthinkingly. That is what clichés are, what it means to think in cliché terms. Thinking in such terms has consequences. Clichés are mental shortcuts, analytically lazy or convenient bypasses around difficult issues or awkward terrain, in this case crucial political and historical ground.

Here that standard turn of phrase, that ubiquitous and now seemingly irresistible cliché, desperately needs to be considered, assessed and questioned. This nation’s ability to understand itself — to know where it now stands, and how it got here — depends upon doing so …

An important point needs to be made repeatedly, cannot be emphasised enough. All the young deconstructionists should seriously work on deconstructing that term, the perennial cliché, “13 May 1969 race riots”.

Yes, what was played out, at large among the people who became involved as innocent bystanders and victims, was a series of violent racial confrontations.

But they were the outward manifestation of, or response to, something else: a regime crisis, a systemic crisis of the Malaysian state, the electoral collapse of its initial post-1957 “governing formula”, of the “Merdeka1 political dispensation”.

People from all backgrounds had been told that — whatever their deep feelings, their immediate ethno-cultural passions and narrower sub-national communal loyalties — they must set them aside since only the Alliance formula could guarantee civil peace and political stability.

Yet, at the polls, Umno failed to convince one-half of the Malay vote, and the MCA did not win support or confidence from its base either.

Suddenly people who had accepted the “only the Alliance can hold us all together” argument felt cruelly deceived.

Confidence on all sides in the Alliance government, and its underlying logic, collapsed. The racial confrontations that erupted were the enraged popular reaction to seeing the failure before their own eyes of the “no-other-way governing formula” for which they had been asked to swallow and suppress their strongest loyalties.

They had been asked to do so by politicians who were now seen as failures, as bewildered victims, not confident masters, of events and national destiny.

It was not only the politicians who were repudiated nor just their promises and assurances. The entire political dispensation through which they operated, and with which they were identified, was popularly discredited.

Neither Malays nor non-Malays in Malaysia, the elections now showed, felt that they could now really trust Umno to hold the centre together. Malaysian Chinese no longer had faith in the MCA to deliver Malay moderation, while most Malays had lost faith in the MCA to manage its side of the coalition “deal”, to ensure Malaysian

Chinese support for the Alliance formula and the UMNO-led government. The MCA leadership itself lost faith in its own ability to do so credibly and so withdrew from Cabinet.

Disintegration! The underlying cause and reality was a regime crisis, a systemic collapse. “Racial riots” were not the basic cause but the external response and manifestation of that regime crisis.

Politicians may and will use what terms they please. They are determined, canny and resourceful people. Their choices and preferences soon become popular usage. That, too, is in the nature of things.

But it is also in the nature of things for scholars in history and the social sciences, for thoughtful political analysts and commentators, to look at things clearly — at unfolding human and social developments and at the terms in which they are received into public imagination — or at least try to do so.

That is their responsibility.

When they see that the terms being developed and used capture only some part of the total situation, that they obscure or conveniently shield from view other important parts, they need to say so.

That is their job, their work, their duty.

So while the politicians may, and will, still talk of “the 1969 Kuala Lumpur race riots”, the scholars and thoughtful commentators should decline that usage and instead identify things clearly, see them for what they are, call them by their proper name.  They need to speak of what was, and what Off The Edge’s recent four-way conversation now clearly recognises as, Malaysia’s first, basic post-independence regime crisis.

An afterword (2013)

In the post-election regime crisis of 1969, Malaysia’s first post-independence political framework or “dispensation” collapsed.

That first post-Merdeka framework and its governing formula were replaced by a new political logic and dispensation that were crafted by Tun Razak and his associates who ruled Malaysia through the extraordinary interim political directorate known as the NOC: National Operations Council.

When the NOC had finished its work, it unveiled the new set of national governing arrangements that would hold for the next political phase.

These provided for a new strong state that was to be charged with promoting, and which would be strong enough to drive, a comprehensive national programme of pro-Malay affirmative action, to be known as the NEP: New Economic Policy. This policy was to redress and overcome the widespread feelings of Malay marginalisation and “relative deprivation” that had driven Malay anger against the old ruling framework, the “Merdeka1 model” of independent national sovereignty.

