May 13, 1969: Umno’s effete election weapon

JULY 23 ― The “May 13 Incident” was a pogrom. It was not as “racial riot”.

This was how it all started after the results of the 1969 general election were known:

“Late on Tuesday afternoon (May 13, 1969), young Malays from the whole of Selangor began to assemble outside the residence of the Selangor Mentri Besar, Datuk Harun. A retaliatory march had been planned by the Umno Youth to end in a rally at Suleiman Court near Batu Road, but police permission was withheld. While people were still assembling for this parade, trouble broke out in the nearby Malay section of Kampung Baru, where two Chinese lorries were burnt.

“By 6.30pm, a crowd was raging down Jalan Raja Muda towards Batu Road. Another group came out of Kampung Baru into Jalan Hale, another exit from the Malay section into the Chinese areas. By 7.15pm, I could see the mobs swarming like bees at the junction of Jalan Raja Muda and Batu Road. More vehicles were smashed and Chinese shop houses set on fire…” (Malaysia: Requiem for democracy? By Bob Reece, FEER, 18/24 May 1969)

That much is clear from the declassified documents examined in my 2007 title on this subject. The attempt by the government then to blame it on communists and the opposition parties fell flat according to foreign correspondents as well as the confidential dispatches by  foreign diplomats in Kuala  Lumpur.
More pertinently, my thesis is that “May 13” was orchestrated by then emergent state capitalist class in Umno in a coup d’état against the Tunku’s aristocratic class.

A fascist trend
That is the first point Malaysian historians should take note. May 13 was the first of a fascist trend that would be resurrected at every challenge to the Umnoputras’ rule since 1971. It is part and parcel of the “Bumiputeraism” that is the populist ideology of this new ruling class since 1971 to garner support from the Malays.

Apart from civil rights demands by the Non-Malays (e.g. Suqiu in 2000), general elections have posed the biggest threats to the political control by the Umnoputras. Umno has used the same weapon at every general election.

I remember the one in 1990 when images and specially made programmes of May 13 were shown nightly on RTM. The mainstream press also carried BN-sponsored advertisements showing the May 13 carnage in order to spook the electorate.

The 2008 general election was the closest to BN losing federal power so you can bet “May 13” will be used in an even more blatant way by the Umno strategists in  the impending 13th general election. I believe there is already a propaganda film made to try to purvey the “official” version of the May 13 Incident. No doubt it will try to pin the blame on communists and the Opposition parties.

Demonising communism
The official Umno strategy all these years has been to demonise “communism” as a Chinese phenomenon in Malaysia even though there were Malay leaders and members among the CPM ranks. With the majority of the Chinese electorate finally declaring their rejection of Umno’s racist and discriminatory policies en masse ― evident in their voting trend since 2008 ― Umno has raised the communist bogey again by alleging that Opposition has been infiltrated by communists.
For seasoned historians, this serves the dual purpose of trying to frighten middle class Malaysians and to further alienate the Malays from the Opposition; at the same time, this allegation gives the BN the justification to unleash another “security” operation by using detention without trial to put away Opposition leaders and dissidents at the opportune time just as they have done so many times in the past.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission
As I have raised in my 2007 title, for Malaysians to thoroughly exorcise the May 13 ghost we need to establish a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to uncover the culprits responsible for orchestrating the pogrom; to document the victims and to pay respects to all those who lost their lives; to hear the testimonies of the police, the army, hospital staff and participants, as well as to hear from all those who were traumatised during those weeks in 1969.
If the Barisan Nasional cannot do this, it is up to PR to undertake this process if and when they take over the federal government.

Unite against fascism & racism
As the 13th general election approaches, Malaysians should brace themselves for more and more intense BN propaganda onslaught preying on the May 13 spectre. Even though this tried and trite election weapon has been shown to be effete in frightening the electorate, we must stay vigilant considering the fascist tendency of recent years.
The 13th general election is the time for Malaysians to unite against fascism and to end racism & racial discrimination once and for all…..

* Dr Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suaram, a human rights group.

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