Chapter 06 - Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969

On 27 May 1961, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, was invited to address a lunch meeting of the Foreign Correspondents Association of Southeast Asia in Singapore. In his after-lunch speech, he proposed a 'Grand Malaysian Alliance' of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo and Brunei.

This was not the first time the idea had been proposed. It had been mooted by Malcolm MacDonald when he was British Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia (1949 — 1952). The first mention of such an amalgamation had been made by Lord Brassey in 1887, and in more recent times there had been several other organizations and persons who had advocated the same thing.1

There had been other proposals too. One of these concerned the linking up of Singapore and Malaya, on the grounds that both territories formed a single economic unit which had been divided artificially by the British.2

The problem, from the Malay point of view, was that the inclusion of Singapore's predominantly Chinese population would have affected the delicate racial balance, and there was a fear, too, that Singapore could easily move to the left.

Another proposal was a union between Malaya and the three Borneo territories of British North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak. According to 'unimpeachable Chinese and Malay sources', the British had said to Kuala Lumpur 'you can't have Borneo without Singapore'.3 This 'Greater Federation' concept attracted considerable UMNO support during the period from 1956 to 1960 as it appealed to Malay nationalists who thought of the indigenous peoples of Borneo as Malays,4 and they saw it as strengthening their position vis-a-vis the Chinese.

By 1961, however, the Tunku was prepared to accept Singapore in Malaysia, as he had become convinced by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore that the position of the rul-

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


ing People's Action Party (PAP) was threatened by communist elements and that it would be more dangerous for Malaya to keep Singapore outside Malaysia than to take it inside. The Tunku himself said that for reasons of 'national security' and 'mutual economy' the two countries should work together. Moreover, by bringing in British Borneo, it was hoped that the indigenous peoples of Borneo, who outnumbered the Chinese there by three to one, would balance the Chinese majority in Singapore.5

Between May 1961 and September 1963 (when Malaysia came into existence), there was a series of consultations and negotiations6, but when all was said and done, the real issue at stake was whether the Chinese and Malays could get on well together. It was apparent that the Malays still felt apprehensive of those Chinese 'who think and talk of everything Chinese and do not give any indication that they are Malayan in outlook'.7 Tunku Abdul Rahman had also touched on the same point in his after-lunch speech referred to above when he had said that the tendency of the Chinese in Singapore was to try and make Singapore a 'little China' while in Malaya 'the Government is characteristically Malayan and bases its policy on a Malayan way of life and Malayan standards'.8

There were reservations in North Borneo and Sarawak, too, about Malaysia, the real reason being a genuine fear among the non-Muslim elements, who formed the majority of the population, that Malaysia would mean the imposition on them of Malay as the national language and Islam as the state religion, with Malay 'overlords' from Kuala Lumpur in place of British administrators.

In fact, this fear was unwarranted as, when the Malayan government amended the constitution by passing the Malaysia Act (1963), it allowed for both English and Malay to be used as official languages in North Borneo and Sarawak for a period of ten years, and even 1973 was not definitely set as a 'cut-off date for the use of English. Moreover, Islam was not made the state religion of these two territories.9

Under the new Malaysian constitution, Singapore, too, was treated differently by being allowed to retain control of its education, labour and other matters. Singapore citizenship was accepted as being the equivalent of Federation of Malaya citizenship.

The new state of Malaysia incorporating the territories of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo (thereafter to be known as Sabah, its original Malay name), came into being on 16

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


September 1963. The Sultan of Brunei was initially disposed to join Malaysia but he subsequently changed his mind, most likely because he was not satisfied that the financial arrangements would be in Brunei's favour, especially as Brunei is an oil-rich state, and possibly, too, because his status vis-a-vis the Malay rulers of Peninsular Malaysia was not acceptable.

Singapore withdrew from Malaysia in mid-1965 but this will be touched upon later in this account.

It had originally been intended by Tunku Abdul Rahman that the birth of the new state would date from 31 August 1963 but its inception was delayed until, the following month by objections from Indonesia and the Philippines.10

Malaysia from the beginning was a plural society, but there was no sign of integration among the various races living in it. In its place, as far as the Malays and Chinese were concerned, there was a rather precarious agreement or understanding between the UMNO and the MCA top leaders that Malay special rights should not be questioned and the political predominance of the Malays should not be challenged provided that the Chinese were allowed to pursue unimpeded their traditional commercial and industrial activities.