Originally planned to last for twenty years — and required to produce clear results and an effective remedy for Malay resentments in that fixed and finite period — the NEP era was to end in 1990.

But somehow it did not.

Instead, it lived on.

The NEP was seamlessly projected further as the NDP: New Development Policy. And the specific kinds of pro-Malay affirmative that had their rationale in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution morphed into the doctrine of “Ketuanan Melayu” — an entirely new doctrine of Malay ascendancy in perpetuity, by mutual consent of all, that was “retrofitted” to the original Merdeka Agreements and foundations — that, its proponents now asserted, had supposedly been part of the nation’s formative “social contract”.

As these two linked changes took hold, that second NEP-centred national ruling “dispensation” — the “Merdeka2 political framework or model” — came to enjoy a strangely prolonged after-life, one that far exceeded its initially intended lifespan of twenty years.

As I have written elsewhere, it was only with the twelfth general election (GE12) in March 2008 that, with its underlying social basis by now inexorably eroded over the years by deep socioeconomic changes, Malaysia’s second post-independence national political dispensation finally collapsed.

Now evidently obsolete — and no longer serviceable even to the government as a device for ensuring democratic electoral legitimacy — the essential structural scaffolding and supports of that “Merdeka2 model” of independent national sovereignty were simply blown away in the political tsunami of that year.

Ever since GE12 in 2008, throughout the politically difficult period leading up to GE13 in May 2013, and in the months since then, Malaysia has been struggling to find and fashion a workable new political framework: its third post-Merdeka political “dispensation”.

That is why Malaysian politics have become so embittered and unforgiving, so extraordinarily vituperative and polarized.

For many political actors — both inside government and outside it, including notably in the Malay media headed by Utusan Malaysia and amongst the Malay ethno-nationalist activists of Perkasa — there is strong support for a new national model, or one certain form or version of it.

Their candidate for the next national ruling dispensation —  their “Merdeka3 model” of independent national sovereignty, now offered as their preferred “successor framework” to the now collapsed second ruling agreement — is one that builds upon but goes beyond the logic of the second.

Far more even that the second ruling formula with its official NEP policies and doctrine of Malay “cultural centrality” in national life, this preferred third formula is one that harks back nostalgically, yet also unapologetically and uninhibitedly, to the exclusivist mid-twentieth Malay nationalism that flourished decisively in the mid-20th century: in the period from the anti-Malayan Union struggle of 1946 to the gradual emergence of the Alliance Party as the new inter-communal governing “bloc” in the years from 1951 to 1957.

It is a view of the nation that rests upon, grows from and gives political expression to a “maximalist” Malay political conviction that may be summarized in the mantra ”Malays on top, now and forever. That is Malaysia. Love it or leave it!”

It is in that context that “Tanda Putera” has emerged.

It emerges, as a politically salient and also politically driven government artistic project, that aims to promote precisely that view.

It is an attempt — a calculated, and far from disingenuous, “revisionist” attempt — to lay claim to the events of 1969 for the Malay ethno-supremacists and to harness them politically in the service of that new and assertively Malay-centric “Merdeka3 ruling doctrine and framework”.

“Tanda Putera” seeks to grasp the tragic events of 1969, and the governing response to them that was directed by Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail, and to “frame” them in a certain way: to yoke them the purpose of giving legitimacy to that new “Malay-ascendant” view of the nation’s identity and of the national agenda that it now further implies.

That is why the polemics that swirl around Tanda Putra are so contentious, extreme and divisive.

That is why Tanda Putra and all that it represents is important.

That is why the often disingenuous arguments that are now offered as an exercise in assertively pro-Malay political apologetics for Tanda Putra need to be questioned.

They need to be questioned not only because, in looking to the past, “Tanda Putera” is an exercise in historical revisionism, even distortion — an exercise in rewriting and “refashioning” rather than probing the historical truth of what happened in those fateful May days and their aftermath.

