Who gained from May 13?
What’s the best question to ask about May 13?
When you hear “May 13,” do you first think of the events which happened then? Or do you think of what caused the events? Or do you think of how Malaysia has changed since that day 45 years ago?
The British government declassifies documents after 30 years. In 1999 documents from 1969 were declassified.
Dr Kua Kia Soong, a sociologist, reviewed the documents to discover what new light they might shed on the events of May 13, an incident which was never the subject of a public inquiry.
I’ve just read his Suaram-published 2007 book, “May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.” The 151 page book includes 167 end-notes.
Kua sifted through British diplomatic and military records. These included references to reports by diplomats of other nations, e.g. Australia, New Zealand, China, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. He also scoured the reports of foreign correspondents, especially those in the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER).
Kua found that the documents support what Subky Latiff, a journalist then, wrote in 1977:
“The May 13 Incident did not occur spontaneously. It was planned quickly and purposely. The identity of the planners of the incident cannot be stated with accuracy. But whatever it was that happened, the May 13 Incident was a form of coup d’etat directed against Tunku Abdul Rahman. The Tunku’s power in fact ended from then onwards. Although he continued to be Prime Minister and President of UMNO, he was no more than a figurehead.” (Page 3)
So, what was May 13, according to foreign sources?
“May 13” occurred nationwide over several days as a response to the Umno-dominated Alliance losing its two-thirds majority in the 1969 elections, as predicted.
During May 13 thousands were killed, injured, arrested; made homeless; much property was destroyed. Ten to fifteen percent of the victims were ethnic Malays.
On May 11 and 12 the opposition celebrated their victory. On May 13 Umno was denied police permission to hold a “retaliatory march.” Violence erupted.
There are many reports that the armed forces and the police favoured ethnic Malays. The reality of official racial bias was weighed by the governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand when they pondered how to respond to requests by the Malaysian government to buy arms from them. Australia and NZ refused. Britain reluctantly agreed.
Who caused the May 13 Incident?
Kua says the root cause was the fear of “rich Malay farmers and state capitalists” that the loss of the Umno-dominated Alliance’s two-thirds majority spelt loss of opportunities for them:
“From the 1960s, there was clearly a struggle within the Malay ruling class, between the ‘Old Guard’ aristocratic class who were content with their economic interests in private capital of the non-Malay and foreign capitalists (even if this only meant sitting on the boards of directorship) and landed interests, and those elements who wanted to expand state capital still further in order to create a strictly-Malay state capitalist class.” (Page 26)
Umno gained the most from May 13.
The incident provided an excuse to suspend the Constitution, to neutralize Tunku and to introduce Emergency rule. The result was an environment in which privileges for Malays could be easily asserted and propagated.
What happened after May 13?
On 15 May an Emergency was declared.
A National Operations Council (NOC) was formed. Tun Razak was in charge, both of the civil and military administrations. Lee Kuan Yew called Razak “an evil genius.”
All state legislatures were suspended. State Operations Councils (SOC) were formed to govern the States; except in Penang, Malays held the vast majority of SOC positions.
The movements of foreign journalists were restricted. Censorship was enforced.
The whole of the Federation was declared a security area, subject to the Internal Security Act. Thousands were detained; the opposition was disabled.
Elections in Sarawak were deferred: it was popularly believed that if the elections had been allowed, the opposition would have won. Under the Emergency the NOC ruled from KL.
Tun Tan Siew Sin was relieved of his position as Minister of Finance. Tun Razak took over. The Rukun Negara was promulgated.
The NOC called elections only after it was sure the Alliance could regain a two-thirds majority in Parliament:
“With the reconvening of Parliament on 20 February 1971, the Constitutional (Amendment) Act was passed. Under this legislation, certain issues – “which might arouse racial emotions in respect of the National Language, i.e. Malay, the special position of the Malays and other native bumiputra, citizenship rights and the sovereignty of the Malay rulers” – were declared to be ‘sensitive’ and it became an offence to raise these questions in public.” (Page 127).
Now the principle of equality enshrined in Article 8 of our Constitution is ignored. The special position of the Malays enshrined in Article 153 is elevated. Umno elites accumulate wealth. Umno mobs are condoned.
Is “who gained?” the best question to ask about May 13?
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