We may have left the previous century more than a decade ago, as we have left the pains of the May 13th tragedy 43 years ago; but believe me, the game played by the politicians has not changed much. According to Dato’ Seri J.J Raj Jr, the Opposition parties back in 1969 had touched on issues such as the Malay “special rights”, “Malaysia for Malaysians”, “Equality, Justice, and Equal Opportunities for All”, while an Islamist party put up the slogan “Race, Religion, and Country.”
This all sounds eerily familiar today when people are challenging Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, Dong Zong’s claims, Hudud so on and so forth. All that had been agreed upon by our forefathers so we could all become Malaysian are now being questioned. Racial and religious extremism has reared its head yet again. However, this isn’t the first time since the May 13th tragedy that racial tension has been on a spike. I will come to this later.
In 1969, despite intelligence from the Special Branch, the Prime Minister decided to hold the elections. There was a campaign period of about three weeks after nomination day in April 1969 until polling day on 10th May 1969. A long cooking period brought about an explosive outcome. Racial tension had always been high, with the Opposition parties organising almost weekly demonstrations and strikes to fuel the tension. We see this happening today with several opposition-linked movements disrupting lives in several cities at the same time. On 24th April, 1969, an UMNO man, Encik Kassim bin Omar, was riding his motorcycle when he was stopped by a group of youths who assaulted him so viciously that he succumbed to his injuries. The youth then smeared his face with red paint that was used to write anti-government slogans moments before the assault took place.
On 4th May 1969, Police Constables doing their rounds in the early hours of the morning in Kepong, chanced upon several men who were writing anti-government slogans on the road. When they questioned the youths, they were attacked with iron rods, firewood and stones. The policemen retreated to the nearby market but the youths continued to attack them. One of the policemen opened fire and unfortunately killed one of the youths. As a contrast, the UMNO member was buried without much noise, but the Labour party had other ideas for their fallen member.
The Labour Party then had the youth’s body kept at a funeral parlour in Jalan Sultan. They then applied for a permit to hold a funeral procession. The OCPD of KL had rejected the permit as there was clear and present danger that the situation would turn explosive. However, this decision was overruled by the Home Ministry provided the procession followed the pre-determined routes. The procession attracted thousands including members of the Communist Party of Malaya and its sympathizers and was held on the 9th May, 1969, less than 24 hours before polling day. The procession participants shouted anti-government slogans, and hurled abuses at policemen on duty, calling them “running dogs” and other derogatory terms. When the police refused to engage them, they hurled abuses at the Malay bystanders shouting, “Die, Malays (Malai Si).” They did not keep to their approved routes, but made stops to hurl abuses at other races, harangued them, and even stopped in front of the UMNO building on Jalan Chow Kit.
As we know, the Alliance (UMNO, MCA, MIC) suffered a setback. And most sensitive was the state of Selangor, where DAP won four seats, Gerakan (which was an opposition party then) won four, and an Independent won one; the Opposition had won half of Selangor’s seats. As a result, victory parades were organized on a large scale and without police permit. The mobs became unruly, rowdy, and hooliganism ruled the day in defiance of the rule of law. They went to predominantly Malay areas, particularly Kampung Baru, challenged the Malays and hurled insults at them. Some even went to Dato’ Harun Idris’s house to tell him that he was no longer the Menteri Besar of Selangor. Patience was running thin among the Malays. While Gerakan had apologized for the behaviour of some of its members, supporters of the DAP continued to display, in the words of Dato’ Seri Yuen Yuet Leng, “excessive Chinese chauvinistic” behaviour towards the Malays.
UMNO members demanded to Harun Idris to hold their victory procession as well, as they had not lost the elections. At first, Dato’ Harun was not keen, but after assurance that a police permit would be obtained, he agreed. Selangor UMNO branches were to send participants to Dato’ Harun’s residence by 7pm on 13th May 1969. While they were on their way, racial clashes, for whatever reason, broke out in the Setapak area. The thousands that have thronged Dato’ Harun’s residence just blew up and headed towards Setapak, very unlike the watered-down version I was told shown in ‘Tanda Putera.’
The police did everything to maintain law and order, that even staff from Bukit Aman and recruits from the Police Depot were deployed to assist in maintaining law and order. Curfew took effect and strong personalities prevailed. In Negeri Sembilan, Dato J.J Raj Jr who was the state’s Chief Police Officer quickly went to seek the audience of Tuanku Jaafar, the Yam DiPertuan Besar, and briefed His Majesty on the situation. True to the traditions of a great Ruler, Tuanku Jaafar analysed the proposals from the police, and then gave J.J Raj Jr a clear and simple but firm order:
“Go ahead and maintain law and order at any cost.”
It was His Majesty’s order that saved Negeri Sembilan from a total bloodbath, save for a case or two. Political leaders from both sides of the fence, and elements of secret societies were rounded up and held at the Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur. Demands from senior office holders from both sides were totally ignored by the police.
The other strong figure that came (back) at the right time was Tun Dr Ismail. Despite being ill, he returned to the Cabinet as the Home Affairs Minister and declared on national radio and television:
“Democracy is dead. I will not tolerate nonsense from anyone, irrespective of race, religion or colour.”
Tun Dr Ismail was from a rare breed. He was not a vote-catcher,brooked no nonsense from any quarter, and was absolutely impartial and fair-minded. The kind of man that a Home Affairs Minister should be, what more in times when we now see the ugly head of extremism coming back to haunt us all.