They matter, and need to be questioned, because, in providing their refashioned view of the past, Tanda Putra and the symphony of apologetics that is now heard in its praise are seeking to determine the future. To set the nation’s course in the years to come.

By means of a film, some people now intend, the new national script can be written — as if a nation in all its complexity were as simple to produce as a calculating film with a contrived story-line, mawkish sentiments and a narrow political “message”.

“Tanda Putera” is a film about, a partisan political representation of, an earlier regime crisis that has been produced in the midst of, and to promote a certain answer to, a later regime crisis, the regime crisis that Malaysia faces today: the crisis born of the slow, much delayed collapse of the “Merdeka2 model” or national political framework, and the less than explicit bid to impose a certain successor “Merdeka3 model” in its place.

Those behind Tanda Putra are seeking to suggest that the future scenario that they offer and wish to impose, their candidate model for the “Merdeka3 political framework”, is the only one that is consistent with the experience of May 1969 — as they wish it to be re-imagined and seen.

In a kind of maudlin collective self-pity, they seek to portray May 1969 as simply a “Malay tragedy”, and thereby to suggest that the future national script or scenario that they have to offer is the only one that stands authentically upon the foundations of the post-1969 national past.

But the past which Tanda Putra seeks to create is a past, or a version of it, that — later invented and retrofitted, just like its earlier underlying doctrine of “Ketuanan Melayu” — is itself historically not just dubious but inauthentic.

That is why it is necessary for Malaysians to understand what happened in 1969.

To understand that what occurred was not simply a “race riot” that might be managed, then and even now, by more “Malay-friendly” government policies.

It was nothing less than a total regime crisis: one that expressed itself, in part, in the form of “race riots” but which was something far deeper and even more serious than just that.

Malaysians need to know and understand the truth.

Only the truth, and nothing less, can set people free from the grip of the past.

Free from an uncomprehended and otherwise endlessly disabling past.

And, now thanks to Tanda Putra, a dubious past fashioned and promoted with a very specific future, or forward, purpose.

One may recall here the old tale:

“Have you read Tolstoy’s War and Peace?”

“No, but I have seen the film.”

Similarly, here:

“Have you yet bought into the Umno/BN promoted ‘soft’ version of the Perkasa view of the national future?”

“No, not yet. But I have seen Shuhaimi Baba’s Tanda Putra”.

* Kua Kia Soong, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.  Suaram, Kuala Lumpur, 2007.

** Clive Kessler is Emertius Professor of Sociology & Anthropology at The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

May 13, 1969: A regime crisis — Clive Kessler

JULY 24, 2012

As the 13th national general election approaches, attention has once more returned to the events that followed closely upon the third post-independence elections of 1969.

Psychoanalytic theorists speak of “the return of the repressed.”

What they mean by that expression is that fundamental questions, so long as they remain unanswered and are pushed out of range of conscious consideration, have a nasty way of popping up and striking back, unannounced and uninvited.

In both cases — at both levels — unresolved traumas do not go away but lurk in wait to trip us up.

In that sense we may say that, so long as the full nature and meaning of the events of May 1969 remain unaddressed, their ragged and unresolved memory will remain potent, ready to trap us in their ambush. They will be liable to erupt again at any time.

Sadly, the politicians have now begun to invoke the trauma of 1969. And Dr Kua Kia Soong, author of a monograph on the painful subject, has now offered his own brief summary of its controversial conclusions to The Malaysian Insider (“May 13: Umno’s effete election weapon”).

Some years ago, I wrote a brief commentary on this same question for the now sadly deceased monthly of Malaysian “political analysis, cultural commentary and unwelcome ideas”, Off the Edge.

Its editor Jason Tan had begun a discussion of this generally “blocked off” and occluded, even taboo, subject with Datuk Abdul Rahman Hamidon, who served on the National Operations Council (NOC) that was set up following those terrible events, the well-known academic commentator Dr Farish Noor, and the veteran political analyst and writer, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad.

It may serve some purpose if my comment on that “roundtable” discussion, also published in Off the Edge, is now made available once more.

