Monday, 10-Dec-2001 8:56 AM
RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 3
By Dr Syed Husin Ali
3. Racial Conflicts: 13th May Incident
On several occasions, in various parts of this country, racial tensions
have led to conflicts resulting in untold deaths and destruction.
During British colonialism the country was open to foreign immigrants,
largely Chinese, Indians and Indonesians. A plural society emerged
here. The various ethnic groups were not only separated socially
and culturally, but they also had different and often conflicting
economic and political interests. Colonialism took advantage of
this to carry out the notorious "divide and rule" policy. In fact
this colonial policy was continued and perpetrated by the local
ruling elite after independence.
One of the worst inter-ethnic outbreaks experienced in this country
occurred for a number of days beginning 13th of May 1969, and for
that reason it has often been referred to as the 13th May Incident.
Conflicts were confined mainly to Kuala Lumpur (and Selangor). Actually
it began just a day after the general elections. During the long
election campaigns, much ethnic heat was generated through claims
and counter claims of ethnic injustices, discriminations, exploitations
and uneven concentration of economic and political powers. The circumstances
were already created, and they were waiting only for an event to
cause an ethnic eruption.
The election results were the worst for the Alliance's since independence.
It so happened that in Selangor there was a tie between the opposition
parties, which happened to be mainly Chinese-based, and the ruling
Alliance, which was largely dominated by the Malay party, UMNO.
There were strong
racial overtones in the post-elections rhetoric and celebrations.
The Selangor UMNO, led by a fiercely racial Chief Minister, was
terribly afraid of loosing power, as jeered crudely by some Chinese
supporters of the opposition. The belief is that some leaders of
the ruling party precipitated racial killing in order to invite
a state of emergency.
Indeed emergency was soon declared and the Parliament as well as
the State Legislatures were suspended for about two years. A National
Operations Council (NOC) was set up with the Deputy Prime Minister
Tun Abdul Razak as Director and made up of a small number of leaders
from the government, military and also the bureaucracy. A New Economic
Policy (NEP) was instituted, with the prime objectives of alleviating
poverty and restructuring society, to promote national unity.
A National Consultative Council (NCC) was also formed, including
representatives from government and opposition parties, as well
as some professionals, academicians and leading citizens as members.
When civilian rule was later restored, the Alliance was expanded
to form the National Front (Barisan Nasional - BN), which accommodated
several of the opposition parties that participated in the NCC.
4. Peasant Uprise; Baling Incident
Towards the end of 1974, a number of "hunger marches" were carried
out by thousands of rural folk in Baling, a small town in the northern
part of the country. At that time the price of rubber had fallen
to a steep low. Many rubber tappers did not earn enough incomes
to feed their families regularly with rice, the staple food.
The irony was that at this time Parliament passed a regulation to
increase the monthly allowances of its members. To make matters
worse, there was widespread rumour that a couple of children had
died after eating certain poisonous tubers that were not properly
processed, because their parents could not afford to buy rice.
The people of Baling, consisting mainly of peasants, continued to
hold daily demonstrations for a number of days. There was almost
total blackout in the media about these "hunger marches". When students
in the University of Malaya got wind of them, they in turn organised
peaceful meetings in support of the peasants. Soon more students
from various institutions of higher learning joined, culminating
in a series of demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
As usual the police used water cannons and canes to disperse them.
There were at least two significant things about this development.
Firstly, the "hunger marches" were participated mainly by poor Malays
protesting against a Malay dominated government. Secondly, it was
significant that large numbers of students from all races came out
in support of the poor peasants, thus forging a very important alliance
that never happened before. The conflicts were not racial but bore
a class content.
Of course the government did not like it and so came down with a
heavy hand. Following a huge demonstration in the centre of the
capital city of Kuala Lumpur, more than a thousand students were
rounded up by police. Most of them were released after one or two
days, but over forty students and
lecturers (including Anwar Ibrahim and myself) were detained under
the ISA. Almost immediately the police entered the university and
occupied it for a few days.
About two years later, not long after the death of Tun Razak, the
second Premier, there was power struggle within the leadership of
UMNO. The ambitious Home Minister then, was plotting to be Deputy
PM and clear the way to succeed Tun Hussein Onn to become the fourth
PM. In Singapore at this
time, there was a crackdown of a number of people alleged to be
"Marxists". Some of them confessed of having connections in Malaysia.
Soon there was a similar crackdown under ISA in Malaysia. A number
of people, including two Deputy Ministers, senior newspaper editors
and leaders of the opposition were detained. They were accused of
having links with communists merely because, among other things,
they warned of possible
domino effects on Southeast Asia, following the defeat of US in
Vietnam. The Home Minister, tried to stage almost a "coup" by trying
implicate the present PM, who was then DPM, with those arrested
and also with the communist underground and by so doing hoping to
remove him from office. But he failed.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 1
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 2
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 4
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RECENT PAST – Part 5