To cut a long story short on the 13th May 1969 tragedy, it was an event that shook us all up. Decades of pent-up feelings culminated in an explosion on that day. For whatever reasons it happened, I can only think of two reasons – one, being disrespectful of the agreements made by all races that have been enshrined in the Federal Constitution, and two, continuous provocation by those with political gains to be made at the expense of the uninformed. And this, as I have mentioned above, sounds eerily familiar today.
After that wake-up call in May 1969, Malaysians seem a bit more tolerant towards each other. This gave the police the opportunity to spend more time and effort in combating the second emergency against the communist terrorists that began a year earlier. It was during this emergency that the police was struck twice by the communist terrorists when they assassinated the IGP, Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim on 7th June 1974, and the CPO of Perak, Tan Sri Khoo Chong Khong on 13th November 1975. The National Monument dedicated to the sacrifices of the security forces during the First Emergency was also bombed on the 27th August 1975. You can read more about the Second Emergency in a previous posting of mine.
Towards the end of 1985, a team of 200 policemen under the orders of the Home Affairs Minister, Musa Hitam, laid siege on several kampung houses occupied by about 400 followers of Ibrahim Mahmud a.k.a Ibrahim Libya, a PAS personality, in Memali, Kedah. This happened when Prime Minister, (then Dato Seri) Dr Mahathir Mohamad was away in China. The police action resulted in 14 villagers and 4 policemen dead. The IGP, (then Tan Sri) Hanif Omar, who was away on study leave in England, had to return home immediately after his final law exams to attend to the matter. As a result, Musa Hitam resigned from his posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister.
Racial chauvinism reared its ugly head again in the mid-1980s. Anwar Ibrahim, who was the Minister of Education then, wanted to convert several Chinese vernacular schools into National primary schools. The MCA was taken to task by DAP to ask for the government to repeal Section 21(2) of the education Act, 1961, and to adopt the “No Single Chinese School Closure” policy. The Minister refused to budge. Lim Kit Siang then called the MCA mere “passengers” on the Barisan Nasional ship.
In June 1987, according to Lim Kit Siang, the Deputy Education Minister from MCA, Woon See Chin spoke at an MCA Seminar enumerating certain grievances including certain schools were told to remove display of the crucifix in classrooms; non-Muslim students being coerced to recite phrases or follow certain ceremony which are repugnant to their personal religious beliefs or practices so on and so forth, things that happened during Anwar Ibrahim’s watch as the Education Minister. On 11th October, MCA, DAP and Gerakan joined by Dong Jiao Zhong protested against Anwar’s Ministry’s appointment of 100 non-Chinese senior assistants and principals to Chinese schools.
The UMNO Youth retaliated by organizing a mass rally of 10,000 members at the TPCA Stadium in Kampung Baru. Both UMNO and the Chinese-based organizations respectively called for the resignation of MCA Deputy President (and Labour Minister) Lee Kim Sai and Education Minister Anwar Ibrahim. A mammoth rally was planned in conjunction with UMNO’s 41st anniversary. Despite fears of another racial strife, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Megat Junid, and Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba, assured the public that everything would be okay. The Prime Minister Dr Mahathir was away in Vancouver, Canada attending the Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting.
The police thought otherwise. The media was already adding fuel to fire. The IGP, Tan Sri Mohammed Hanif Omar, who was in Singapore, flew home for a discussion with his Director of Special Branch, Datuk Rahim Noor, who had kept a close eye on the ugly development. Hanif then summoned his directors and senior officers to Fraser’s Hills for a secret meeting. The conclusion of that meeting was that the mammoth rally should not be allowed. The Directors went through a long list of names of potential trouble-makers and shortlisted 106.
When Dr Mahathir returned to Kuala Lumpur, Hanif immediately briefed on the situation and how bloodbath is imminent. Hanif also impressed upon Dr Mahathir that the responsibility to maintain law and order is the police’s and that Dr Mahathir’s role would only be necessary if those arrested were to be detained for longer periods. On 27th October 1987, with an ostensible reason for the police to precipitate an action, the 106 listed were arrested. Printing licenses were revoked and all rallies, including the planned mammoth UMNO rally. A bloodbath was averted, and just in time, 18 years after the 13th May tragedy.
We all know how touchy some subjects are. When representatives from MCA and MIC met with UMNO to discuss citizenship for the Chinese and Indians, they discussed all matters that are now enshrined in the Federal Constitution. The Rukunegara (National Principles) was born as a result of the 13th May tragedy. The five principles of the Rukunegara call for us, as Malaysians, to believe in God, to be loyal towards the King and Country, the supremacy of the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and Courtesy and Morality. Nowadays, we hardly see any of those principles being upheld by politicians and laymen alike.
We see politicians using God as a front to achieve political ends; we see politicians and laymen ridiculing not just the King but also the Country; we question the Constitution and what had been agreed to by our forefathers; we champion breaking of laws through demonstrations and other acts of defiance; and we no longer show courtesy nor morality towards others. We, Malaysians, have lost our integrity and dignity as the peoples of this nation.
Stop whatever thoughts that we have, take a step back and think about what it was like back then, the struggles our forefathers endured to make us a nation. When we listen, listen fairly and objectively. Do not adopt the herd mentality of believing everything that you hear from friends or read on the Internet without verifying, or at least use the brain God gave you to weigh the logic of things.
Be thankful that we were born into a plural society. God asked us to learn from each other, not hate each other. If we do not attempt to learn from each other, then this nation will have a troubled future.
I ask you my friends, with the National Day and Malaysia Day around the corner, be more tolerant towards one another.
Selamat menghayati erti Kemerdekaan. Selamatkan Malaysia dari pelampau politik dan agama.