I then wrote:

Congratulations to Off The Edge! We are all indebted to Datuk Abdul Rahman Hamidon, Farish Noor, Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmed and Jason Tan for initiating, after some forty years of polite obfuscation and prevarication, the first serious discussion of “the meaning of May 13.”

This thoughtful exchange is, to my knowledge, the first realistic attempt available on record to Malaysian citizens to probe the nature both of that terrible national crisis and also of the continuing longer-term implications of the way in which, over the next two years, that crisis was overcome: through the suspension of parliamentary democracy and “ordinary politics”, and their replacement by rule through a National Operations Council or, in effect, a supreme state executive directorate.

I was myself both a bystander to those fateful events and also a “small bit-player” in their aftermath. I earned my youthful “fifteen minutes of fame” when the news got around that I had predicted, with some accuracy, both the election outcome and the ensuing eruption of those events to a journalist from The Times of London a week earlier. As a result political analysts and observers, both local and from overseas, made the journey to talk to me in the small Malay rural house in which I was living at the time.

It is a confession that I perhaps should not make, but I do think I hear some faint echoes of my youthful self in some of the official British documents from that time that K.K. Soong has seen and cites in his book on “May 13.” (*)

On that experiential basis and from that perspective, a useful point or two may be offered.

The main one is this. That so long as the nature of that 1969 crisis remains less than clearly understood — less than accurately identified and precisely defined — for so long will Malaysians misunderstand their own history and remain caught up in the consequences of their inadequate understanding.

Specifically, it has become a cliché to talk of “the 1969 race riots” in Kuala Lumpur.

People use the phrase routinely, automatically, unthinkingly. That is what clichés are, what it means to think in cliché terms.

Thinking in such terms has consequences. Clichés are mental shortcuts, analytically lazy or convenient bypasses around difficult issues or awkward terrain, in this case crucial political and historical ground.

Here that standard turn of phrase, that ubiquitous and now seemingly irresistible cliché, desperately needs to be considered, assessed and questioned.

This nation’s ability to understand itself — to know where it now stands, and how it got here — depends upon doing so.

That is why the four-sided conversation, plus Abdullah’s accompanying commentaries, in Off The Edge, are so important, a valuable national birthday present to Malaysia as the Merdeka anniversary again approaches.

An important point needs to be made repeatedly, and cannot be emphasised enough. All the young deconstructionists should seriously work on deconstructing that term, the perennial cliché, “13 May 1969 race riots.”

Yes, what was played out, at large among the people who became involved as innocent bystanders and victims, was a series of violent racial confrontations.

But they were the outward manifestation of, or response to, something else: a regime crisis, a systemic crisis of the Malaysian state, the electoral collapse of its initial post-1957 “governing formula.”

People from all backgrounds had been told that — whatever their deep feelings, their immediate ethno-cultural passions and narrower sub-national communal loyalties — they must set them aside since only the Alliance formula could guarantee civil peace and political stability.

Yet, at the polls, Umno failed to convince one-half of the Malay vote, and the MCA did not win support or confidence from its base either.

Suddenly people who had accepted the “only the Alliance can hold us all together” argument felt cruelly deceived.

Confidence on all sides in the Alliance government, and its underlying logic, collapsed.

The racial confrontations that erupted were the enraged popular reaction to seeing the failure before their own eyes of the “no-other-way governing formula” for which they had been asked to swallow and suppress their strongest loyalties.

They had been asked to do so by politicians who were now seen as failures, as bewildered victims, not confident masters, of events and national destiny.

It was not only the politicians who were repudiated nor just their promises and assurances. The entire political dispensation through which they operated, and with which they were identified, was popularly discredited.

Neither Malays nor non-Malays in Malaysia, the elections now showed, felt that they could now really trust Umno to hold the centre together.

Malaysian Chinese no longer had faith in the MCA to deliver Malay moderation, while most Malays had lost faith in the MCA to manage its side of the coalition “deal”, to ensure Malaysian Chinese support for the Alliance formula and the Umno-led government. The MCA leadership itself lost faith in its own ability to do so credibly and so withdrew from Cabinet.