There was a certain ambivalence and inexactness about the latter part of the 'pact', as it was, at the same time, accepted that the Malays should use their political predominance to improve their economic position to redress the economic balance between the two communities so that they could play a more significant part in the economic life of the country. It seemed inevitable that there would be some intrusion on what the Chinese regarded as their preserve even though the reshaping of the economic balance, and the adjusting of the scales, was to be done without depriving anyone of what they already had.

When General Templer was appointed High Commissioner of the Federation of Malaya in February 1952, he had been issued with a directive by the British government that the 'ideal of a united Malayan nation does not involve the sacrifice by any community of its traditional culture and customs, but before it can be fully realized the Malays must be encouraged and assisted to play a full part in the economic life of the country, so that the present uneven economic balance may be redressed'.11

As a result of this policy, various quasi-government bodies and institutions came into existence, such as the Federal Land

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


Development Authority (FELDA) in 1956. This large organization was engaged in land development and settlement projects, with the objects of improving the standard of living and increasing the income of the rural population, which was mainly made up of Malay peasants, and opening up new land for high yield rubber and oil palm for Malay settlers.12

Another body worthy of note was the Rural and Industrial Development Authority (RIDA) established in 1950, which was reorganized fifteen years later into the Majlis Amanah Ra'ayat (Council of Trust for the Indigenous People) (MARA). Affiliated to this body was the MARA Institute of Technology which started in an unpretentious way in 1954 as a coir and rope-making centre and was expanded into a full-scale Institute for Business and Professional Studies in 1960.

During 1966 — 70, MARA made available about 4,800 loans totalling M$31 million for various projects, mainly to Malay businessmen and proto-industrialists. It established a number of companies in the field of commerce and industry for producing such items as batik garments, tapioca starch, rubber pellets and processed rubber. It built shophouses for Malay businessmen, and encouraged bumiputras (see below) to go into business as wholesale suppliers and contractors for construction materials.

MARA also formed and operated bus companies (most of the transport companies in Malaysia were run by Chinese), and by 1970 it was operating 360 buses and providing services covering 2,000 miles. By this time, and after setting the transport companies on their feet, MARA had transferred six of its bus services to Malay concerns leaving 33 still under its own direct operational control.13

Other organizations included the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA), established in 1952, to improve the marketing system and to ensure that farmers obtained a fair price for their products, and the Bank Bumiputra, which was formed in 1965. 'Bumiputra', meaning literally 'princes of the soil' but usually translated more prosaically as 'sons of the soil', was the name used for what were referred to in the constitution as Malays and other indigenous people.

The Bank Pertanian Malaysia (Agricultural Bank), set up in 1969, was used by the Malaysian government for making agricultural credit available to Malay farmers on reasonable terms, and the funds for this purpose were channelled through

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


rural cooperatives and Farmers' Associations.

The setting up of more effective machinery for extending and coordinating credit facilities to Malay farmers was intended to break the effective control which Chinese and Indian (chettiar) money lenders and entrepreneurs had over agricultural land belonging to Malays. This was done by advancing money to the Malay farmers for which collateral was provided by pledging the land as security. In fact, as has been mentioned earlier, an attempt had already been made in 1933 to deal with this problem by the passing of the Malay Reservation Enactment in the FMS and similar laws in the UMS which forbade charge or lease of Malay Reservation land to a non-Malay.

But this measure was not entirely effective in reducing Malay indebtedness to non-Malays, as shopkeepers and rice-millers, who were for the most part Chinese, devised a system referred to as padi kunca whereby a farmer could obtain a loan or credit facilities against the security of padi not yet harvested. Under this ingenious system of 'forward credit', instead of the land being pledged as a security for cash, as this was now forbidden, the produce of the land was pledged instead. To give a practical example, a Malay scholar working in this field in the late 1960s relates the case of a rice-mill and two shops in Kangkong granting Malay farmers credit of from M$40 to M$50 during the off-season against their future crop of padi, which was to be repaid with a quantum of padi bearing a market value of around M$80. Thus the resulting profit to the Chinese entrepreneurs would be between 60 to 100 per cent.14

There was a similar system to padi kunca in the fresh fish trade where Chinese middlemen commonly advanced rice and cloth, and sometimes money, to Malay fishermen during the off-season in anticipation of being able to purchase their catch during the fishing season at an agreed price depressed below market level.15

Under the First Malaysia Plan 1966—70, more secondary schools were built in rural areas, and residential facilities were provided in some urban secondary schools, so that Malay pupils from the rural areas, particularly in science streams, could board at them. As a result of these programmes, more than three-quarters of the primary schools and about one half of the secondary schools were located in rural areas. This was a great help to the bumiputras who had been at a disadvantage previously as the secondary schools were mainly in the towns whereas most of the Malays were

