09. RACIAL POLITICS | The May 13 Tragedy

During the long election campaign, several irresponsible candidates took racialist lines. Blatant incitement of racial feelings was evident in their speeches as they courted support on racial grounds. These opportunists ranged from one extreme, those who misrepresented and attacked Article 153 of the Constitution, to the other, that exploited fears among the Malays that they would be overwhelmed by the non-Malays. Even more extreme were those who questioned the historic right of the Malays to regard themselves as the indigenous people of Malaya.

This dangerous baiting technique by speakers at the election rallies could be detected by the difference in the emphasis they placed in their speeches. The speeches for the benefit of English and Malay-speaking audiences on the one hand differed in emphasis from those for the Chinese or Tamil-speaking audiences on the other. The same technique was also used in regard to pamphlets and manifestos issued to the public. Vernacular versions were specially designed to incite racial feelings.

Allegations were also repeatedly made that the Malays were given privileges in government jobs to the exclusion of non-Malays and that the Malays controlled the administration and the uniformed services, particularly in Division One of the government services.


It is interesting at this point to compare the allegations with statistics of senior government officers among the various racial groups in the country.

Figures Relating to Division One Government Officers by Racial Groups, as on 1st November, l968

Total      ...            3,392     (Excluding Armed Forces and the Police)

Malays ...            1,142     ...            36.26%

Non-Malays       2,250     ...            63.74%

Administration Services

Total      ...            1,221

Malays ... 706 ... 57.8%

Non-Malays 515 ... 42.2%

Professional Services (Excluding Education)

Total ... 1,998

Malays ... 385 ... 19.2%

Non-Malays 1,613 ... 80.8%


Education Officers

Total ... 173

Malays ... 51 29.9%

Non-Malays 122 ... 70.1%

Police (Absolute figures withheld for security reasons)

Malays ... 38.76%

Non-Malays 61.24"

Armed Forces (Absolute figures withheld for security reasons)

Malays ... 64-5%.

Non-Malays 35.5%

In the other Divisions of government services and in statutory bodies, the ratio of Malay to non-Malay officers is even less favourable to the Malays. The notable exceptions are in the lower ranks of the Armed Forces and the Police, areas of employment long avoided by non-Malays.

The above figures reveal the large extent of participation of non-Malays in the so-called Malay areas of government services. Allegations that the non-Malays are excluded are regarded by the Malays as deliberate distortion. The Malays who already felt excluded in


the country's economic life, now began to feel a threat to their place in the public services. No mention was ever made by non-Malay politicians of the almost closed-door attitude to the Malays in non-Malays in large sections of the private sector in this country.

The Prime Minister cautioned against these blatant appeals to racial feelings throughout the campaign. In a speech in Kuala Pilah on 15th April, he warned the Democratic Action Party not to tamper with Article 153 of the Constitution. "If they (DAP) try to do this there will surely be chaos and the prosperity which we now enjoy would be gone."

Certain non-Malay racialist election speakers constantly worked up non-Malay passions against Malay policemen and officers, alleging partial treatment in the enforcement of the law. They contributed directly to the breakdown in respect for the law and authority amongst sections of the non-Malay communities.

The long campaign did great damage to racial harmony in Malaysia. Political parties at both extremes harped incessantly on "Bumiputraism" on the one hand, and Malay poverty on the other. This was a dangerous development in a society so visibly identified along ethnic, cultural and economic lines. It also resulted in a strain upon large sections of the liberal Malay population, and placed segments of the non-Malay population, whose loyalty to the country was no longer in doubt, in a difficult position.


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