Disintegration! The underlying cause and reality was a regime crisis, a systemic collapse. “Racial riots” were not the basic cause but the external response and manifestation of that regime crisis.

Politicians may and will use what terms they please. They are determined, canny and resourceful people. Their choices and preferences soon become popular usage. That, too, is in the nature of things.

But it is also in the nature of things for scholars in history and the social sciences, for thoughtful political analysts and commentators, to look at things clearly — at unfolding human and social developments and at the terms in which they are received into public imagination — or at least try to do so.

That is their responsibility.

When they see that the terms being developed and used capture only some part of the total situation, and that they obscure or conveniently shield from view other important parts, they need to say so.  That is their job, their work, their duty.

So while the politicians may, and will, still talk of “the 1969 Kuala Lumpur race riots”, the scholars and thoughtful commentators should decline that usage and instead identify things clearly, see them for what they are, call them by their proper name.

They need to speak of what was, and what Off The Edge’s recent four-way conversation now clearly recognises as, Malaysia’s first, basic post-independence regime crisis.

The choice of terms is hugely important.

If the events of May 1969 were simply race riots, then one must ask what prompted and drove the rioting.

An answer may be found in Malay disadvantage, perceived Malay marginalisation within and from national life.

If so, then the appropriate answer is government-directed redress, urgent and accelerated inclusion, an across-the-board national programme of affirmative action. In other words, the New Economic Policy or NEP.

Certainly that was part of the situation, an important part of the problem.

In that sense, and to that extent, the NEP was an appropriate and effective response. It is not, in its immediate context and terms, with its finite purposes and goals, to be rejected.

But was there more to the crisis that erupted than just that?

If so, then the NEP was destined to prove not a complete, only a partial, answer to the challenge which the nation faced.

If feelings of exclusion and marginalisation were only one part, and perhaps not even the central part, of the situation — of the immediate national problem in 1969 — then a programme to address those undeniably significant feelings, and the hard facts from which they stemmed, might only be a partial solution.

Providing a comprehensive answer to the problems that the events of 1969 highlighted, and to the situation that the 1969 elections produced, would require something more.

If the situation facing Malaysia was not just a collapse of civil peace in racial rioting that was driven by profound feelings of Malay disadvantage but in fact a regime crisis, then regime reconstruction, and restoring  the political credibility of the national leadership, was also a necessary, even central, part of what was required.

That was, in fact, the overwhelming first priority.

Tun Razak and the NOC knew this.

What they did was not simply to suspend ordinary politics in order to institute the NEP. They did so, and gave themselves and the nation a “political moratorium” for a couple of years, in order to set up an entirely new political order to replace that which imploded in May 1969.

For the heirs today of those decision and that action — the citizens of Malaysia and the Malaysian nation itself — the questions that have been left as their immediate result now need some very clear and thoughtful answers.

Two of those questions are:

First, was the new political order that was established between 1969 and 1972 the best, or only, one that might then have been created? What others might have been possible? What other paths might have been taken?

And second, perhaps, and even if, the political recourse that was adopted, in the formation of a new state structure and governing coalition — with its new constitutional and legal dimensions, its new national ideology and cultural policy — was the only or best course available. Perhaps it was.

Yet even so (one must still ask), what have been the long-term consequences of both implementing the NEP and erecting this new political regime structure, or second post-Merdeka political order, and then justifying the latter on the basis of the former, as if the two separate agendas were just one and the same thing?

The development of a massive and comprehensive, though in stated intention only a temporally finite, plan of affirmative action, in the name of redressive social justice was one thing.

The creation of a decidedly more authoritarian political system — fashioned by a national executive management team essentially answerable only to its own good judgement, to replace the parliamentary democratic system that it had set aside — was another, and something entirely different.

It may well have been the case that, in its immediate originating context, the NEP could only have been devised and instituted by such a strong executive hand.

But that is not itself an argument that, either by design or default, the strong executive hand must necessarily have become a long-term and enduring, a prospectively permanent and unalterable, political reality.

Further, for the NEP to be implemented, it had to have some formal justification.