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


rural dwellers.16

The period of the First Malaysia Plan was characterized by a high rate of development activity in the country. The long MCP-inspired Emergency had come to an end in 1960, and the government was able to concentrate more on development projects rather than security. The private sector of the economy sprang to life again with renewed vigour to take advantage of the opportunities for growth investment. A new Ministry of National and Rural Development was formed to ensure the speedy and efficient implementation of the rural development programme. The emphasis was placed on rural rather than urban development and progress, which benefited the Malays more than anyone else. In fact, the Malays made up only 28 per cent of the total urban population of Peninsular Malaysia in 1970, with the Chinese accounting for 58 per cent and the Indians 13 per cent.17

In describing the decade between 1960 — 1970, the Second Malaysia Plan says: 'Despite the significant progress made in improving the economic well-being of the have-nots, the problem of economic imbalance remained. Although there were some movements out of agriculture as well as into more productive activities within the agricultural sector, a large part of the population continued to be engaged in low-income activities in the rural areas. Indications are that wide gaps in income and living conditions between the traditional sector (both rural and urban) and the modern sector continued to exist. They arose from differing opportunities for education, employment and ownership of or access to entrepreneurial resources. These differences were accentuated by the concentration of Malays and other indigenous people in the low-income activities.’18

It is evident from this statement which way the government was thinking, and accordingly when the Second Malaysia Plan 1971—75 was drafted, it dealt with these imbalances and differences, particularly those between the Malay and Chinese communities.

There is an interesting section in the Second Malaysia Plan dealing with the decade leading up to 1970, which is well worth close study as it demonstrates very clearly the Malay perception that they were in danger of 'losing out' to the non-Malays in regard to the ownership of the Malaysian economy in terms of the pattern of ownership, distribution of wealth, and participation in the modernization and developmental process.19 There was clear

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


ly a genuine fear that economically, at any rate, the Malays had been left behind by the non-Malays, and that unless something was done about it before it was too late, they would be 'overwhelmed' in their own country.

Most of the development was seen to be taking place in the urban areas and not in the rural areas, where the Malays lived in their kampungs. As has been brought out above, the majority of the inhabitants of the towns were non-Malay. The concentration of Chinese in the three major towns of Peninsular Malaysia, that is, Kuala Lumpur (the federal capital), Penang and Ipoh, was indeed very striking. Outwardly, with the ethnic composition of the inhabitants, and their colourful Chinese shop signs, they gave the appearance of being Chinese settlements, with little sign at all of Malay influence. In 1970, about 41 per cent of the urban Chinese and 19 per cent of all the Chinese in Peninsular Malaysia lived in these three towns.20

As the quality of life, as well as social amenities and economic opportunities seemed to be better in urban areas than rural areas, and the majority of urban dwellers were Chinese, while the Malays lived in the rural areas, the economic imbalance could be interpreted in racial terms. Thus, the major concentration of Malays was in the traditional rural sector of the economy, which consisted of subsistence agriculture, including single-crop padi, the gathering of jungle produce, inshore fishing, and so on, while, on the other hand, the modem urban sector of the economy comprised technically advanced industry and the modern services, including the professions and the tourist trade, was dominated by non-Malay and foreign companies.

In the late 1960s, hardly any rubber estates of 100 acres and above in Peninsular Malaysia were owned by Malays, although Malays and non-Malays shared ownership of rubber smallholdings. The ownership of the rubber, oil palm, and coconut industries was in the hands of non-Malays, even taking into account about 308,000 acres of FLDA (now FELDA) land cultivated with rubber and oil palm which had been settled predominantly by Malays.21

In 1969, the Malays had only 1.0 per cent share of the share capital of resident limited companies in Peninsular Malaysia, although the Chinese had 22.8 per cent, and foreign controlled companies or branches of companies incorporated overseas had the largest share of all.

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


The above facts will speak for themselves, and, as a result, the government set a target that within twenty years at least 30 per cent of the management and ownership of all commercial and industrial activities should be in the hands of the bumiputras.22 It was the first time in the history of Malaya that such a major readjustment and restructuring of the economy had been proposed, and the ripples of this policy inevitably increased the tension between the Malays and the Chinese.

It will be remembered that Singapore's entry into Malaysia was not without its difficulties and that the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia were always rather wary about Singapore's 'Chineseness'. The Chinese in Singapore made up 75 per cent of the total population. From the Malay point of view the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in Singapore was a Chinese party with a Chinese leader, and not a noncommunal party, even though it had non-Chinese members.23 Smooth and harmonious relations between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, depended on each side being aware of the fragile nature of the modus vivendi between the two main communities, and taking care not to tread on each other's toes. This was not to be, however. The attitudes and styles of the PAP in Singapore and the Alliance in Malaysia were poles apart. The PAP had a brash, aggressive image, and it was accustomed to winning points by debate in which no punches were pulled while UMNO was much more conservative and deliberate, and it was used to settling disputes by mutual agreement before making any public announcement.

The decision on the part of the PAP to take a 'token part' in the April 1964 federal elections in Peninsular Malaysia came as a surprise, as Lee Kuan Yew had given an undertaking to Tunku Abdul Rahman that the PAP had no such intention.24 The PAP made it clear that it wanted to replace the MCA as UMNO's Chinese partner in the UMNO-MCA-MIC Alliance, but Tunku Abdul Rahman announced that he would stand by the MCA and he would not jettison it for the PAP.25

This blunted the thrust of the PAP, and although it was careful in the election campaign to focus its attack on the MCA, and indeed praise Tunku Abdul Rahman and UMNO, in the eyes of UMNO, the PAP's move into the Malaysian political arena was seen as a challenge to their own political supremacy.26

The results of the federal election proved that the PAP had made a serious tactical error in entering the field. Only one of the

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


nine PAP candidates was elected, and even he only obtained a majority of 808 votes.27 The Alliance captured 89 of the 104 federal parliamentary seats. The MCA won 27 of these seats out of the 34 it contested, which was a clear victory for them over the PAP. In the elections for the state assemblies, which were held simultaneously with the federal elections, the Alliance won 241 seats and the PAP none.28

After its electoral defeat in Peninsular Malaysia, the PAP decided to stay in politics in Malaysia as part of the opposition and Lee Kuan Yew formed a new coalition of opposition parties called the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Convention with the slogan of 'Malaysian Malaysia'. Significantly, the group's manifesto maintained that 'the nation and state is (sic) not identified with the supremacy, well-being and interest of any one community or race'.29

This confirmed the suspicions of some of the UMNO 'ultras' that the PAP itself was against everything that UMNO stood for, and that it was not disposed to accept the special rights and position of the Malays, although Lee Kuan Yew was to say in April 1965 that the PAP upheld Malay privileges in the constitution. However, he added that these privileges would help only 'a small group of Malay bourgeoisie to become capitalists', and would not be of much assistance to the Malay ra'ayat (peasants).30

While the PAP was intent on establishing itself in Peninsular Malaysia, UMNO and the MCA had their own plans for gaining a foothold in Singapore.31 The MCA attempt came to naught but UMNO's incursion brought serious results in its train. It was headed by Syed Ja'afar Albar, Secretary-General of UMNO, who was called an 'ultra' by Lee Kuan Yew.

Albar had made several inflammatory speeches in Singapore, and the Utusan Melayu, a Malay language newspaper printed in Jawi (Arabic) script, did not make matters any better by the anti-PAP and anti-Chinese tone of its editorials and news reports.32 Matters came to a head in July 1964 when Sino-Malay riots broke out in the streets of Singapore on the occasion of a Muslim procession celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday. On the day before the riots, leaflets had appeared urging Malays to start a jihad (holy war) against the Chinese and slaughter them wherever they could be found.33

Singapore was placed under curfew. Police riot squads were brought in to quell the disturbances and although troops were

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


called out in aid of the civil power, twenty-two people were killed and about five hundred injured before the disturbances could be brought under control.34

Tunku Abdul Rahman blamed the riots on Indonesian subversive elements (this was the time of Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia), who had aggravated the legitimate grievances of the Singapore Malays.35

In September 1964, there were again racial riots in Singapore, which coincided with the landing of Indonesian paratroops in the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia.36 On this occasion, it was difficult to attribute the cause to any agitation by local, rather than foreign, elements of racial sentiments, and the Tunku again pointed out how easy it would be for Indonesian troublemakers to exploit the neglect of the Singapore Malay community by the Singapore government which 'made no provision for special treatment of one particular race or community'.37

The British colonial government in Singapore had claimed in 1949: 'There are no social problems of race or cultural relations of any magnitude. All races live and work harmoniously together.'38 But though this may have been true, at least outwardly, while the British were in control, once independence came there was no 'umpire' to maintain the intercommunal balance, and interracial ill feeling came very close to the surface.

By May 1965, there was little doubt that Sino-Malay relations had become badly strained, and the Malays realized that they were no longer in the majority in Malaysia as they had been previously in the Federation of Malaya. Lee Kuan Yew had reached the point of openly challenging the special rights of the Malays. 'According to history,' he said, 'Malays began to migrate to Malaysia in noticeable numbers only about 700 years ago. Of the 39 per cent Malays in Malaysia today, about one-third of them are comparatively new immigrants like the secretary-general of UMNO, Dato Syed Ja'afar Albar, who came to Malaya from Indonesia just before the war at the age of more than thirty. Therefore it is wrong and illogical for a particular racial group to think that they are more justified to be called Malaysians and that the others can become Malaysian only through their favour.'

Lee Kuan Yew's statement was refuted by UMNO. Dato Abdul Razak, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, said that 'Mr Lee not only upset the Malays, but also the Rulers and everybody else-...If there is racial trouble, all of us,including Mr Lee, will suffer,'39

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


Lee Kuan Yew answered that he could trace his ancestry back one hundred years in Singapore, and again refuted the idea that the Malays were the indigenous people of the Malay archipelago, but he was careful to add that he supported the Malaysian constitution and Malay special rights.40

It was well that he did this because there was some talk at the time of the Malaysian government detaining him. It soon became evident that the situation was deteriorating fast, and relations between Singapore and the central government were rapidly approaching breaking point.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian Prime Minister, has put his views on record as follows: 'When facing this dilemma, I found that only two choices lay before me. One, take positive action against Mr Lee Kuan Yew; and, two, break with Singapore and save the nation from a bloodbath. So I chose the second course. '41

On 9 August 1965, the Tunku made an official announcement in the Dewan Rakyat (House of Commons) that Singapore would have to leave Malaysia.42

There is little doubt that Malaysia came dangerously close to racial violence at the time of Singapore's expulsion, and if matters had been allowed to drag on, it would have led to fighting between the Malays and Chinese on an unprecedented scale. A year later, the Tunku added the following afterthought: 'If we had not separated there would have been blue murder.'43

Even after the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia, the PAP continued to concern itself with the position of the Chinese in Peninsular Malaysia, and the central government decided that the PAP branch in Malaysia would have to be wound up since it had become a 'foreign party'. In March 1966, the solitary PAP member of the Dewan Rakyat registered a 'new' party called the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which, while having a separate legal identity from the PAP, was clearly its successor in Peninsular Malaysia. It was a champion of the Malaysian Malaysia concept as presented by Lee Kuan Yew.44

In drawing this chapter in the history of 'Singapore in Malaysia' to a close, it should be noted that there were, in addition to the 'Malay vs. Chinese' undertones inherent in the situation, constitutional grounds for friction between the two governments relating to economic and financial issues. The differences between the two governments were exacerbated by such matters

Prelude to the 13 May 1969 Riots | 13 May 1969


as whether Singapore would be allowed to develop as the main industrial centre of Malaysia, as well as the commercial centre, or whether Peninsular Malaysia's industry should be built up instead; the Financial contribution Singapore was expected to make to the central government; and the loan Singapore was to make to East Malaysia, but these problems could no doubt have been resolved amicably by negotiation had it been possible for Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to build up mutual trust and respect, and enter into a dialogue.45

It will be recollected that the original provision about language in the constitution was that only Malay as the sole national and official language could be used in parliament and state legislatures after 1967, that is, ten years after Merdeka, unless otherwise provided by parliament.46

With the approach of 1967, the pressure for the wider use of Malay increased from the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Malaysia's Language and Literature Bureau), UMNO 'ultras' and other Malay nationalists. There was just as resolute counter-pressure from Chinese chauvinists in the MCA, other non-Malay political parties, and Chinese teachers.47

The Alliance took the formal and legal step required to create Malay as the sole national and official language by passing the National Language Act in 1967. However, while the position of Malay was affirmed, to the great and bitter disappointment of the Malay language advocates, English was still permitted to be used for some official purposes as deemed fit by the federal and state authorities, or by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Paramount Ruler).48 Tunku Abdul Rahman called for an all-out effort to promote the use of Malay, under the slogan Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa (Language is the Soul of the Nation) which was diplayed on posters, banners, and road signs all over the country. At the same time, he made it clear that he felt that English would have to be used as the language of higher studies for a long time to come.49

The outcome was that, on the one hand, non-Malays were decidedly unenthusiastic about the government's stand on language, especially as it was realized that the planned unification of the school system would lead to Malay becoming the sole medium of instruction, yet on the other hand, the Tunku and other top UMNO leaders were criticized severely by the Malay 'ultras' and their supporters, especially Malay schoolteachers and-university students, for conceding too much to the Chinese.50

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sila gunakan bahasa yang sopan.
Please use proper language.