This was found, appropriately, in the constitutional provisions ensuring the Malays would be genuine stakeholders in national life, otherwise known as the provisions recognising the “special position” of the Malays.

But this, in turn, is not an argument for, and does not by itself justify, the continuing use of the enormous powers of the newly created “strong state”, always invoking the notion of the special position of the Malays, to expand the original notion of certain finite, constitutionally protected Malay rights — both temporally, prospectively permanently, and in their substantive scope — or to promote the gradual consolidation of a national political community based on “Ketuanan Melayu”, which is, of course, something else.

Yet, looking back with clear historical hindsight, we may now recognise the path that has been followed.

As a policy the NEP was justified on the basis of Malay special rights; the NEP was then initiated and implemented, as it could only have been, by a strong and decisive government of unchallengeable authority; and, both responding to and also at times driving populist pressures and demands, that strong government’s elected successors utilized the state’s great powers to enlarge and incrementally expand the scope of special Malay rights.

So the circle was closed. It became self-sustaining, an upward spiral.

The NEP had originally been the objective, the guiding purpose, and the new strong state its essential means of implementation. In time, the strong state became the ultimate political reason and national objective, and the NEP came to serve as its constant justification.

Hence the intermittent assertions from some leading politicians that the time will never come for the termination of the NEP and its underlying policy logic: not in 1990, not in 2020, not even by 2057. Never.

This dynamic had become an express bus from which many politicians simply could not get off.

The conflation, and subsequent promotion and joint justification — as if they were inseparable twins, or one and the same thing, a single entity — of the NEP and Malaysia’s post-1960s “Orde Baru” has had consequences, and left a legacy, that need to be addressed, thoughtfully and clearly, responsibly and honestly.

Again, congratulations to Off The Edge for commencing that process.

It is a very fine birthday gift to Malaysia, and one that a person or nation, with the mature wisdom that comes in one’s sixth decade, should appreciate.

(*) Kua Kia Soong, “May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.” Suaram, Kuala Lumpur, 2007.

* Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

May 13: Umno’s effete election weapon ― Kua Kia Soong

JULY 23, 2012

The “May 13 Incident” was a pogrom. It was not as “racial riot”.

This was how it all started after the results of the 1969 general election were known:

“Late on Tuesday afternoon (May 13, 1969), young Malays from the whole of Selangor began to assemble outside the residence of the Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk 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 Kampung Baru, where two Chinese lorries were burnt.

That much is clear from the declassified documents examined in my 2007 title on this subject. The attempt by the government then to blame it on communists and the opposition parties fell flat according to foreign correspondents as well as the confidential dispatches by  foreign diplomats in Kuala  Lumpur.

More pertinently, my thesis is that “May 13” was orchestrated by then emergent state capitalist class in Umno in a coup d’état against the Tunku’s aristocratic class.

A fascist trend

That is the first point Malaysian historians should take note. May 13 was the first of a fascist trend that would be resurrected at every challenge to the Umnoputras’ rule since 1971. It is part and parcel of the “Bumiputeraism” that is the populist ideology of this new ruling class since 1971 to garner support from the Malays.

Apart from civil rights demands by the Non-Malays (e.g. Suqiu in 2000), general elections have posed the biggest threats to the political control by the Umnoputras. Umno has used the same weapon at every general election.

I remember the one in 1990 when images and specially made programmes of May 13 were shown nightly on RTM. The mainstream press also carried BN-sponsored advertisements showing the May 13 carnage in order to spook the electorate.

The 2008 general election was the closest to BN losing federal power so you can bet “May 13” will be used in an even more blatant way by the Umno strategists in  the impending 13th general election. I believe there is already a propaganda film made to try to purvey the “official” version of the May 13 Incident. No doubt it will try to pin the blame on communists and the Opposition parties.

Demonising communism

The official Umno strategy all these years has been to demonise “communism” as a Chinese phenomenon in Malaysia even though there were Malay leaders and members among the CPM ranks. With the majority of the Chinese electorate finally declaring their rejection of Umno’s racist and discriminatory policies en masse ― evident in their voting trend since 2008 ― Umno has raised the communist bogey again by alleging that Opposition has been infiltrated by communists.

For seasoned historians, this serves the dual purpose of trying to frighten middle class Malaysians and to further alienate the Malays from the Opposition; at the same time, this allegation gives the BN the justification to unleash another “security” operation by using detention without trial to put away Opposition leaders and dissidents at the opportune time just as they have done so many times in the past.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission

As I have raised in my 2007 title, for Malaysians to thoroughly exorcise the May 13 ghost we need to establish a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to uncover the culprits responsible for orchestrating the pogrom; to document the victims and to pay respects to all those who lost their lives; to hear the testimonies of the police, the army, hospital staff and participants, as well as to hear from all those who were traumatised during those weeks in 1969.

If the Barisan Nasional cannot do this, it is up to PR to undertake this process if and when they take over the federal government.

Unite against fascism & racism

As the 13th general election approaches, Malaysians should brace themselves for more and more intense BN propaganda onslaught preying on the May 13 spectre. Even though this tried and trite election weapon has been shown to be effete in frightening the electorate, we must stay vigilant considering the fascist tendency of recent years.

The 13th general election is the time for Malaysians to unite against fascism and to end racism & racial discrimination once and for all…..

* Dr Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram, a human rights group.

 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9, 2009

Off The Edge: What happened after May 13?

I bought this month’s ‘Off The Edge’ magazine cause the cover really caught my eye. A simple rendering of the classic Chinese calendar of 13 May 1969. I think most Malaysians are aware of the date but seriously, may not have the same factual understanding of what really happened. Go get it. If not for your own curiosity, at least for a better understanding of your own citizenship (and so that you don’t look so bad in front of your children/grandchildren).

However, what really caught my attention was this interview excerpt between Farish Noor and Datuk Abdul Rahman Hamidon(the then NOC’s (National Operations Council) secretary – NOC was set up after the ethnic riots of May 1969 to take over the Malaysian Parliament and the Cabinet’s ruling, headed by reluctant dictator Tun Razak Hussein to reinstall peace and progress in the country). Check this out:

***excerpt from The Meaning of May 13, Off The Edge, pg 41***

FN: This period (1969-1970) reminds me of the book ‘Founding Brothers’, about the creation of America during the war against the British. America was created by a coterie of 40 men who agreed on how to create their new nation. Everything then was ad hoc like you described of the NOC; decisions were written on paper, decisions made early in the morning. But then over time, these gain a sense of permanence. The period of the NOC remains as one of the foundational pillars of our contemporary history. And yet everything you’vedescribed to us about it makes me feel that it had so many contingent elements. Now, God forbid, if there was ever another Emergency and another NOC, would we be able to cope? We don’t have a Tun Razak today, who understood that democracy had to be restored. We don’t have a Tun Ismail today, who understood that the military should not be allowed to enter politics. We have what you, Datuk, called ‘deadwood’ (laughter) that may run a NOC. Is that something that we should be worried about?

Well, because of the National Operations Council, now there is a basic policy on how to deal with an emergency, and the police and the army now know what to do in the event. We now have a National Security Council that is not run by the police of the army, but by civilians. They have plans for [different scenarios] if anything were to happen to this country.
During my time, there was no plan. It was just decided by a few people then that ‘this was the best way to do things’. But now it is very professional.


You must also remember that the army now is more intelligent than those days. When I was in the NOC, a lot of young people ended up running the army, and they were all clamouring for power. They rang me up, and said, When are we going to move in? The country should be run by us. I said no, you cannot do it; we haven’t come to the stage when you can take over. They were young people in the command asking for power. I told them: it cannot be done.

FN: When you look back at how things were so contingent then, do you think it was just a case of sheer luck or fate that saved us from becoming like Philippines under Marcos, or Indonesia under Suharto or, worst still, Uganda under Idi Amin?

No, no, I don’t think it was luck. I think it was due very much to the maturity of the people who ran the country at that time: the politicians, headed by Tun Razak, Tun Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin. These people, compared to what you have now… These people were solid people – you could not bribe them. Tun Razak had only three bush jackets – three. That’s what he used to wear… Now, every day is like Bollywood: morning, different shirt; afternoon, different shirt. Tun Razak wore one.

DKL: I sometimes used to help carry Tun Razak’s bag. Now they’ve got people to carry minister’s wives’ bags,hairdresses, make-up…

I’ll tell you about one incident. One day Tun Razak had to make a trip to Kelantan. Tun Rahah had wanted to follow him but ministers could not take their wives with them [on official trips]; the government would not pay for it.

So that morning Tun Razak called me and said, ‘I’m going toKelantan and Rahah wants to go too but I cannot take her because government won’t pay for this’.

I said to him, ‘Tun, this is NOC, and I am the controlling officer. I have the right to approve and you are the number one man. You take her, I’ll pay for it and no one will query it. You are the Director of Operations.’ He said, ‘No, no, no people will talk, people will talk. Rahman, I don’t want people to talk about this.’ In the end, Tun Rahah had to go to Kelantan by herself, by car.

And that’s the type of man we had running the country at that time. Let alone now, going overseas and taking their wives and children…

***end of excerpt (underline mine)***

You know. These days I’ve been reading a hell lot of books and articles on Malaysian history. And speaking of 1Malaysia, so far to what shallow knowledge I have about my own country (I am shameless), I think we’ve seen two occurrences where multi racesrose up to national unity. The first was during the Japanese Occupation period in the 40s, where races and tribes came together to form the MPAJA (Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army) to resist the Japanese invasion. Although MPAJA together with the British were not able to fend off the aggression but at least, they did make it short and as hellish as possible for the Japs. But sadly, after the Japs surrendered, the party broke up and we were back to square one of small explosion of civil wars due to power contention. The second incidence of 1Malaysia was the formation of the NOC (as shared above), where the country was forwardly and justly governed by a few extraordinary individuals from different races, namely Tun Razak, Tun Tan Siew Sin, and Tun VT Sambanthan. And Malaysia, very quickly, got out of the state of emergency caused by the throes of ethnic riots. But now? History tells us that Malaysia needs ‘a state of emergency’ in order to spur unity. So let’s hope that the common enemy in this modern times, is this economic downturn that we’re facing or the threat of human extinction that’s caused by global warming and NOT anything similar to what our ancestors have had experienced.

I’ve made a commitment today to unlearn my history and learn it all over again within the next two years. Join me here if you’re interested and I’ll share what I’ve learned (and what should be unlearned from our school days). I hope to share with you the truth behind the fable of Hang Tuah being a Chinese and was subsequently expelled from our school history books, someday. That for me, is just pure curiosity.

By the way. In addition to the above interview excerpt, I thought this is also a very important piece on Tun Razak which you should know:

(pg 37)

He (Tun Razak) restored peace to the country which figuratively was on the brink of collapse, and the speed with which this was done was extraordinary, thanks to the active cooperation of all the ethnic groups. A shy, reticent and exceptionally ableadministrator cum politician, he was a rare combination of qualities. He was very dedicated to his work, to the extent of being a workaholic and, above all, he was incorruptible. When he died, he left behind only two modest houses – one inKuala Lumpur, and the other, a rumah kampung in his constituency of Pekan, Pahang. He had accumulated savings of RM100,000. He also left behind a wife (Tun Rahah Haji Noah), five boys and an adopted daughter. Two of the boys are Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib and Dato Seri Nazir (the youngest), the tsar of CIMB.

Few thoughts in summary:

1) I disagree with Datuk. I think the politicians THEN were MORE professional
2) I’ve got a new role model(s) and a new hope. A just Malaysian politician EXISTS or at least, existed.
3) Tun Razak’s wife took the car to Kelantan on her own, but his son’s wife…

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .

Tanda Putera – False, Dubious and Extremely Manipulative Anyone game to make a movie on May 13 – and give us the REAL TRUTH for once!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Recent Posts

IN MEMORY OF ALL VICTIMS OF MAY 13, 1969


%d bloggers like this: