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Ethnic Conflict and the Development of
Citizenship in Malaysia

A Dissertation

Presented to

The Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Science

Brandeis University

Department of Sociology

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Philosophy


Tock Guan Lee

April 1995


Gila Hayim, Ph.D

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This dissertation, directed and approved by the candidate's
Committee, has been accepted and approved by the Graduate
Faculty of Brandeis University in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of


Dean of Arts and Sciences

Dissertation Committee

ayim^Ph.D, Chair

Donald Hindley, Ph/D

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In the long process of writing this dissertation, I have

sought and received the encouragement from and the help and

guidance of many people. My greatest debt is to my adviser,

Professor Gila Hayim. From the very onset of my graduate

education and especially while working on this dissertation,

I have had her patient support and wise guidance. To her I owe

more than I could acknowledge, here or ever. To Professor

Peter Conrad I am especially grateful for his agreeing to be

one of my readers on such short notice. His enthusiastic inte­

rest in this study and his critical suggestions have assisted

me importantly. To Professor Carmen Sirianni I am greatly

indebted for his encouragement and many invaluable advice

while writing this dissertation. And to Professor Donald

Hindley I will always be grateful for his challenging and

probing questions which forced me to be clearer and more

rigorous in my thoughts.

A number of friends and colleagues have gave me crucial

emotional and intellectual support throughout my graduate

years. My fellow Malaysians, Khong Yuen Foong, Seo Pheak Son,

Leong Choon Heng, Lim Cheng Sim, Cho Kah Sin and James

Jesudason helped me at various points in my graduate years,

and, above all, maintained a sense of community in Cambridge.

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Yuen Foong, Choon Heng and James provided me with the much

needed intellectual support and camaraderie. Farzin Vahdat,

Johnny Williams and David Soule, my fellow graduate students,

greatly asissted and encouraged me in my writing in more ways

than I can mention. Nancy Gilroy and Rachelle Parise, my

colleagues in the library, provided valuable emotional support

and encouragement. My housemates Yasushi Watanabe and Philip

Cottee provided me with timely support during the last two

years of my writing this dissertation.

To my mother and deceased father I am eternally indebted

for all the years of sacrifice they had made for me. I am

immeasurably thankful to my sister, Siew Hoon, and her hus­

band, Chee Tuck, and my brother, Hock Kooi, for looking after

our parents while I was pursuing my graduate education. In

fact, without my sister's initiative, I would not have managed

to further my studies in the United States. Finally Ranjit,

after all these years of trying, or rather, fumbling, I still

cannot find the words to say what I owe to and how I feel for

her, but I think she understands. This work is for her.

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Ethnic Conflict And the Development

of Citizenship in Malaysia

A dissertation presented to the Faculty of the

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Brandeis
University, Waltham, Massachusetts

by Hock Guan Lee

Sociological studies of citizenship have traditionally

focused on its development in the context of European states.

Historically, due to an unique combination of factors, the

European states faced relatively homogeneous societies that

were becoming ordered in terms of classes. As such, it is

usually argued that class conflict was the determinant factor

in the development of citizenship. While a class analysis of

citizenship can usefully explain the Western experience, such

analysis, I argue, has limited utility explaining the postco­

lonial situation, where citizenship developed in societies

which were and are still divided along kinship, ethnic and

religious lines. My study is an attempt to address the ques­

tion of citizenship formation in conditions of multiethnicity.

My dissertation is based on the single-case study of the

Malaysian experience. An ethnically heterogeneous society,

Malaysia provides an excellent study of the relationship

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between ethnicity and citizenship. My dissertation examines

this relationship in terms of how the interaction between the

state and ethnic groups, and the conflict between the ethnic

groups have shaped the development of citizenship rights. The

impact of the state and ethnic conflict on the emergence of

citizenship is delineated into three phases: the colonializa-

tion phase (1874-1941), the decolonialization phase (1945-

1957) and the independence phase (1957-1974). The primary

sources for this study are official documents, political party

documents, memoirs and biographies, and newspapers.

My study show that since the British authorities admini­

stratively divided the colony's subjects into natives (Malays)

and immigrants (Chinese), citizenship in Malaysia has tradi­

tionally been linked to ethnicity. After the Second World War,

the British attempt to dissociate citizenship rights from

ethnicity, but was defeated by a growing Malay communalism.

The British and ethnic elites subseguently negotiated a citi­

zenship formula which extended citizenship status to the majo­

rity of the Chinese and recognized the Malay special position.

In the 1960s, Chinese struggle for the equalization of rights

resulted in the May 13, 1969 ethnic riots. Thus since the 1969

ethnic riots, the state has proceeded to institutionalize the

Malay special position while limiting the Chinese their right

to equal political citizenship.

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Acknowledgements iii
Abstract v
List of Tables and Illustrations ix
Abbreviations x



European Citizenship Model and its Development 10

The Opposing Logics of Communalism and Citizenship 24
State, Ethnic Movements and Citizenship Formation 34
Malaysia: A Case Study 42



The Kerajaan Political System 50

The Organization and Impact of Chinese Immigrant Society 65
The British Colonial State 78
Summary 92


The Malay Communal Movements 97

The Chinese Communal Movements 114
The Japanese Occupation and its Impact on Ethnic 128
Summary 139



The British Proposed "One State, One Nation" 142

Comunal Groups and the Malayan Union 151
Formation of the Ethnic Consociation during the 166
Malay Communalism and the Constitutional Negotiations 176
Summary 186

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Fissures in the Ruling Consociation 192

Non-Malay Opposition to the Alliance Government 208
Malay Opposition to the Alliance Government 215
The Dilemmas and Demise of Non-Communal Politics 222
The Increasing Communalization of Malaysian Politics 230
Summary 238


AFTERMATH, 1969-1974

The May 1969 Political Crisis 241

The Official Response and Version of the May 1969 250
Malay Special Rights and the Freedom ofSpeech 260
The Rise of UMNO-Malay Hegemony 269
Summary 283




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Table 1 Population by Ethnic Distribution in

Peninsula Malay(si)a, 1911-70. 45

Table 2 Employment by Ethnic Group and Sector,

1970 (in '000). 46

Table 3 Percentage of Total Ethnic Population

in Urban Areas. 1947-70. 46

Table 4 Distribution of Religion by Race in

Peninsula Malaysia, 1980. 47

Table 5 Annual Chinese Immigration to Malaya. 66

Table 6 Chinese Population in Malay(si)a by

Dialect Group, 1921 and 1931 67

Table 7 Malay and Chinese Population in Malaya

by States. 76


Figure 1 Map of Southeast Asia xi

Figure 2 Malaya, The Consolidation of British 80


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AMCJA All-Malaya Council of Joint Action

BN Barisan National (National Front)
CCP Chinese Communist Party
DAP Democratic Action Party
DO District Officer
FMS Federated Malay States
FMSTA Federation of Malay School Teachers Association
KMM Kesatuan Melayu Muda
KMT Kuomintang
KMTM Kuomintang Malaya
LPM Labor Party Of Malaya
MAS Malay Administrative Service
MCA Malay(si)an Chinese Association
MCP Malayan communist Party
MCS Malayan Civil Service
MIC Malay(si)an Indian Association
MNP Malay Nationalist Party
MPAJA Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army
NOC National Operations Council
PAP People Action Party
PMIP Pan-Malay(si)an Islamic Party
PPP People's Progressive Party
SCBA Straits Chinese British Associations
SF Socialist Front
SS Straits Settlements
UCSCA United Chinese School Committees Association
UCSTA United Chinese School Teachers Association
UMNO United Malays National Organization
UMS Unfederated Malay States

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oi l
st i
> OD


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This dissertation examines the emergent relations

between ethnicity and citizenship in a postcolonial society,

Malaysia.1 Primarily of Western European origins, modern

citizenship bestows upon every fully recognized member the

equal rights and duties of participation in the shaping of the

community. Citizenship can be said to have prevailed when "as

many members of a community in as large a segment of their

social lives as is it at all possible" are covered and regula­

ted by the generalized rights to participate on equal terms

(Dahrendorf 1974: 680). The thesis advanced here is that

citizenship as a democratic egalitarian force in Malaysia was

decisively circumscribed by the entrenched ethnic divisions

and ethnic patterns of mobilization. Indeed, citizenship

politics has become enmeshed with the politics of ethnicity,

such that certain ethnic groups were, and are still, denied

the right to treatment as equal members.2

1 This study is confined to West or Peninsula


2 Ronald Dworkin, in his book Taking Rights Seriously

(1977), makes a distinction between the right to equal treat­
ment and the right to treatment as an equal. If right to equal
treatment is concern with the right to an equal distribution
of some resource or opportunity, the right to treatment as an
equal, in contrast, is the right to be treated with the same
respect and concern as anyone else. In this sense, the second
is fundamental whereas the first is derivative. Theoretically

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In recent years, there has been an impressive upsurge of

interest in the study of citizenship.3 To a large extent this

interest has been triggered by a series of social, economic,

and political changes throughout the world in general, and

Europe in particular. During this period of dramatic social

transformation, the emergence of new social movements (women,

race, ecology, and so on) has raised different questions about

the nature and dimensions of citizenship. Among other things,

the movements show that if citizenship is about the struggle

for generalized membership and equal participation, then it is

simply not just determined by class conflict nor merely about

class relationship — which traditional citizenship studies

have primarily focused on.4 Nonetheless, while these studies

have added sophistication to sociological studies of

citizenship by taking into account the various new social

movement theories, their focus on Western societies limits

their analytical ability to explain the historical emergence

speaking, the citizenship idea is founded on the fundamental

sense of equality.

3 For example; W.R. Brubaker, Immigration and the

Politics of Citizenship in Europe and North America (ed. 1989)
and Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (1992),
Judith Shklar, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion
(1991), and Iris Young Justice and the Politics of Difference
(1990) .

4 The contributions of the new social movements have

shifted the emphasis to, for example, the questions and
politics of "difference," "identity," and "multiculturalism."
Obviously, since these are emerging debates, they remain
rather messy and, not surprisingly, face considerable

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of citizenship in the postcolonial world.

Western European citizenship developed in the geographi­

cal space where all the nation-states shared a common cultural

code (Christianity), all are, relatively speaking, ethnically

homogeneous societies, all have achieved a high degree of

socio-political integration, and all have a fully developed

capitalist market (Birnbaum 1988). In contrast, in nearly all

postcolonial societies, citizenship formation occurred in

circumstances of heterogeneous populations and cultural codes,

a minimum degree of socio-political integration, and a rela­

tively underdeveloped capitalist economy. Moreover, while the

European elites faced relatively homogeneous societies that

were becoming ordered in terms of classes, the postcolonial

elites faced societies that were still heterogeneous and

divided along ethnic, kinship, religious, and territorial

lines. Hence, given the differences in the historical circum­

stances that form the backdrop to the growth of citizenship,

the European model has limited utility illuminating the

postcolonial experience.

My dissertation is an attempt to contribute to the study

of citizenship in the postcolonial world. Specifically, my

study will address the problematic of citizenship formation in

conditions of multiethnicity. It is obvious that the omission

of ethnic structures in the prevailing European-based

theoretical model and analysis of citizenship has meant that

we have had a less than complete picture of the broad drama of

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contemporary citizenship formations. Precisely, as the vast

majority of states are, or are in the process of becoming,

ethnically hetergeneous, it is of utmost importance that more

attention be paid to the historical and emerging interactions

between citizenship and ethnicity. This single-case study on

Malaysia aims to bring out the relationship between ethnicity

and citizenship more fully. However, no claim is made that

the Malaysian case is directly applicable to other ethnically

plural societies.

The ideas and institutions of citizenship in Malaysia, as

in the rest of the postcolonial world, historically emerged

with the advent of Western colonialism. Colonial "citizenship"

in Malaya was shaped by the British indirect, non-democratic

rule and by their intention to uphold the bumiputra, or

nativist, doctrine.5 This doctrine claims that the Malays,

based on their historic associations to the land, are the

rightful owners of, and have a special position on, the

peninsula. Accordingly, colonial state policies more or less

reflected an uncritical acceptance of the doctrine. Moreover,

the doctrine was affirmed by the indirect rule that formally

5 Or better known in Malay as bumiputraisra (bumiputra

means sons of the soil) . The original inhabitants of the
peninsula are the various pribumis or Orang Asal groups, such
as Semangs, Senois, Jakuns, and so on. With the coming of the
first wave of Malays from Yunnan (Southern China), the
pribumis were pushed into the interior towards the remote
mountain slopes. The second wave of Malays, from the 13th
century onwards, came largely from the surrounding Indonesian
islands. Nevertheless, the Malays have more or les come to
regard the peninsula as their homeland.

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recognized the sovereignty of the Malay states, and ruled

through the native political structures. It follows that the

ruling elite in British Malaya was comprised of a successive

changing coalition of colonial administrators, traditional

Malay elites, especially the rulers, and Western-educated

Malay elites.

Concurrently, the British's lassize faire economic

development strategy attracted a huge influx of Chinese, and

Indian, immigrants to the peninsula. Under British rule, then,

the relatively homogeneous precolonial society was transformed

into a culturally heterogeneous colonial society. But, while

the immigrants were granted virtually free access to economic

participation, they were excluded from the political sphere

precisely because the British colonial state juridically,

administratively, and ideologically regarded, and treated,

them as "foreign nationals." Unsurprisingly, Malays on the

whole always regarded the Chinese as outsiders, if not

intruders. Perhaps more importantly, the Chinese "alien"

status initially was reinforced by the reality that a high

proportion of the Chinese continued to view themselves as

short-term residents of the colony who would eventually return

to China after making their fortunes.

Broadly then, up to the Second World War, the colonial

state created a limited, and fragmented, "citizenship" in the

peninsula. The British maintained indirect non-democratic rule

by coopting the indigenous elites, especially the rulers,

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while denying political rights to the Malay rank and file and

the immigrants. Since the Malay states came under British rule

as Protected states, it meant that Malays residing within

their territories were subject only to the jurisdiction of the

State within which they resided; there did not exist a common

Malayan "citizenship." In the end, "citizenship" in Malaya has

traditionally been linked to ethnicity/nationality precisely

because the indigenous and immigrant groups were accorded

different membership status by the colonial state.

However, after the Second World War, the bumiputra

doctrine was seriously threatened by two interrelated

developments. On the one hand, the British, recognizing the

multiethnic society as a social fact, proposed to create a

common citizenship as a means to integrate all the ethnic

communities. On the other hand, the majority of the Chinese

began to view Malaya as their permanent home, and to focus on

and expand their political participation in Malayan society.

Subsequent social and political developments, however,

pressured the British to abandon the common citizenship

strategy, and revert to the pre-War pro-Malay policy. Even

more importantly, the Malays' strident demands for the

reinstatement of their special position led the British to

broker a citizenship constitution which guaranteed individual

fundamental liberties of all fully recognized citizens and the

legitimate rights of the non-Malay communities, but which also

endowed the Malay community with special rights. In a sense,

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the citizenship constitution was constructed alongside the

prevailing Malay popular perception of Malaya as a "Malay


With the achievement of political independence, the

ambiguous juxtaposition of individual liberties, non-Malay

"legitimate" rights, and Malay "special rights" in the

constitution became the source and focus of ethnic conflict in

the society. Ethnic groups' passionate struggles over the

rights to and equality of membership became progressively

acrimonious throughout the 1960s. Above all, since many ethnic

elites readily exploited ethnic anxieties and fears, the

rhetorics of ethnic rights increasingly distorted and eclipsed

the struggles for the equalization of rights and of class

disparities. When ethnic passions were stirred up, there is no

telling what might result. On May 13, 1969 in the face of a

political crisis that threatened Malay political dominance, it

tragically degenerated into a bloody ethnic riots.

Yet, nonetheless, the ethnic riots provided a new clique

of United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leaders with the

pretext to institutionalize Malay political dominance. They

seized control of the government and imposed Emergency Rule,

and arrested thousands of alleged "troublemakers," including

many of the main opposition leaders, mostly Chinese. Subse­

quently, they established a "coercive" consociation6 to take

6 The concept of "coercive" consociation is from Diane

Mauzy (1993) insightful article Malay Political Hegemony and
coercive consociationalism.

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over the reins of government, and deprived the Chinese of

their right to raise and to discuss the issue of the Malay

special rights. In short, the UMNO leaders proceeded to

abrogate the preindependence British brokered citizenship

compromises and political accommodation betweem the ethnic

communities. Thus, since 1969, the UMNO leaders have proceeded

to expand Malay political and cultural interests, citizenship

development in Malaysia has necessary involved the increasing

dominance of Malay as the core community on the one hand, and

the decline of Chinese political and cultural rights on the

other. The Chinese, hence, have become less than "first-class"

citizens, free to vote and to hold political office, but under

clearly restrictive conditions.

The main units of analysis in this dissertation are the

state and the ethnic groupings (including political parties).

My concern is to examine how their ideas, actions, and

interactions influenced citizenship in Malay(si)a. This study

takes the position that the growth of citizenship is best

understood within the context of Malaysian history; hence the

study generally follows an historical sequence. The first

chapter will deal with the general theoretical issues. Chapter

Two examines some social and political features of the

traditional Malay state and the colonial state. Chapter Three

traces the emergence of ethnic groupings and shows why they

reinforced the link between ethnicity and membership in the

colonial society. In chapter Four, we investigate the cir­

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cumstances that led to the inclusion of Malay special rights

in the citizenship constitution. Chapter Five shows how the

citizenship compromises reached between the British and the

ethnic elites collapsed in the 1960s. Chapter Six examines how

the May 1969 political crisis was used by the UMNO leaders to

entrench Malay political dominance, while limiting the Chinese

of their right to political equality. The thesis will conclude

with an evaluation of the impact of ethnic conflict on the

development of citizenship in Malaysia.

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This chapter examines the prevailing class-centered

analysis and model of European citizenship, and shows why it

has limited utility illuminating the postcolonial experience.

The traditional class model, or Marshallian model, we argue is

problematic because it overlooked the role of the state. More

importantly, we argue that even if the class model takes into

account the state factor, it has limited usefulness in

analyzing the postcolonial experience because it did not

take into account the question of ethnicity. Thus, we will

delineate how an ethnic framework of citizenship formation, as

illustrated in Malaysia, differs from the European model.

The European Citizenship Model1 and its Development

Owing to the unique historical circumstances that shaped

European citizenship, it is understandable that the prevailing

European theoretical model emphasizes the relationship between

citizenship and the growth of the capitalist system (Marshall

1964; Mann 1987; Barbalet 1988). This model evaluates the

1 Roughly speaking, by Western citizenship I mean

the liberal conception of citizenship. The ideal outcome of
liberal citizenship is the democratic welfare state which of
late has come under severe criticism from several quarters.

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relationship in terms of class as it considers class conflict

to be the determining factor in the formation of citizenship.

It argues that the rise, development, and expansion of citi­

zenship reflects the changing capacities and needs of class

forces a society. The problem with viewing the formation of

national citizenship in only class terms is that states are

invariably doubly divided by both class and ethnic group. In

the European context, the relatively ethnically homogeneous

societies are the result of a long historical process of

nation-building during which the state elites rigorously fa­

shioned the populations into culturally "homogeneous" groups.

If this is the case, then to understand the development of

European national citizenships one must also take into

consideration the historical marginalization, or assimilaton,

of national minorities in the nation-building process.

The Traditional Model

Clearly, the most important contributions to the

sociology of citizenship can be found in T.H. Marshall's

various writings, especially his remarkable essay Citizenship

and Social Class (1964).2 Marshall posited that in many

societies, in particular British society which was the basis

of his study, the basic human equality that determined

2 This essay can be found in various collections of

Marshall's works. The essay was actually a lecture that he
gave at Cambridge University in 1949. For a recent reprint of
this essay see T. Bottomore (1992).

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membership was identified with the status of citizenship,

which bestows upon the individuals equal rights and duties.

Adopting Weber's "switchman” idea3, he argued that "societies

in which citizenship is a developing force create an image of

an ideal citizenship against which achievement can be measured

and towards which aspiration can be directed" (1964: 70).

While citizenship is a principle of equality, class, by

contrast, Marshall argued, is a system of inequality rooted in

the character of the capitalist market place and the existence

of private property. He thus viewed citizenship and class as

potential contrary principles of organization: class functions

to erode and limit the extent to which citizenship creates ac­

cess to scarce resources and participation in the institutions

which determine their use and distribution (ibid: 8 3-84). To

show the impact of citizenship on the structure of class

inequality, Marshall traced the expansion of citizenship

rights, and the gradual extension of those rights to the

working classes.

Marshall illustrated the expansion of citizenship by

3 That is, Marhsall is using "citizenship" as a

Weberian "switchman":
Not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly
govern men's conduct. Yet very frequently the 'world
images' that have been created by 'ideas' have, like
switchmen, determined the tracks along which action
has been pushed by the dynamic of interest.
Weber, The Social Psychology of the World Religions
In this case, the power of the citizenship idea as a social
force lies in the fact that it creates an "image" of the basic
human equality associated with full membership in society.

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dividing the concept into three interindependent analytic

component: the civil, political, and social elements. Civil

citizenship is defined in terms of the rights which are

necessary for individual freedom: "freedom of speech, thought

and faith, the right to own property and to conclude valid

contracts, and the right to justice" (ibid: 71). Political

citizenship, in contrast, is defined as "the right to

participate in the excercise of political power, as a member

of a body invested with political authority or as an elector

of the members of such a body" (ibid: 72) . Finally, social

citizenship is defined as "the whole range from the right to

a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to

share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life

of a civilized being according to the standards prevailing in

the society" (ibid). He thus claimed that if citizenship

bestows upon individuals equal rights, then its successive

historical expansion, civil in the 18th century, political in

the 19th century, and social in the 20th century, enlarged the

realm of individual equality and liberty in society.4 The

logical question, then, is what agency can account for the

historical expansion of citizenship.

4 Marshall also noted the corresponding emergence of

institutions that protected and regulated those rights: civil
rights through a system of formal law courts, political rights
were associated with the expansion of suffrage and the
creation of political parties, and the two agencies usually
associated with regulation of social rights were social
welfare and education.

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Marshall claimed that the historical expansion of

citizenship can be explained in terms of class conflicts in

society (ibid: 71-83). In the British experience, the civil

rights arose from the bourgeoisie's successful struggles

against the feudal aristocracy's monopoly of status privi­

leges: they first fought for the rights to private property

ownership and, later, for the legitimation of free labor

contracts. Although, initially, civil citizenship was more or

less limited to the propertied classes, the concommitant "rise

of free labor" and "triumph of common law" led to the

extension of civil rights to the working classes. In the 19th

century, the period of rapid industrialization, the working

classes' struggles for the rights to equal participation

resulted in the expansion of political citizenship and of

the franchise and reforms in the electoral system. Finally, in

the 20th century, the labor unions' struggles for workers'

economic security and overall material well-being led to the

establishment of the modern welfare system.

In this way, Marshall conceived citizenship "as a series

of expanding circles which are pushed forward by the momentum

of [class] conflict and struggle" (Turner 1986: xii). Although

the successive expansion of citizenship rights helped to over­

come the worst aspects of social class inequality, Marshall,

nevertheless, rejected the idea that the development of rights

followed a linear progressive path. In fact he insisted that

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rights had to be fought for, and when they were won they had

to be protected; thus there were often losses as well as gains

in any one period. Hence, while the expansion and extension of

citizenship rights have created the modern democratic welfare

state, there is no guarantee that the outcome is immutable or

inevitable. Because the contradictory relationship between

market inequality and citizenship equality generates an

inherent tension between democracy and capitalism, the outcome

cannot be fixed permanently — especially when we include the

state as the political institution in citizenship formation.

The P.ole of the State

For good reasons, Marshall's theory of citizenship has

been subjected to a variety of criticisms.5 The most important

criticism of Marshall's theory, perhaps, is that it does not

pay sufficient attention to the role of the state. (Mann 1987;

Barbalet 1988) Given the state's role as the key political

5 For example; (1) Mann (1987) pointed out that the

Anglocentric nature of his theory limited its utility in
explaining citizenship development in other countries, (2)
Marshall focused almost exclusively on the rights of citizen­
ship and neglected its duties dimension. (Janowitz 1980), (3)
Lockwood (1974) argued that it is not clear whether social
rights are in a relation of tension, opposition or contradic­
tion to the economic basis of capitalism, and (4) many critics
have taken him to task for not taking into account the role of
war, trade, and migration in the making of modern democratic
citizenship (Giddens 1982; Mann 1987; Barbalet 1988; Held
1988). The latter asserted that the growth of democratic
citizenship as the preeminent form of citizenship in Western
Europe was due in part to the Anglo-American victory in the
Second World War, and that crucial citizenship developments
took place during wartime circumstances.

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institution in the maintenance and growth of citizenship

rights, any theories and analyses of citizenship must connect

it to the historical role and formation of the state.

Since the state is allocated the legitimate authority to

a monopoly of coercive forces, and maintains the political,

legal, and normative order in society, it is the institution

that secures, regulates and safeguards the rights, manifested

in laws, to which all citizens are subjected. (Barbalet 1988:

109) Moreover, as the political institution that mediates

between the various classes, the state plays a central role in

the formulation and propagation of citizenship rights in

society. However, the state is not simply just a mediator

between the social classes, but is also an actor with

interests of its own, which do not necessarily reflect those

of society, such that it might act independently to fulfill

its interests. Finally, in a real sense, the state's power is

not independent, or autonomous, as a state only can continue

to rule with the firm support from significant social classes.

Hence, while the state is limited by the requirement that it

cannot rule in the absence of support from significant social

classes, this limitation is not absolute. This is because the

state is able to influence the nature of its appeal and also

the orientation of their subjects.

By integrating the state factor into his analysis, Mann

(1987) asserts that an alliance of an economically dominant

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class and a political elite act as a "ruling class" in that

together they disproportionately influence, if not dictate,

the state's actions. In fact, Mann (1987) argues that a

"comparative historical analysis of industrial societies

reveals not one but at least five viable strategies for the

institutionalization of class conflict, ... the liberal,

reformist, authoritarian, Fascist and authoritarian socialist"

(p 339) . Hence, the growth of citizenship is linked to the

strategies and cohesion of the ruling classes or state.

T h e M a r g i n a l i z a t i o n of E t h n i c i t y

However, since Mann and Barbalet still perceive the

origins of citizenship as strategies of c l a s s relationships,

they fail to take into account the ethnicity question in the

formation of citizenship (Turner 1990: 197). That is to say,

both of them continue to make assumptions about the homoge­

neity of national populations in the Western European states.

For example, Mann (1987) argues, the class approach

remains relevant because citizenship formation occurrs after

the states had developed into homogeneous societies, and

coincided with the rise of the capitalism. That is, when

capitalism entrenched itself and became both a determinant and

dominant structure, the development of citizenship involved a

transition from societies based upon ascriptive criteria to

societies based upon achievement criteria (class). The class

approach, then, remains relevant because the European states

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are predominantly class-based societies, where the potential

source of conflict is the unequal distribution of goods and

powers between the classes.

While citizenship formation in the West was significantly

driven by class conflict, one cannot fully understand its

emergence without addressing the question of ethnicity. Let us

consider Marshall's British example. It is obvious that his

accounts of the growth of British citizenship take for granted

the socio-political unity of Great Britain, and ignore the

early phases of nation-building (Turner 1986) . If one were to

take a longer view of the emergence of citizenship within the

British state, one would see that it cannot be understood

without reference to the erosion of the cultural and political

autonomy of the Scots, Irish, and Welsh. As a matter of fact,

the development of British citizenship necessary involved the

decline of Scottish, Irish, and Welsh political and cultural

rights, with the increasing dominance of the English as the

core community. Specifically, because the English dominated

the state, they attempted to use it to impose the English

tradition, culture, and language on the rest of society: such

that English symbols became constitutive of the national

culture and identity. In this way then, historically, British

citizens are largely assumed to identify with the essentially

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Anglicized nation-state.6

In general, since citizenship formation is always

discussed and located in the context of nation-states, it is

obvious that one must connect its emergence to the process of

nation-building as well. According to Sayer (1985: 195) ,

Sociologists have, in general, treated [national]

"integration" far too neutrally, ignoring its
differential aspects: who is seeking to integrate
whom, to what ends, by what means, and in what
forms; and who suffers, which ends are denied,
which means declared illegitimate, which forms
suppressed, whose histories rewritten, thereby?

Indeed, the development of citizenship in the Western European

historical experience greatly overlapped with the emergent

19th century European "monoculturalist" conception of nation.

In the 19th century, European citizenship became enmeshed

with the idea of nation "imagined" in terms of a people sha­

ring a common history, tradition, culture, and language. The

concept of nation was imagined as such because the prevailing

European cultural process of collective identity formation, or

"nationalism," was grounded in "race"; that is, race or blood

forms the basis of nationality (Gellner 1983; Smith 1986;

6 Hecht (1975) called the subordination of the Scots

and Welsh as the "internal colonialism" of the Celtic fringe.
Clearly, from the Celtic fringe perspective, the growth of
British national citizenship meant the loss of language amd
religious rights, and, more generally, the erosion of Celtic
culture. Yet, nevertheless, in recent years, the revivals of
Scottish and Welsh nationalism, as well as the growing number
of South Asian and West Indian immigrants, have raised
critical questions about citizenship and ethnic rights in
Britain (Nairn 1981; Turner 1990; Miles 1993) .

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Brubaker 1992).7 When nationality became subordinated to the

logic of ethnicity, then the symbols of nation and race

naturally became indivisible principles of Western European

citizenship. It follows that because European citizenship has

traditionally been linked to nationality, the national minori­

ties in the European states were marginalized and excluded

from the processes and enjoyment of full citizenship rights.

Yet, despite their historical marginalization, the ethnic

minorities' presence in the European states persisted pre­

cisely because the social, cultural and political homogeneity

7 Brubaker's study shows the connections between the

conceptions of citizenship and nationhood in France and
Germany. On the one hand, he claimed that a more particularis­
tic, exclusive, and ethnocultural idea of national belonging
prevailed in Germany, which resulted in the establishment of
a jus sanguiris (by German descent) based citizenship. The
Germans thus follows an "ethnically exclusive" principle that
makes it easier for people born of German lineage or culture
to acquire citizenship, while citizenship is granted to
foreigners only in exceptional cases. On the other hand, as a
comparatively more expansive, "universal," and assimilationist
notion of belonging prevailed in France, it led to the
creation a citizenship based on jus soli (by birth). The
French thus employed a "territorially inclusive" principle
where any children born in France of foreign parentage can
acquire French citizenship. But, Brubaker failed to show that
the "assimilationist" aspect of French nationality potentially
contradicted the principles of citizenship. In fact, today,
the recent North African immigrants with their different
histories, cultures, religions, and values have led to a
reevaluation of the French assimilationist tradition: they
thus question the French state policy that discouraged the
immigrants from preserving their ethnic particularity and
strongly encouraged them to adopt French culture and values.
Precisely, since for the immigrants the differences are
crucial to their sense of identity and "belongingness," it
raised the issue of whether — as citizens — they have the
rights to practice their differences publicly.

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of the dominant ethnic group has always been, at best, partial

and incomplete. In other words, ethnicity remains a hidden

reality that continues to stalk European consciousness and

citizenship (Miles 1993: 116-118).

In Europe, then, the development of national citizenship

necessary involved the subordination of their respective

national minorities (Turner 1990: 197).8 As such the class

model's claims that citizenship formation was advanced by the

momentum of class conflict was not wholly warranted. Rather,

because European state makers institutionalized citizenship

within the paradigm of an assumed ethnically homogeneous

nation-state, citizenship traditionally has been linked to

nationality. However, in recent years, as the arrival of non-

European immigrants to Europe — North Africans in France,

Turks in Germany, and East and West Indians and South Asians

in Britain — has created an increasingly multiethnic and

multicultural population in Western Europe, there are now

urgent demands for a dissociation of citizenship rights from

nationality. The existing common rights of citizenship, ori­

ginally defined by and for the dominant ethnic group, clearly

cannot accommodate the "special needs" of the minority groups.

8 Of course, throughout European history there were

pockets of ethnic minorities' resistance to the dominant group
such as the gypsies in many of the states, the Basques in
France and Spain, the Catalans in Spain, Bretons and Corsicans
in France, Sicilians in Italy, the Irish and Scots in Britain,
and so on. See the excellent articles in Roy Porter ed. The
National Question in Europe in Historical context (1993).

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In fact, today, an adequate analysis of citizenship must take

into account the role which the minority ethnic groups have

played in expanding the claims to rights and entitlements to

new areas.9 Therefore, ethnicity, it is clear, cannot simply

be absorbed into class politics, but, rather, must be treated

as an independent agency with its peculiar logic.

More importantly perhaps, in order to analyze the

citizenship processes in the former European colonies, one

must face the aboriginality/ethnicity question.10 A cursory

survey of colonial history would easily verify that ethnicity

figured prominently in the conception and construction of

colonial and postcolonial "citizenships." Even in the case of

"white settler capitalist nations" (United States, Canada,

Australia, and New Zealand), there is a long historical record

of the exclusion of the aboriginal and non-European peoples

from the central mechanisms of citizenship. For example, the

9 Broadly speaking, the emergent ethnic movements

bring to light two central issues: one, "the need for new
rights for all members of the community, particularly the
right to be different"; and, two, "they claim the right to au­
tonomy, to control a specific living space" (Miles 1993: 91).

10 Colonialism, afterall, was more than just the crea­

tion of a "capitalist world system;" it was also the "clash of
peoples," often times resulting in horrendous consequences
for the colonized. Indeed, "the domination of new peoples was
usually achieved by conquest: usually, but yet not always; and
colonization was then a work of violence" (Maunier 1949 v. 1:
3) . As such, apartheid-like social formation was actually the
prevailing principle of organization in colonial societies,
and the apartheid system became an anachronism only when the
moral justifications of imperialism were no longer tenable.

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development of citizenship in America cannot be adequately

understood without reference to the centrality of the

subordination of the Indian and African populations.11 In

short, all the white settler capitalist nations shared a

common legacy; the "glaring inconsistencies between their

professed principles of citizenship and their deep-seated

desire to exclude certain [ethnic] groups permanently from the

privileges of membership " (Sklar 1991: 43).

Given the attitudes and policies of the European masters

to their colonial subjects, racial distinction was a key

organizing principle of colonial domination. It follows that

ethnic categories were constructed and ethnic boundaries

maintained in order to delineate Europeans from the natives,

as well as to preserve the former's superiority. Hence,

because colonial membership status, or "citizenship," was

linked to ethnicity, European colonialism created a tension

between ethnic particularism and the universalism of citizen­

ship in the colonies. The tragedy is that this tension, for a

variety of reasons, remains entrenched in nearly all the

postcolonial states. The most important reason, perhaps, is

that elites in the postcolonial states have found ethnicity an

11 For the designation of Indian Reservations as

"sovereign nations" served to exclude the Native Americans as
a people from the full privileges of membership. Also must be
noted here is the historical restrictions imposed on the flow
of non-European immigrants to United States, Canada, and

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exceedingly useful tool for purposes of preserving, or expan­

ding, their privileges and power. Let us next explore the com­

plex relation between the logics of ethnicity and citizenship.

The Opposing Logics of Communalism12 and Citizenship

Our study rejects both the Marxist and cultural pluralist

approach to the ethnic phenomenon.13 The specific problem with

the Marxist view of ethnicity, at least the orthodox version,

is its assertion that ethnic affiliation is used to mask the

fundamental social relationships within a society, namely,

class structure. Thus focusing on the "objective" economic

conditions of collective action lead Marxists to regard

ethnicity as means for advancing the underlying material inte­

rests. They argue that a specific class faction, usually the

bourgeoisie, makes general appeals along ethnic lines in order

to gain advantages for itself, or preserve its privileges.

Cultural pluralists, in direct opposition, totally reject the

12 "Communalism" is taken to mean identification with

and loyalty to the ethnic community. In Malaysia, the British
colonial authorities represented communal (ethnic) strife as
one of the most distinct features of colonial society. Need­
less to say, communal strife was invariably portrayed in
colonial writings as irrational, instinctive violence.

13 For an excellent collection of works on the variety

and complexity of theories of ethnicity see Rex and Mason ed.
(1988) ; specifically, see Solomos for the varieties of Marxist
conceptions and Smith for the pluralist approaches. On
Malaysia, see Lim (1980), Hua (1983), and Sundaram (1986) for
the Marxist views, and Ismail (1979), and Ongkili (1985) for
the cultural pluralists.

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Marxists claim that ethnicity is an epiphenomenon. Instead,

they argue that because ethnic groups are constituted by

diverging cultures, values and institutions, they have a

general desire and interest in dominating one another because

of their fundamental and incompatible cultural and values

differences. In addition, among some cultural pluralists there

is an undeniable tendency to conceive the differences in

"primordial" terms.

Yet, nevertheless, the Marxist and cultural pluralist

approach to ethnic phenomenon shared a common fallacy: both

basically assume that the individual and group interests and

goals always coincide, or are the same. Thus both perceive

ethnic groups "as if they are living subjects who act as

homogeneous entities," and view collective action as a

"unified datum" rather than as a "plurality of perspectives,

meanings and relationships" (Melucci 1989: 25).

Obviously, collective action is not a unitary empirical

phenomenon since "individuals contribute to the formation of

a more or less stable 'we7 by rendering common and laboriously

negotiating and adjusting at least three orientations: the

goals of their action; the means to be utilized; and the

environment within which their action takes place" (ibid: 26) .

From this more complex view of collective action, an ethnic

movement can be seen to contain a plurality of meanings;

it contains ethnic identity, which is a powerful weapon of

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revenge against centuries of discrimination; it serves as

means for the struggle for access to resources and power; and

it is a response to personal, and collective, interests and

identity in a highly complex world (ibid: 90).

It follows that ethnic movements usually naturalized one

or more attributes — race, language, religion, territorial

origin — and declared them as their innate possession and

their historical legacy. Moreover, the actors themselves tend

to "speak as if ethnic boundaries are clear-cut and defined

for all time, and think of ethnic collectivities as self-

producing bounded groups" (Tambiah 1989: 334-5).14 But, the

reality is that ethnic boundaries are not defined for all time

but rather malleable and volatile: depending on the historical

circumstances, ethnic groups have assimilated or expanded, or,

in the opposite direction, differentiated and segmented. Above

all, the dynamics of ethnic movements also usually reveal a

complex mix of specific interests and general interests, and

of individual identities and intra-group identities.

In this sense, whenever and wherever ethnicity is a force

to reckon with, its potency lies in the fact that it combines

the semantics of primordial and historical claims with politi­

cal and economic interests. It is because ethnicity combines,

in Daniel Bell's succinct phrase, "an interest with an affec­

14 For an excellent study on "racial formation" in

Uniced States see Omni and Winant (1986), and in United
Kingdom see Miles (1982).

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tive tie" that partially accounts for the unusually passionate

and sometimes bloody side of ethnic conflict. In this sense,

it is useful to adopt an approach that includes both the

social psychological and systemic aspects of ethnic conflict.

We shall argue that ethnic conflict is primarily a struggle

over relative group worth and capacity (Horowitz 1985).

Group worth is a psychological construct rooted in

the human reguirement that feeling worthy is a fundamental

individual need (Honneth 1992).15 Since one's sense of self­

esteem is intimately linked to the social recognition of one's

social group, then the systematic denigrative evaluation of

the group would raise doubts in oneself as a being whose

characteristic traits and abilities are worthy of esteem.

In the context of rivalries between ethnic communities, the

experience of personal and collective disrespect raised the

normative goal of securing group recognition into a powerful

driving moral force.

Horowitz (1985) argues that the drive to secure group

l- Honneth writes, "Whether the cognitive potential

inherent in the feelings of social shame and offense evolves
into a moral conviction depends largely on the form that the
political and cultural environment of the subjects in question
takes. If the experience of disrespect is to become a source
of motivation for acts of political resistance, then a social
movement must exist via which it can be articulated and thus
manifest itself in positive form" (1992: 200).

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worth pushes "backward"16 groups to compete for group

capacity; defined as the ability to implement strategies to

achieve their economic, political, or cultural goals in

society. Generally speaking, a group may acquire capacity

through control of the state institution or resources. Since

"backward" groups usually lack an economic base, they will

try to control the political system to achieve system-wide

capacity. In addition, since in postcolonial societies the

political sphere is unusually broad and its impact powerful,

political affirmation becomes an important form of collective

social recognition. For these reasons, struggles over relative

group worth and capacity are readily transferred to the

political system. It follows that a "backward" group will use

the political system for the assertion of group worth, and, if

it has the political capacity, to impose the group symbols on

the rest of society. Above all, if control of the political

system results in enriching the group economic base, then it

also contributes to the expansion of the group capacity.

A common characteristic of many postcolonial societies is

16 I am using "backwardness" in the pejorative sense.

Moreover, both the colonial masters and subjects frequently
used this term to describe the latter. Generally speaking, the
colonized sense of "backwardness" was a result of the
systematic denigration of their form of life coupled with the
introduction of a different evaluative framework by the
colonial powers. Afterall, a central claim of colonialism was
its "civilizing mission." For the general psychological
effects of colonialism see the works of Frantz Fanon and
Albert Memmi, and for the Malaysian experience see Mahathir
(1970) and Alatas (1976).

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that the main axis of conflict is between a "backward" group,

often comprising the indigenous group, and a more "advanced"

group, often comprising the economically successful immigrant

groups.17 In part because of the native group "backward"

socioeconomic position, among the native elites and their

followers there is a fear of being overwhelmed by the

"advanced" immigrant groups. Naturally, for the indigenous

group the sense of "backwardness" is profoundly unsettling,

giving rise to fears of unworthiness, weakness and, above all,

the group's extinction.18 The experience of disrespect and

helplessness would thus passionately motivate the "backward"

group towards the goal of securing group worth. In this way,

the politics of citizenship in multiethnic societies can be

usefully evaluated in terms of ethnic groups struggle over

relative group worth and capacity.

It is understandable that the native group will strongly

oppose the creation of a common citizenship for fear that if

equal rights were granted to the immigrant groups, they would

be swamped by the outsiders (Mahathir 1970: 151-2). In Malay­

sia, the ethnic elites and their followers were pressured by

17 Roughly speaking, there are two main scenarios: (1)

indigenous and/or non-European versus European (United States,
Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa), and (2) indi­
genous versus non-European (Kenya, Malaysia, Indonesia).

18 In Malaysia, among the Malays there was the recur­

rent fear of being "reduced to the status of Red Indians stri­
ving to live in the wastelands of America" (Vasil 1971: 6).

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the colonial state to agree to some sorts of interethnic

accommodation which includes, among other things, the exten­

sion of citizenship to the immigrant groups, but with special

measures to protect and promote the native group. The inclu­

sion of special measures to safeguard the native group is

clearly due to the European monoethnic conception of nation.

That is, because the land is recognized as the native group's

"homeland," the group was accorded a "special position" in the

new nation. Of course, the European conception of nation also

influenced and reinforced the indigenous elites' view of the

new "nation" as, more or less, a natural extension of their

ethnic community: thus the new "nation" is imagined in terms

of a larger cultural community constituted by their group


Hence, for the indigenous elites, the group historic

associations with the land are experienced and promoted as if

they possessed an original and natural inevitability. The

historic associations become the basis for the indigenous

group claims, usually with the colonial powers' consent,

to "special rights" in the society. More often than not the

"special rights" have been used by the native elites to

maintain their political power, and to bolster group worth and

capacity in general.

In the national citizenship constitutions of most

postcolonial states, "official" status is usually conferred on

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the native group symbols.19 For the native elites, the eleva­

tion of their group's symbols to official status becomes an

important means for affirming group worth and bolstering group

capacity. We shall focus here on language, which is perhaps

the single-most important group symbol. It was accepted during

the heyday of Third World liberation that the mostsuitable

model for national integration is through a single common

language.20 Yet, in many states, the adoption of a sole

"official" language policy clearly cannot be saidto have

helped to accelerate national integrations the policy has

instead generated more resentment than fraternity between the

ethnic groups. Precisely, in ethnically segmented societies

there exists the potential uses and abuses of language in

promoting ethnicity. In particular, for the "language

nationalists," it is usually not language by itself that

matters, but the symbolism attached to it. For instance,

19 The contemporary obssessions with the idea and

invention of "official" or "national" cultures show clearly
how the European monoethnic idea of "nation" has become an
universalizing notion. In the Malaysian case, "official"
status was naturally conferred on the Malay language, Islam,
and cultural symbols in general.

20 There are two complementary myths that have

developed around the concepts of language and nation. The
first myth originates from the 19th century European
monoculturalist concept of nation which imagines the nation­
state as one people sharing one common language. This myth
gives rise to the second myth which is that multilingualism
impedes national integration. Given that in nearly all
postcolonial states multilingualism is the norm, the
imposition of the European understanding of language and
nation-building has wreaked havoc in many instances.

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conferring official status on the native group's language

affirms the group's "special position," and bolsters group

worth. Also, for the native elites, language is a powerful

symbol to rally their ethnic kinsmen with. Moreover, the

privileged use of their language is perceived to boost group

benefits, in particular for the educated native class which

regard the promotion of their language as a crucial means

to opening up access to education, employment and business

opportunities. In short, the indigenous language more often

than not is adopted as the offical language not for its wider

usage or for reasons of political integration and efficiency,

but because it is an expression and assertion of the group's


In addition, it is increasingly obvious that the

introduction of the institutions of representative government

predicated on the individual rights of citizen, and the

willingness of participants in "one-man-one vote" system to

form parties on the basis of competitive interests, has not

generated the expected outcomes (Tambiah 1989: 344). Instead,

ethnic groups, assuming the role of political actors, have

used the franchise as means for the protection, restoration or

expansion of privileges or life chances in the name of ethnic

equalization.21 In many postcolonial states, the prevalence of

21 Ethnic equalization can be defined as conceiving the

idea of equality in ethnic terms. Thus, ethnic economic
equalization means the redistribution of goods between ethnic

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ethnic voting22 has been effectively manipulated by the ethnic

elites to realize their goals of maintaining political power

and bolstering group worth. More often than not the native

elites have resorted to various forms of gerrymandering to

preserve their political power: the ideal of equal suffrage

has obviously been subverted. In colonial Malaya, the timing

and patttern of the British introduction and construction of

political citizenship, and the political system in general,

has led to the maintenance and reproduction of Malay political


Thus in many postcolonial states citizenship has become

enmeshed with communalism — a principle of exclusion rooted

in the struggle on behalf of the interests of a particular

ethnic group. Broadly speaking, modern citizenship asserts the

primacy of the person against the claims of any ethnic group

(individualist), endows all fully recognized members with the

same rights and denies the relevance to political order of

differences in rights among the different ethnic groups

(egalitarian), and affirms the equality of membership of the

groups, instead of classes. As such, it is not unusual to have

a scenario where the rhetoric of ethnic equalization is used
by the "backward" elites to benefit themselves. The interes­
ting thing in the Malaysian case is that both the Malay and
Chinese elites have disproportionately benefited from the
growing wealth in the society (Mehmet 1986; Faaland 1990).

22 Meaning voting for the party identified with the

voter's own ethnic group, no matter who the individual
candidates happen to be (Horowitz 1985: 320).

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different ethnic groups while according a secondary importance

to specific historic associations and cultural forms (univer-

salist). In contrast, communalism advances the primacy of the

ethnic group against the claims of any person (collectivist),

accepts the relevance to political order of differences in

rights among the different ethnic groups (hierarchical), and

confirms the differentiation of the equality of membership of

the different ethnic groups in accordance to specific historic

associations and cultural forms (particularist). As such, the

the social and political relations in postcolonial states are

significantly shaped by the way in which the contradictory,

but not necessary incompatible, logics of citizenship and

communalism interweave. Needless to say, the "backward"

group's aim of increasing group worth and capacity often

places constraints on the potential of citizenship as a

democratic egalitarian force. Therefore, in many postcolonial

states, the "backward" elites are willing to forgo democratic

citizenship, by limiting the political and cultural rights of

the "advanced" group, in order to achieve their goals.

State, Ethnic Movements And Citizenship Formation

We now turn to the formation of the state and ethnic

forces and their role in shaping the development of

citizenship rights. Our main concerns here are how state

actions influence the ethnic and national identity formation

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and mobilization, and how the ethnic groupings define

themselves in relation to the state.

In the class analysis of citizenship, Mann and Barbalet

focused on the relationship between state formation and class

conflict. They claimed that state and citizenship formation

were both decidedly influenced by the emerging class structure

and conflict. Hence in the institutionalization of class

conflict to democratic, and non-democratic, citizenships, the

state played a key role as it was the political institution

that ultimately granted or denied citizenship rights (Barbalet

1988: 110). The class approach, however, ignored the question

of the relationship between ethnicity and the state as it

started from the premise of class conflict. Thus it failed to

consider how the state could, and did, act as the agent of

internal ethnic management and manipulation.

In the ethnically heterogenous non-Western states, it

will be useful to focus on the relationship between state

formation and ethnic conflict. The emergent relations between

citizenship and ethnicity can be examined in terms of the

relation between colonial and indigenous state elites, and of

the state interactions with and manipulations O i. C-iiw ethnic

forces. In the Malaysian case, as in other former colonies, it

is possible to delineate three phases in the emergence of

citizenship. The phases are not to be taken as discontinous

shifts but merely as showing different emphases.

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The Colonization Phase (1874-1941)

The first phase was during the colonization process

itself, when power was "transferred" from the native ruling

elites to the colonial masters. European colonialism resulted

in, among other things, the evolution of racial distinction as

one fo the key principles of social organization in the


In Malaya, the British authorities' attitude toward the

various ethnic groups was a by-product of their delineation of

the colony's people into "natives" and "immigrants." As such,

British state policy toward any Malayan ethnic group was

determined by the group's place of origin. For the British,

the Malays, recognized as the indigenous group, have certain

prior claims on the colonial government. Conversely, the

ethnic groups originating outside the Malay archipelago had a

lesser status and a lesser claim on governmental attention and

protection. Even more importantly, the indirect rule23

strategy adopted by British state constructed political

institutions which affirmed and perpetuated this indigenous-

alien distinction.

23 Indirect rule was first used by the British to

govern their African colonies. Initially a cheap and
convenient means of organizing colonial peoples, as the system
evolved, more and more emphasis was laid on transforming and
modernizing the native institutions and used them to promote
change. Though the indirect rule also claimed to train the
native elites in the art of ruling, it ultimately was nothing
more than a moral cloak of and for imperialism.

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British indirect rule governed the Malay states through

the agency of their own traditional leaders operating within

the native political framework, but modified to meet British

needs and preconceptions. Thus the traditional framework was

modified such that the British assumed control of the levers

of state power (Sadka 1968). In terms of preserving native

rule, the British usually did not go beyond the formal

maintenance of the position, authority, and prestige of the

Malay Rulers. As for the rest of the traditional Malay elites,

their positions were eliminated and their holders temporarily

retained as "advisers." But as a group, they were reproduced

in the sense that the British trained their male descendants

for service in the colonial state. Given the structure and

uneven penetration of British colonialism, and the relatively

few British officers employed in the colonial bureaucracy, the

smooth functioning of British colonial rule greatly depended

on the cooperation and collaboration of the Malay elites. In

this way, though the Malay elites might have lost their power,

they have by no means equally lost their influence.

However, because of the colonial state's racial and

cultural assumptions, particularly beliefs regarding the non-

European peoples' inability to govern, the Malay rank and file

were denied access to democratic participation. In fact, the

Malay elites, other than the rulers, were largely given

subaltern positions in an essentially non-democratic colonial

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state, where they gained experience, not in the art of self-

government, but in the British methods of administering a

subject people. Moreover, since the Malay States were

technically Protected States, the British juridically and

administratively treated the Malays, and the Malays perceived

themselves, not as a single nationality, but as subjects of

the different Rulers. Above all, since the British regarded

the Chinese as foreign nationals who did not belong to the

peninsula, they made no attempts to integrate them, but,

instead, largely excluded them from the colonial political


Nevertheless, in the non-democratic British colonial

state, individuals did enjoy a limited civil citizenship, such

as the freedoms of association and speech. Partly because of

the colonial state indirect manipulation of ethnic groups and

identities as means to control the colony's populations, there

emerged among ethnic individuals a growing awareness of

themselves as belonging to collectivities sharing a common

tradition, culture, value system, and language. Thus there

emerged not multiethnic, or class, but ethnic groupings in

colonial society. Hence, while the Malay groupings were to

some extent divided by class, educational, and regional

differences, all of them regarded the Chinese "intruders" as

a growing threat to their "special position" in the peninsula.

In contrast, the emergent Chinese groupings, with the excep­

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tion of the English-educated Straits Chinese, were largely

China-oriented and primarily concerned with politics in China.

Finally, given the colonial state non-democratic rule, the

more "radical," or overtly political, ethnic groupings were

either banned outright or kept under closed surveillance.

The Decolonization Phase (194 5 - 1 9 5 7 )

Following the Second World War, changes in domestic

public opinion made it more and more difficult for the British

state to justify the continuance of British imperialism.

British colonial policy makers thus began to plan for the

transfer of power to local elite groups. Of course, more often

than not the decolonization process was equally hastened by

the emergence of anticolonial movements in the colonies.

In Malaya, while the British officials generally accepted

the procedure of free elections whereby the local elite could

establish its right to rule, they disagreed on the identity of

the elites which were to become the successors of colonial

rule (Purcell 1946; Stockwell 1984; Lau 1990). Naturally, the

British state would not tolerate, much less accept, any local

elite group that would jeopardize their economic interests;

thus the communists, mostly Chinese, and leftwing nationalists

were suppressed. Recognizing the reality of multiethnic

composition of the colony as an undeniable social fact, the

British initially proposed the creation of a common Malayan

citizenship which would confer equal rights to both Malays and

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non-Malays. The proposal, however, was defeated by the Malays.

Subsequently, the British and Malay elites created a citizen­

ship constitution which, among other things, "legalized"

the Malays' "special position" in the society. Lastly, the

British, before abandoning the colony, hastily nurtured a

consociation of conservative Malay and Chinese elites to take

over the reins of government.

Generally speaking, the only "good" thing that came out

of the Japanese occupation of Malaya was that it rudely

unleashed the "nationalist" sentiments in the peninsula.

Indeed, the Chinese-dominated communist movement emerged as

the strongest and best organized political force in the

peninsula. But, given its radical political aims and goals,

the movement was denied legal recognition by the British, and

subsequently, in 1948, the communists launched an armed

struggle that ultimately proved futile. The British imposed a

State of Emergency (1948-1960) and suspended the already

limited democratic rights. Consequently, during the Emergency,

radical Malay and Chinese groupings were harassed or banned,

and their leadership arrested. The conservative Malay and

Chinese groupings, however, were not only given a free hand to

organize, but encouraged and aided by the British in a number

of ways. Not surprisingly then, the conservative elites

achieved considerable political gains during the Emergency

that eventually enabled them to become the successors to colo­

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nial rule. Finally, the citizenship compromises between the

conservative Malay and Chinese elites became the foundation of

the independent constitution of the postcolonial society.

The Independence Phase

In Malaysia, as in most other former colonies, the early

years of independence were marked by optimistic and clearly

exaggerated claims regarding the objectives of "nation

making," achieving "national integration," and creating

"national culture" and "national identity" (Tambiah 1989).

However, when the internal and external oppositions began to

intensify the struggles over the divisive issues of language

and political rights, the conservative elites optimistic

vision of nation-building was put immediately to the test,

seriously questioned, imperiled and eventually reversed. On

May 13, 1969, in the aftermath of a general election in which

the ruling party suffered a surprising setback, rising Malay

fears of a Chinese political challenge, among other things,

resulted in violent rioting between Malays and Chinese.

According to the UMNO-dominated state, the 1969 ethnic

riots wwere caused by the Malays' fears that their special

position was being threatened by the Chinese, and as well as

the government's failure to redress the Malays' economic con­

ditions.24 The UMNO-dominated state thus instituted a series

In terms of the ethnic economic inequality in the

society, the state launched its New Economic Policy (NEP) as
a means to "eliminate the identification of race with economic

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of measures to "entrench" the special position of the Malays.

Specifically, the state pushed through a constitutional

amendment which made it a punishable offense to question

publicly, or even in Parliament, the "special rights" of the

Malays and the status of Malay as the sole official language.

Moreover, the UMNO has consolidated its control of the govern­

ment through the establishment of a "coercive" consociation,

the National Front (NF). Thus, since the 1969 ethnic riots,

the political rights of the Chinese have been constrained and

their freedoms of speech and expression curtailed.

Malaysia: A Case Study

This study is based on the single-case study approach.

The single-case method has both limitations and merits. Unlike

the comparative method, the single-case is obviously not

designed to generate causal generalizations because it does

not consider social change occurring within and across a

number of geographic cases or instances.25 The single-case,

however, provides plenty of scope for an intensive analysis

of a particular case which provides a more comprehensive

understanding of the phenomenon under study.

For most structural functionalist theories of social

function." The NEP also aims to eradicate povery among all

races (Faaland 1991).

25 For an excellent discussion of the different styles

of comparative approach see Tilly (1984).

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change, the case study is usually used as a test of general

propositions or theories. The main problem with the structural

functionalist theory-centered strategies to establish

causality is that they are too ahistorical and static (Bendix

1968). For this study we shall adopt the "interpretive

historical approach" which uses a guiding theme to focus on

the complex historical development and social context of the

particular case, rather than the testing of hypotheses or the

formation of causal models.

Malaysia provides an excellent paradigm case study of

the development of citizenship in an ethnically heterogeneous

society. Malaysian society is comprised of several distinct

ethnic groups which do not share a common cultural code.

In this study we shall focus on the two most "important"

communities, Malays and Chinese. Since no multiethnic society

is typical, it is necessary to make a number of qualifications

regarding our treatment.

First, there is the question of size. This study is

concerned with a society, Malaysia, in which ethnic groups are

relatively large and constitute a significant segment (Table

1). In such a segmented society, the center of national

politics is centrally determined, in most cases, by ethnic

conflict. Obviously, the relations, choices, and interests of

ethnic groups in a society comprising ethnic groups which are

nearly equal are very different from that of a small ethnic

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group in the midst of an overwhelming ethnic majority. In

fact, given the relative sizes of the ethnic groups, one

cannot regard the smaller groups as "minorities." Malaysia,

indeed, is a society of "minority" groups.

Secondly, because we are essentially looking at what

Horowitz called "unranked" ethnic groups; the ethnic groups

"in conflict do not stand in a hierarchical or ranked

relationship to each other" (1985: 22) . Thus one group may

have greater power in a particular social sphere, but there is

no hierarchical ordering between them. In Malaysia, broadly

speaking, the Malays dominate in the political sphere, the

Chinese dominate the economy, and no one ethnic group is

culturally dominant. Unranked groups hence are divided into

vertical cleavages, with each ethnic group having its own

cluster of elites and followers. In this way, in unranked

groups there is less generalized domination, and more uncer­

tainty in the power relations between the ethnic groups.

Thirdly, we are dealing with what is usually called a

"plural" society.26 It is a society comprised of disparate

peoples who had been grouped together and to an extent

compelled to partake in a social system by a colonial power,

but often had not much to do with one another. Largely because

26 The first rigorous treatment of the concept of

"plural" society is found in Furnival's 1939 book, Netherlands
India - A Study of Plural Economy. Netherlands India here
refers to Indonesia. For a more contemporary view see the
works of Michael G. Smith, the social anthropologist.

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Malays Chinese Indians Others Total

1911 # 1,437,712 916,619 267,203 51,220 2,672,754

% (53.5) (34.3) (10.0) (1.9) (100)

1921 1,651,051 1,174,777 471,666 60,560 3,358,054

(49.2) (34.9) (14.0) (1.9) (100)

1931 1,863,872 1,284,888 589,399 49,599 4,908,086

(49.2) (33.9) (15.6) (1.3) (100)

1947 2,427,834 1,884,534 530,638 63,805 4,906,811

(49.5) (38.4) (10.8) (1.3) (100)

1957 3,125,500 2,333,800 696,200 123,300 6,278,800

(49.8) (37.2) (11.0) (2.0) (100)

1970 4,841,000 3,286,000 981,400 73,000 9,181,700

(52.7) (35.8) (10.7) (0.8) (100)

Source Figures for 1911 and 1921 from The Census of British

Malaya, 1921; include Singapore population. Figures for 1931

to 1970 are from Social Statistics Bulletin 1988.

of the relatively underdeveloped class differentiation, the

individuals, and groups, in the society remain defined by

ascriptive differences. In Malaysia, the major rival groups,

Malays (native) and Chinese (immigrant), are divided by race,

language, religion, and culture, as well as separated by

geography, occupation, and education (Tables 2, 3, and 4).

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Sector Malays Chinese Indians

# (%) # (%) # (%)
Agriculture 925.4 (65) 293.0 (29) 138.3 (46)
Mining 21.1 (1) 56.1 (5.5) 7.1 (2)

Manufacturing 84.4 (6) 191.0 (19) 15.5 (5)
Construction 16.9 (1) 56.2 (4.7) 4.7 (2)

Utilities 10.2 (1) 3.8 (-) 6.8 (2)
Transport 49.0 (3) 45.5 (4) 19.7 (7)
Commerce 69.3 (5) 192.6 (19) 31.6 (11)
Services 256.1 (18) 188.5 (18) 73.9 (25)

Total 1432.4 (100) 1026.7 (100) 297.6 (100)

Source: Mid-Term Review of the Second Malaysia Plan

a. Mostly found in the plantation economy,
b. Mostly found in the government services.



Malays Chinese Indians Others

1947 7.3 31.3 25.8 46.2
1957 11.2 44.7 30. 6 49.3
1970 14.9 47.4 34.7 40.8

Source: From 1947, 1957, and 1970 population census.

Note: Settlements of 10,000 and over are defined as urban.

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Religion Malays Chinese Indians Total

6,035,985 7,428 58,539 6,106,105

Islam 98.9 0.2 5.4 56.1

4,766 120,231 82,061 233,023

Christianity 0.1 3.3 7.5 2.1

552 4,154 909,912 915,446


Hinduism 0.1 83.7

746 2,025,766 6,766 2,064,949


Buddhism 55.8 0.6 19.0

Taoism/ 456 1,399,454 1,450 1,401,681


Confucianism 38.5 0.1 12.9

46,023 16,696 28,124 92,850

Others 0.7 0.4 2.6 0.9

13,666 56,813 708 72,659

No Religion 0.2 1.6 0.1 0.7

Source: Population Census 1980

Note: Malays include Indonesians, and other indigenous groups.

In this study we will focus primarily on the political

and educated elite views of and actions on citizenship and

ethnicity. The main reason for focusing on these elites'

perception is because with their dominant positions in the

institutions and access to (as well as habits of using) the

media of public expression resulted in their disproportionate

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influence on public opinions on the issues of the day.

Moreover, if we are to study the emergence of citizenship in

postcolonial societies, it seems only logical that we begin

with the historical agents who act as the bridge between the

"Western" and "native" ideas and ways of seeing and doing.

The primary sources for this study are published official

documents, memoirs and biographies, political party documents,

and newspapers. The official documents include materials

published by the British Colonial Office, the Malayan

Government, the Malaysian Government, and the Singaporean

State Government. These official and party documents provide

important information on the state's public views and

positions. The memoirs and biographies, on the other hand,

provide important insights into the personal aims, views, and

interests of the actors. Unfortunately, government documents

on the May 1969 political crisis, other than the book by Tunku

Abdul Rahman, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, and the

report by the National Operations Council, remain classified

material. Generally then, extensive use was made of newspapers

for information on the May 13 ethnic disturbances and its


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This chapter examines various aspects of political life

in the precolonial and colonial societies. Precolonial Malay

political life was essentially determined by the kerajaan

system, where the peninsula was comprised of several, more or

less, clearly defined autonomous kerajaan-states. Since the

Malays identified themselves as subjects of a particular Ruler

of the kerajaan-state, they did, and could, not conceive

themselves as belonging to one "nation." Similarly, the early

Chinese immigrants, divided by organizations which were

organized along kinship, dialect or territorial ties, also

could not see themselves as a "nation" in the modern sense.

The huge influx of Chinese immigrants, however, resulted in

the emergence of ethnic pluralism on the peninsula, and in the

states where they settled in large numbers, they more often

than not had destabilizing effects on the local indigenous

political system. These destabilizing effects, among other

things, triggered the gradual intervention and expansion of

British colonial rule into the Malay states. The advent of

British indirect rule, with its concentration of power in

alien hands at the center, slowly, but effectively, trans­

formed the kerajaan system and states. Yet, if the British did

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readily intervene to modify various aspects of the k e r a j a a n

system to meet their needs and interests, especially to lay

down the foundations for building a legal-rational state,

they, nevertheless, did not at any point deem it necessary to

do away with the autocratic rule tradition on the peninsula.

The Kerajaan Political System1

This section describes various aspects of political life

and culture of the k e r a j a a n - s t a t e before its disruption in the

19th century by the forces of Chinese immigration and of

British colonial rule. A ruler-based polity2, the k e r a j a a n -

state was composed basically of two classes: a ruling class

and a subject class (Gullick 1958). The ruling class,

comprised of members of the Ruling House, the aristocratic

families, territorial chiefs, and anointed secular and/or

religious notables, monopolized the rights to exercise

1 There are two main sources on the k e r a j a a n system,

and precolonial society in general. First, we have the local
sources in the form of court histories such as S e j a r a h M e l a y u ,
H i k a y a t J o h o r s e r t a P a h a n g , R i w a y a t H a m p e r a n P e r a k , and so on.
Second, we have the reports and observations of the early
British officers such as Hugh Clifford, Frank Swettenham, T.J.
Newbold, and others. On the question of which is a more
reliable source see the interesting exchange between Milner
(1986) and Yeo (1987),

2 The ruler was known by various titles; r a j a (Hindu

Ruler), s u l t a n (Arabic Ruler), Y a n g d i - P e r t u a n A g u n g (He who
is made lord) , and Y a n g d i - P e r t u a n B e s a r or Y a m tuan. K e r a j a a n
means the "condition of having a king." The variation in
titles reflects the overlapping influences (Indian, then
Muslim) on the peninsula.

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authority in the society. Thus the struggles over the

distribution of rights and privileges in the kerajaan-state

were essentially among the members of the ruling class. Below

them, the subject class, who comprised the great bulk of the

population and were mostly peasants, were largely excluded

from public political participation. Similar to other pre­

industrial states, there was in the kerajaan system a

predominance of political power over economic power: it was

easier for a man of power to acquire wealth than for a man of

wealth to acquire power (Shaharil 1984: 9).

With the 1511 Portugese conquest of Malacca (founded in

1414), the greatest Malay kerajaan-state, the peninsula fell

into a period of general decline. In fact, the peninsula was

fragmented into several autonomous lesser kerajaan-states.3

And unlike the relatively prosperous Malacca sultanate with

its great thriving seaport, Melaka town, the lesser kerajaan-

states were composed mostly of agricultural settlements, or

Malay villages (kampungs)4, usually located along the banks of

rivers. While the village economy was primarily based on the

3 The Malacca sultanate was founded in the fourteenth

century by a prince from Palembang, Sumatra. The sejarah
Melayu, the court chronicle of the Malacca sultanate, gives a
good account of the history of Malacca. The lesser states were
of different origins: I'edah, Perak, Kelantan, and Trengganu
were "old" Malay states while Johore, Selangor, and Negeri
Sembilan were relatively ?‘young" states.

4 For example, Perak in the 1820s had just under a

hundred villages, three-quarters of which had between ten and
fifty houses. (Gullick 1987: 98)

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use of land for padi and fruits cultivation, in the larger

villages and towns there often were other economic activities

such as making textile and handicrafts, small scale mining

(mainly tin and some precious metals), and trading. Generally

then, precolonial Malay society was organized primarily along

agricultural production, with the family as the basic

organizational unit of production. Moreover, Jomo (1988: 9)

argues, though there was an abundance of fertile land,

peasants did not invest in production largely because of the

precarious nature of the feudal relationship in the society.

By virtue of their position, the ruling elites were

endowed various arbitrary rights over the peasants; such as

entitlements to a fixed portion, usually one tenth, of the

peasants' crops, or to demand their services, called corvee

labor (kerah), for various tasks that often forced the

peasants to leave their own fields unattended. And, of course,

in time of war peasants were obliged to fight for their Ruler

or chief. It was thus the possibility, and the probability, of

the elites taking such liberties that partially discouraged

peasants from investing to increase their productivity. Yet

even with their privileges, Gullick (1987) described the

ruling elites' life-styles as "plain and at times austere."

This was because in the Malay agrarian subsistence economy,

the gap in the standard of living between the ruling elites

and the subjects was not a wide one

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since the difference between the ruler and

other members of the ruling class on one side,
and the mass of peasant cultivators on the other,
lay in the command of services of men and women
which the former possessed and the latter made
possible (ibid).

Since an elite's wealth, and power, was mostly dependent on

the population size of his district; the larger the population

the more peasants to work the land, the more goods produced,

the more revenues to collect, and the more soldiers to

recruit.5 Apart from the direct taxation on and exploitation

of labor, the other major source of the elites' revenues would

come from taxation on and participation in trading activities.

Though trading was the most profitable activity in precolonial

Malay society, it was largely controlled by foreigners and not

by members of the ruling elite.6

One reason why elites were reluctant to take up trading

was that it was not a prestigious occupation for an elite in

the pre-colonial Malay status system. Instead of taking up

5 Of course, the elites also had slaves and debt-

bondsmen to exploit, but they constituted just a meager source
of surplus. Slaves were acquired through a variety of ways: as
war booties, forcibly capturing non-Muslims such as Orang
Asli, African slaves bought from slave traders, and so on.
Malays as Muslims were technically free and thus could not
become slaves. But they could be reduced to debts-bondsmen if
they could not pay their debts. See Patrick Sullivan (1982)
study on slavery in Perak.

6 Mostly Indian-Muslims and Arabs. For example, in

Kedah there was a well established community of Indian-Muslim
traders. (Sharom 1984) Obviously, Malay peasants rarely became
traders because of their lack of capital and of their fear of
the ruling elites seizing their profits.

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trading, elites would rather have used their political

position to extract revenues from the trading activities.

Because the accumulation of wealth, or the notion of gain, as

an end in-itself was not an activity that the elites found

especially desirable, wealth was only important to them as a

means to enhance their power (kuasa) and status (nama)

(Gullick 1958; Milner 1982). And, since the k e r a j a a n system

valued political power more than economic wealth, it was only

logical that the system in the main was geared towards the

maintenance and reproduction of the political privileges and

powers of the ruling elites.

In terms of population, the peninsula was sparsely

populated and peopled by several ethnic groups7, with the

Malays as the largest established ethnic group. Most Malays

lived in villages, where there usually was a high degree of

kinship ties between the inhabitants through marriage, and the

"foreigners" mostly lived in the larger villages or towns.

Though the Malays shared to an extent a common language,

religion (Islam), and culture, nevertheless, the peninsula was

not regarded as a Malay "nation" in the sense of "one people

7 Between 1835-36, the estimated Malay population of

Perak was 35,000, Selangor 12,000, Pahang 40,000, Johore
25,000, Kedah 50,000, Kelantan.50,000, and Trengganu 30,000
(Newbold 1971). As a general rule, Indonesians who had settled
in Malaya for a period of time would usually "become Malays"
(such as the Bugis in Johore and Pahang, Mandilings in Perak,
and Minangkabaus in Negeri Sembilan). Finally, there were also
scattered groups of Indians. Arabs, Thais, and Chinese in the
urban areas.

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acknowledging one supreme chief or ruler, obeying one central

government, and governed by one body of customary law [adat]"

(Maxwell 1891: 128). Two barriers, one cultural and the other

political, hindered Malays from belonging to one single

"nation." First, Malay cultural unity was fragmented by the

persistence of regional symbols, spoken language, and

variations of customary law (adat).8 But, it was the second

factor, the political factor, that was probably most

paramount: Malays were circumscribed and divided by their

kerajaan-based political identities and loyalties.

As the locus of che Malay religio-magical political

worldview, the kerajaan institution was the foundation from

which Malays derived their sense of personal and social

identity. The kerajaan-centered "worldview" provided both the

individual and group a distinctive conception of the natural

world, the social world, the self, and the relations between

them (Geertz 1973). Since in the Malay religio-magical

consciousness the categorial boundary between the natural and

8 The two adat systems were: adat temenggung, the

predominant system in the peninsula, and adat perpatih found
only in Negeri Sembilan, where the Minangkabaus comprised the
majority. (Hooker ed., 1970). The predominance of the former
system in the peninsula meant that variations in customary law
were largely reflected in the "different assemblage" of the
forms and principles of this system (Winstedt 1961). There was
a third legal source, the Islamic syariah, or hukum syariah,
but despite its potentially universalizing force, the syariah
in all the states was subsumed by the local adat system. In
fact, traditionally, Malays were nominal Muslims and practised
a "syncretic" religion.

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social world remained ambiguous, it meant that for the Malays

their "socio-cultural world flows together with the world as

a whole and takes on the form of an objective world order"

(Habermas 1987 v.2: 158). For Malays, then, the k e r a j a a n was

part and parcel of their objective world order; hence the

condition of their being subjects of a particular ruler became

constitutive of their identity. As such, they would consider

"themselves to be living not in states or governments, but in

a k e r a j a a n , in the 'condition of having a Raja'" (Milner 1982:


Thus, despite the immense social distance between the

subjects and ruler, the subjects in most likelihood identified

themselves strongly with their ruler. Hence, though Malays

vaguely shared a sense of belonging to a common race, they

did not regard themselves as belonging to a Malay "nation"

precisely because the existence of different k e r a j a a n - s t a t e s

hindered the formation of a singular Malay "nation." Needless

to say, the ruling class played, given their vested interests,

the central role in the maintenance of the particularized

9 It should be noted that the k e r a j a a n system was a

syncretic admixture of Malay and Indian elements. The term
k e r a j a a n comes from Sanskrit meaning "being in the condition
of having a Raja." The interesting part was how Islam, when it
reached the peninsula, was adapted to reinforce the k e r a j a a n
system. Milner (1981) argued that Islam was absorped into the
kerajaan system by emphasizing the Persian tradition of
kingship which had been assimilated into medieval Islam, and
by adapting the s y a r i a h to fit the Malay a d a t system. In this
way, Islam was integrated in such a way that it reinforced the
k e r a j a a n system.

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kerajaan-based states and identities.

In terms of social station in life, in the k e r a j a a n

system it was principally determined by an individual's family

rank in the political hierarchy. I n other words, status was

mostly a derivative of birth rights in accordance to legiti­

mate kinship descent.10 Given the centrality of kinship

descent in the society, it was an important symbol to the

ruling elites, especially the kingship, for purposes of status

and, more importantly, of legitimation.11 Precisely because

status in precolonial Malay society was based on kinship

descent, political life and stability were the outcomes of the

compromises and conflicts resulting from the competition

between chiefs and between a ruler and chiefs.

In theory, in a k e r a j a a n system, the ruler is paramount.

His advice, consent, and blessing are necessary for all

decision-making in general, and for political appointments in

particular. However, the legitimation of royal authority is

founded on two not necessarily compatible principles, one

religious and the other secular. On the one hand, in line with

10 Occasionaly, a commoner would rise up in the poli­

tical order through his valor in battles, through religious
"charisma," through marrying into a ruling elite family, or
through his wealth.

11 All Malay h i k a y a t s (official epics) trace the origins

of the royal line to some "greater" royal lineage. For exam­
ple, the Sejarah M e l a y u , the epic of the Malacca sultanate,
trace the royal origin to Alexander the Great. In turn, the
lesser kerajaan-states traced their lineage to the Malacca

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the religio-political worldview, and based on the power of his

invented mythical lineage, a ruler was usually perceived to be

a "sacred person and a symbol invested with an aura of

sanctity and supernatural power" (Gullick 1958: 45) . The

secular legitimation of a ruler, on the other hand, depends on

his fulfilling his authority in protecting his subjects

against social anarchy and supernatural forces, as well as

other secular powers. Also, it meant that a righteous ruler's

reign would be benevolent and would lead to prosperity and

peace for his subjects, who in exchange supplied him with

goods, services, and their loyalty. In a kerajaan system then,

the ruler excercises his authority in the name of Allah and

with the consent of the "people." And since he is the

consecrated ruler who represents the whole community, the

"people" are obliged to obey his commands; in short, in the

kerajaan system, the ruler acts as the protector of and

benefactor to the community.

In reality, however, in order to extend his rule over his

domain, a ruler usually had to form a "pact of domination"

with his territorial chiefs. Given the feudal structure of

rule, a ruler's capacity to exercise his authority was usually

limited; in most instances he would not have the "necessary

means to, facilities and faculties of rule" (Khoo 1990: 55) .

Not having the resources to fully exercise his control, a

ruler thus would have to rely on the chiefs to maintain law

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and order, protect his domain, and collect taxes. Hence, in

the kerajaan system's structure of rule, chiefs would have

considerable control over the running of their own domains. In

fact, when a chief was powerful, his private army could be

more than for the purpose of maintaining law and order; it

would also be a show of his power and status. As such, chiefs

could become powerful and influential, and a ruler would be

powerless against, or worst still be threatened, by them. In

the end, a ruler could very well be reduced to a symbol of

unity to preserve the state which essentially limited his

power to exercise his authority only in the royal district

(Gullick 1958: 44).12 Thus given the structure of rule in the

kerajaan system, stability in precolonial society rested upon

the dynamics of the reciprocal ties between a ruler and his

chiefs. In this way, it is understandable that political

succession in the kerajaan system is "usually accompanied by

some degree of tension and conflict" (Khoo 1990: 55).

As the position of ruler conferred upon the holder

special rights and powers, it was highly prized among the

chiefs. And, since chiefs who allied with the holder would

have the advantage of his personal authority in settling their

12 But this did not exclude the possibility that a

Ruler, under a certain set of conditions, could actually have
substantial power. The case of the Sultan of Kedah is an
excellent example. See Sharon Ahmat, "The Political Structure
of the State of Kedah 1879-1905" in Journal of Southeast Asian
Studies, v 1(2), 1970.

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claims over or disputes with the other chiefs, they of course

wanted a ruler who favored them. Consequently, political

succession became the focus of intrigues and conflicts between

royal kinsmen vying for succession, between chiefs plotting to

put their favorite claimant on the throne, and between

different alliances of chiefs and royal kinsmen. Moreover, the

problem of political succession was further complicated by the

polygamous practices of rulers which usually resulted in the

condition where there would be a number of claimants or a n a k

raja (sons of ruler) to the throne.13 In short, given the

precarious balance of power in the k e r a j a a n system, political

succession frequently would result in civil wars; indeed,

precolonial history was marked by a number of such wars. In

fact, when a succession crisis developed it exposed the exis­

ting fissures in the politics of a kerajaan-state.

Yet, despite the political rivalry between them, the

ruler-chiefs' relation was remarkably intense and personal

as marriage practices created a network of kinship relations

among members of the ruling elite. In addition, mutual

obligations between the ruler and chiefs led to a reciprocity

13 " A n a k r a j a " generally was applied to all royal

progeny descended in the male line from the Ruler. The
practice of taking of secondary wives, in addition to the four
official wives, led therefore to the unusual size of the royal
lineage. For example, Khoo (1972) noted that the Sultan
Ibrahim of Selangor (1782-1826) had a total of sixty children.
See Andaya's (1976) insightful study of the role of a n a k r a j a
in the k e r a j a a n system.

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of protection and consultation. Similarly, the ruler-ruled

relation was also personal since the rakyat owed their

allegiance directly to their district chiefs. As Sutherland

(1978: 34) observed, "Malay society was structured and

integrated through a series of vertical relationships,

which could be specific or general but were always personal."

Nevertheless, there was a qualitative difference between the

ruler-chiefs and ruler-ruled authority relation. While in the

ruler-chiefs relation there was a reciprocity of consultation,

the ruler-ruled authority relation, in contrast, was funda­

mentally a relation of domination. If the subjects entrusted

themselves to the protection of the ruling elite, it was not

unusual for the relation to be characterized by their complete

subjection.14 The feudal rule thus was that the subjects per­

ceived themselves, and were treated, as the "objects of rule"

and, sometimes, as the "beneficiaries of rule," but rarely saw

themselves as "subjects of a political relationship" (Poggi

1986) ,15

Since in the k e r a j a a n system the ruler and chief stations

14 To a large extent the subjection was only limited by

the fact that an elite's wealth and power were wholly depen­
dent on the population size of his district. That is, if he
were too oppressive the people in his district might migrate
to another district/state and led him to lose both power and

15 Khoo (1977: 123) writes "In this very class­

conscious and rather rigidly-structured society, the ruling
class dominated all aspects of life. The common people were
completely subservient to the ruling class."

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were in the main determined by birth rights, it meant that

political offices were "personalized.” For if the ruling

elite assumed their positions by virtue of birth rights, then

to them there would be no distinction between personal and

public powers. For instance, Maxwell (1888) noted, according

to ada t , in the k e r a j a a n system the soil of a Malay State is

vested in the Ruler such that peasants cannot "own" lands but

only "rent" or "use" them. When the ruling elites "are" the

state, then they would have a "superior right of property

in the soil, to which the rights of proprietorship were

subordinate" (Jomo 1988: 27). Unsurprisingly thus, public

revenues were treated by the ruling class as private incomes

for their personal expenses. The personalized rule of k e r a j a a n

authority was further reinforced by the system of informal

customary laws ( a d a t ) , of which the ruling elite maintained

a "monopoly of interpretation.1,16 Even the Islamic legal

elements and structures were absorbed in such a way that the

roles and functions of the syariah, the ulamas, and the

Islamic courts were greatly transformed and reduced (Gullick

1988).17 Hence, in the personalized rule of the kerajaan

16 The term "customary law" is rather misleading as the

underlying rationality of "customary laws" is not based on
modern rational-legal reasoning. Khoo (1977) writes "Customary
laws and oral traditions consistently emphasized the need for
the populace to demonstrate loyalty and submission."

17 Of course, the roles of the s y a r i a h and u l a m a s varied

greatly from state to state. For example, in Kelantan (Roff
1974) and Trengganu (Shaharil 1984) the u l a m a s , incorporated

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system there was no independent formal legal system or

judiciary body to challenge the powers and actions of the

ruling elite.

Given the predominance of the kerajaan system, the form

and content of the public sphere would be defined by it.18

Generally, the public sphere did not exist as an unique social

realm distinct from the private sphere in the kerajaan-state.

Indeed, the public sphere, understood as the institutional

space where the "public thinking of private reason takes

place," could not exist in the precolonial society precisely

because the ruling elite looked upon and treated the subjects

as "objects of rule." Since the ruling class is the "state,"

then the "people" would function "as the backdrop before which

the ruling class ... displayed themselves and their status"

(Calhoun 1992: 426). It follows that the ruling elite repre­

sents the state "before" and not "for" the "people," and their

power not "for" but "before" the "people." Consequently, the

institutional space that somewhat resembled a public sphere of

sorts was the "public arena" where the ruling elite displayed

their authority to and before the people. As such, in the

"public arena" the public activities were usually collective

ceremonies which functioned towards the social integration of

into the ruling elite, played a far more significant role in

the dispension of justice in those states.

18 For an excellent treatment of the concept of "public

sphere" see Habermas (1989) .

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society.19 In short, in precolonial Malay society there exists

only the "representative public sphere," which was just a

public space for the ruling elite to exhibit their authority

in front of their "objects of rule."

In summary, because of the existence of regional cultural

differences and, especially, of the system of kerajaan-states

in the peninsula, Malays did not "imagine" themselves as

belonging to a Malay "nation." Rather, a Malay would identify

him/herself as a subject of a particular Ruler. And given the

sources and structures of political authority in the kerajaan

system, the 'people' did not have any "rights" to political

participation; only the privileged few, the members of the

ruling elite, could participate in the political process. Yet,

while political conflict was an endemic problem because of the

kerajaan system's feudal structure of rule, nevertheless, as

the political order in the peninsula, the predominance of the

kerajaan system seemed unshakeable. This state of affairs,

however, began to change in the nineteenth century, beginning

with the influx of Chinese immigration into the western Malay

states in the first half of the century and, later, followed

19 Another type of public activity was the elaborate

formalistic rigid code of conduct that regulated the ruler-
ruled interaction. For example, when a commoner, or even a
chief, met the Ruler in his balai (a section of his "house"
designated for receiving the "public") s/he must observe all
the proper court rituals. However, this is not to say that
there wase no peasant resistance, but that if there were
resistance, given the nature of the kerajaan-state, they could
only exist in "covert" form.

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by the expansion of British colonialism from 1874 onwards.

Though the initial Chinese presence did not have any major

impact on the lives of the general Malay populace, it however

did have unsettling effects on the political stability of the

western kerajaan-states. In fact the ensuing political chaos

forced the British to intervene in order to protect the normal

conduct of economic and commercial activities. The advent of

colonial rule radically transformed the kerajaan system's

sources and structures of authority, structure of rule, and,

indeed, created the conditions and structures for the

formation of a singular Malay "nation-state."

The Organization and Impact of Chinese Immigrant society

The British colonization of Penang (1786), Singapore

(1819), and Malacca (1824), the so-called Straits Settlements

(SS), increased dramatically the Chinese immigration to the

peninsula; initially, the SS and, later, the western Malay

states.20 The opportunities offered by the British's laissez

faire development

20 The historical pattern of Chinese immigration had a

major effect on the future political development of the
country. Most Chinese settled in the SS, the western Malay
states (Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan), and Johore, and
only a minority settled in Kelantan, Trengganu, Perlis, Kedah,
and Pahang. By and large Chinese political threat to the
Malays would be in direct proportion to their numbers in the
state. See Table 7.

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1890 127,936 1907 227,342

1895 190,901 1908 153,452
1900 200,947 1909 151,752
1901 178,778 1910 216,321
1902 207,156 1911 269,854
1903 220,321 1912 251,644
1904 204,796 1913 240,979
1905 173,131 1914 147,150
1906 176,587 1915 95,735

Source: SAW Swee Hock, The Population of Peninsular Malaysia

(Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1988)

strategy attracted many Chinese immigrants, especially from

southern China where growing poverty, landlessness, and

political chaos forced many Chinese to seek their livelihoods

overseas. As the immigrants came from different regions of

China, and despite the fact that they regarded themselves as

belonging to a common race, they did not conceive themselves

as a "nation." This is because in the new and alien

environment, intra-differences in the Chinese immigrants'

sociocultural identity were greatly enhanced such that they

became sources of disunity, not solidarity.

Generally speaking, the Chinese immigrant identity was

largely founded on two attributes: "natural" attributes such

as common ancestry, and common dialect and territory,21 and

21 The five major dialect groups found in Malaya were

Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainan, and Teochew. By and large
the native speakers of one dialect usually cannot comprehend
the dialect of another. Moreover, each dialect group can

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Dialect Group 1921 1931

Hokkien 380,656 540,736

Cantonese 332,307 418,298
Hakka 218,139 318,739
Teochew 130,231 209,004
Hainan 68,393 97,894
Kwongsai 30,998 46,129
Hokchiu 13,821 31,971
Hokchia 4,058 15,303
Other Chinese 26,174 31,318
Total Chinese 1,174,777 1,709,392

Source: Malayan Census Report of 1931

"voluntaristic"attributes "which means attributes which are

not normally natural." (Lee 1985: 131-132) Given the socialand

political space permitted by both the British and kerajaan

authorities, "naturalistic-" and "voluntaristic"-based

organizations emerged and played dominant roles in policing

and regulating the lives and livelihoods of the immigrants.

The two main Chinese traditional organizations were the huay

kuans22 and secret societies (Triads) .

further be divided into subgroups; for example, the Cantonese

can be divided into Hokchieu, Hokchu, Swatow, Toi San, and so
on. The significance of dialect differences was further
accentuated by the persistence of rampant illiteracy among the

22 Usually they are called clan organizations; the

earliest were the Khoo Kongis, Lee Kongsi, and Lim Kongsi.
Some of the best studies on early Chinese clan organizations
in colonial Malaya were conducted by Yen Chin Hwang (1981,

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Traditionally, membership of h u a y kuans was based on

blood, territorial, and dialect ties. Members of each h u a y

kuan were of the same speech-group and would come from the

same village or district in southern China. The origins of

h u a y k u a n s in Malaya could be traced to the kinship pattern of

emigration from the southern provinces (Yen 1986: 4). Because

of the h u a y k u a n s ' influence the Chinese immigrants sense of

belonging to one race sharing a common pool of generalized

Chinese values and symbols were fragmented by regional

identities and loyalties23. In a strange new land with its

uncertainities and potential hostilities, the regional

differences that divided the Chinese were magnified and

reinforced. Ruled and surrounded by people who spoke other

languages and follow different values and customs, the h u a y

kuans became enclaves where immigrants could be their

"natural" selves.24

23 In fact, the generalized symbols and values often

were used to bolster speech-group or clan loyalty. For
example, the Confucian ideal of "filial piety" towards to
parents was transformed into loyalty towards the clan by the
reasoning that members of the same clan spring from a common
ancestry. Since ancestor worship constituted an important
component of familial integration, it was used by the clan
leadership for the purposes of clan solidarity.

24 The h u a y k u a n s became more or less "extension

families" of sorts to the mostly male immigrants, where they
could speak the same dialect, exchange news from their clan or
district, celebrate the various festivities, worship the their
dieties, and so on. They were pretty much the center of the
immigrants life until towards the end of the nineteenth
century when Chinese women were allowed into the peninsula in
large numbers.

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Huay kuans served a number of social and cultural

functions: they provided welfare and security for their

members, preserved both general and regional Chinese values

and symbols, and, towards the end of the nineteenth century,

established schools, taught in their respective dialects, for

their members children's education. Hence, huay kuans were

generally speaking sociocultural groupings that employed a

variety methods, such as holding regular activities and

ceremonies, to enhance sub-group solidarity. More importantly,

h u a y k u a n s helped to settle disputes within the intra-speech

group, between inter-speech groups, and to mediate with the

outsiders — the British and Malay authorities. Yet, neverthe­

less, probably the h u a y k u a n s ' most important function was to

look after the interests and well-being of their members,

especially in the business of making a living.

Unsurprisingly, given their predominantly sociocultural

and "mutual aid" activities, the h u a y k u a n s would have only

limited capacity to protect their members in the new

environment (Mak 1981). That is, h u a y k u a n s would not command

the coercive resources to protect their members in general.

Coupled this with the British and k e r a j a a n policies of non­

interference in the affairs of the Chinese settlements, in

effect leaving the Chinese to govern themselves, the condi­

tions thus were conducive for the sustained functioning of the

other traditional Chinese institution — the secret society.

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The secret societies founded in Malaya were to a large

extent different from the ones in China; they were not

consciously political, but, rather, created to "protect" the

immigrants.25 And compared to huay kuans which were organized

based on "natural" attributes, there are in general two "pure"

types of secret societies: namely, a kinship-based one that

admits members only from its kin group and a "brotherhood"-

based one that recruits from a wider base (Mak 1981: 124-125) .

Of course, in reality variations exist for each "pure" type.

Unlike huay kuans which were voluntary organizations formed on

the basis of common kinship, dialect or territory ties, secret

societies were most likely formed on the basis of coercion.

Indeed, new members were frequently forcibly "recruited" from

the ranks of new arrivals to the peninsula, and a member of a

secret society could only leave it at the risk of losing his

life. Yet, despite the coercive element, membership of a

25 All secret societies in China are presumed to have

originated from the so-called Peach Garden Trio in the famous
16th mytho-historical epic The Romance of the Three Kingdom.
The three protagonists, Liu Pei, Kuan Yu, and Chang Fei, met
as strangers in a peach garden and bound themselves under an
oath of brotherhood to be loyal to each other until death, to
save their threatened state and to serve the people. Given
their early "ideological" predispositions, during the Manchu
rule (Ching Dynasty) in the 18th century onwards, secret
societies became politicized: they were involved in different
forms of anti-Manchu political activities (Lee 1985: 134-135).
Secret societies thus became proto-nationalist movements with
a shared goal of returning China back to Chinese rule. Indeed,
it was well known that both the nationalists (KMT) and
communists (CCP) at various points in their political
struggles worked in tandem with the secret societies.

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society did have its beneficial side: it offered protection,

employment, welfare, and a sense of belonging to a


Historically, in their formative stages secret societies

became instruments of particular clans ' aims to control,

protect and expand their economic interests and territorial

claims (Mak 1981; Yen 1986). Initially, secret societies were

predominantly kinship-based, but with the increasing social,

economic, and especially, demographic (more dialect groups)

complexities, the trend was towards the brotherhood-based

type. In addition, the leaderships of huay kuans and secret

societies would frequently overlap; they usually were

comprised of prominent businessmen who doubled as respected

huay kuan leaders in public and as feared secret society

leaders in private. As such, secret societies more often than

not were used to control the laboring classes for the Chinese

business community, as well as to protect the latter's

commercial interests and activities.

In terms of political participation, the practices and

ideology of secret societies essentially prohibited free and

open political activities.26 This is because, on the one hand,

secret societies were exclusive associations whose basis was

26 Huay kuans as sociocultural organizations rarely

became directly involved in political activities. Only
beginning in the twentieth century with the political crises
in China di many of the local dialect and clan organizations
became politicized.

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a separation from the public sphere, and, on the other, given

their code of silence and coercive practices, members obvious­

ly could, and would, not publicly display their grievances.

Instead, the unspoken rule was that members should bring their

grievances to their leaders who would settle them in accor­

dance with the particular society's rules. Furthermore, secret

societies were hierarchical in structure and authoritarian in

convention, such that decision-making in the organizations was

essentially done from the top down. Above all, as the business

community normally controlled the secret societies, then the

societies usually became their political and coercive

instruments, especially in controlling the laboring classes.

Politically then, given the nature and structure of

secret societies, wherever they were strong, the Chinese labo­

ring classes' political participation was limited. Moreover,

there was little intra- and inter-ethnic communications at the

grassroots level since most problems were dealt with at the

leadership level. Though the numerous secret societies and

huay kuans divided the Chinese into different rival groupings,

their existence provided the Chinese immigrants with a sense

of belonging to a "collectivity."

At the height of their power, secret societies took over

the "recruitment" of labor from China and the policing of

labor for the Chinese capitalists. They obtained their

revenues from their control of the coolie trade, the opium,

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spirit and gambling "farms," and prostitution and protection

rackets.27 In general, secret societies were strong where the

British presence was weak and where there was a large Chinese

settlement. In the western Malay states, the Malay Rulers

created the Kapitan China system (later adopted by the British

as well) to regulate and to police the Chinese settlements.

And in the Straits Settlements the British authorities

initially tolerated secret societies for they helped to

control the Chinese community (Yen 1986: 110-116).28 In most

cases the Kapitan China who acted as the main representative

of the Chinese community usually would be a rich merchant who

doubled as a leader of a secret society and/or h u a y k u a n . 29

In the Straits Settlements, the British tolerance of

secret societies was gradually undermined by the latter's

disruptive tendencies. This is because since a kapitan was

27 Before the expansion of other cash crops (rubber)

and tin mining, opium cultivation constituted one of the most
lucrative source of tax revenues for the British. For excel­
lent analyses of secret societies activities see Blythe (1969)
and Mak (1981).

28 The British formally established the Chinese

Protectorate to deal with the Chinese community only in the
1870s. However, the number of British officers assigned to the
Protectorate was never large. For example, in 1941 they made
up about 18% of the 184 British officers in the colony
(Heussler 1981: 144-171).

29 The kapitan was the headman nominated by the

community and approved by the British authorities. One of the
most famous Kapitan was Yap Ah Loy of Kuala Lumpur, a leader
of the Hakkas and of the secret society, Hai San (Yen 1986:

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usually the leader of a particular secret society, it meant

that in preserving the interests and dominance of his

leadership, he had to constantly watch his powerful rival

leaders and their societies. Moreover, a kapitan usually could

only maintain peace and stability with the cooperation of the

other leaders. Often, when a kapitan failed to settle disputes

between rival groups, factional fighting would frequently

breakout because of the kapitaincy's fragile structure of

power. The problem, however, was not that secret societies

frequently failed to maintain stability, but that they were

the cause of the fractious fighting. Finding the kapitan

system rather ineffective in maintaining stability, the

British authorities abolished it in the SS in 1825. Indeed,

secret societies' riotings continued to plague the SS as the

societies fought each other over a whole slew of petty feuds:

for example, fighting broke out in Singapore in 1829, 1846,

1851, and 1854, and Penang in 1850, 1857, and 1867 (Blythe

1969). Hence, when the British consolidated their rule, they

strengthened their control over the secret societies through

various means: in particular, they enacted the Dangerous

Societies Ordinance in 1869, and from 1870 to 1881, all secret

societies were "asked" to register themselves with the Chinese

Protectorate, the British officer in charge of Chinese

affairs. Above all, the British began to deport convicted

secret society members to China, which hence reinforced the

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idea that the Chinese were only "invited guests."

However, the most dramatic effects of the secret

societies' activities were felt in the western Malay states.

In the mid-nineteenth century expanding economic activities

and opportunities fueled rapid social, political, and

demographic changes in those states (Table 7). Straits

Settlements Chinese and British business interests in the

states were spurred by the growing demand for tin on the world

market. In this changing economic climate, members of the

ruling Malay elite seized the opportunity to expand their

entrepreneurial activities, especially in commerce and in

opening and operating new tin mines. But in order to open,

work, and expand the mines, the Malay elites borrowed capital

from Straits Settlements' Chinese merchants, and as well as

encouraged Chinese laborers to come to work in the mines in

their districts. Subsequently, the movement of both Chinese

capital and labor into the western states increased dramati­

cally. For example, by the 1860s Chinese mining activities

in Larut (Perak), Klang (Selangor), and Sungei Ujung (Negeri

Sembilan) had increased by leaps and bounds (Khoo 1972: 53-

110) . In general then, Chinese settled in large numbers in the

western Malay states, Johore, and the Straits Settlements.

While most Chinese worked in the tin mines, a considerable

number also engaged in agricultural activities such as culti­

v a t i n g cash crops like sugar-cane, coconuts, and coffee.

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Table 7


1911 1921 1931 1941

Penang Malays 114,441 110,382 118,832 119,913

Chinese 111,738 135,288 176,518 230,679

Malacca Malays 78,813 86,451 95,307 111,907

Chinese 35,450 45,768 65,179 92,125

Perak Malays 199,034 239,128 272,546 335,385

Chinese 217,206 224,586 325,527 450,197

Selangor Malays 64,952 91,787 122,868 152,697

Chinese 150,908 170,687 241,351 339,707

Negeri Malays 69,745 77,648 87,195 106,005

Sembilan Chinese 40,843 65,171 92,371 125,806

Pahang Malays 87,109 102,258 111,122 128,539

Chinese 24,287 34,104 52,291 73,925

Johore Malays 109,983 157,852 234,422 302,104

Chinese 63,410 97,253 215,076 308,901

Kedah Malays 195,411 237,031 286,262 341,294

Chinese 33,746 59,403 78,415 108,445

Kelantan Malays 268,707 287,363 330,774 369,256

Chinese 9,844 12,755 17,612 23,363

Trengganu Malays 149,553 145,523 164,564 186,580

Chinese 4,169 7,246 13,254 16,956

Source: Census of British Malaya, 1911-1941.

Chinese settlements in the western Malay states impacted

in different ways the indigenous Malay political life,

especially the k e r a j a a n structure of rule. The rich revenues

generated by the overall economic development accentuated the

competitions and conflicts between members of the ruling

elite. For example, tin production in Larut, Perak, an area

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exceptionally rich in tin-deposits, made the district chief

Long Jaafar and his son Ngah Ibrahim very wealthy — and

powerful. Their increasing wealth and power incurred the

jealousies of other members of the ruling class, and disrupted

the balance of power in the state. Thus, because of the

competing secret societies and Malay elites vying for control

over the tin-deposits land, the region became plagued by

intermittent warfare, the so-called Larut Wars (Andaya 1979).

Similarly, in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, the new found

wealth resulted in disrupting the existing balance of power in

the states, such that there was frequent political violence

(Khoo 1972).

In general then, severe disputes between members of the

ruling elite arose from issues such as control of tin-

producing land and the collection of taxes from commerce and

revenue farms. Moreover, the presence of large numbers of

Chinese, controlled by rival secret societies, meant that

there were now groups which would not abide by the conventions

of the kerajaan-state. Since the Malay ruling elite had

limited capacity to exert its authority over the triads, the

latter often fought one another for territorial and economic

gains. Worse still, the fierce competition for the control of

land rich in tin deposits between the secret societies became

intertwined with rivalries between chiefs and between ruler

and chiefs. In this sense, Chinese immigration into the

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western states considerably disrupted the states' existing

balance of power with the result that violent disturbances

plagued the states as rival coalitions of chiefs and secret

societies fought over the riches of the land (ibid: 111-175).

Because the social and political chaos severely affected the

normal conduct of business, the British were "forced” to

intervene in order to restore law and order for the sake of

business.30 With the expansion of British colonial rule in the

peninsula, the conditions for sustaining secret societies

gradually petered out. Indeed, in 1889 the British amended the

Societies Ordinance to ban all secret societies; from that

point on the societies had to go underground and gradually

lost their preeminent place in the Chinese community.

The British Colonial State

British expansion into the Malay states began with the

Pangkor Treaty of 1874 and, from subsequent events, it was

apparent that the expansion was not dictated by a defined

imperialistic design (Sadka 1968; Thio 1969; Sidhu 1980).31

30 I have left out the other Malay states (Kedah, Johor,

Kelantan, Trengganu, Pahang) because the immediate chaos
caused by foreign capital and labor occured only in the
western Malay states. In fact, rapid economic development
barely penetrated those states (except Johor and Kedah to some
extent) until much later.

31 Sir Frederick Weld, a former governor, described the

way Britain should expand their influence;
to gradually and gently increase our influence as
occasion offers ... not necessarily with any view

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The British expansion was driven, more or less, by the need to

maintain, if not create, conditions to facilitate commerce and

economic development. A key influence on the formation of the

colonial state in Malaya was the British strategy to rule

indirectly through the existing k e r a j a a n political system. In

theory, the indirect rule "sought to regulate change by

adapting the indigenous institutions to new political and

economic modes of action," but, in practice, the British

fashioned a modern administrative machinery that expediently

incorporated only highly modified elements and structures of

the k e r a j a a n political system (Sadka 1968: 52).

British Malaya, until the end of the Second World War,

was ruled as three separate independent administrative units:

the Straits Settlements (SS est. 1826; Penang, Malacca,

Singapore), the Federated Malay States (FMS est. 1895; Perak,

Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang), and the Unfederated Malay

States (UMS est. 1914; Johore, Trengganu, Kelantan, Kedah,

Perlis). (See Figure 2) The SS was ruled as part of the Crown

Colonies, thus was directly under a British Governor. In

contrast, in the FMS and UMS, through a series of treaty

of an immediate extension of the Residential sy­

stem ... to determine never to relax our hold, but
not to annex whilst it is possible to go under the
present system ... to work by and through the native
governments by advice discreetly but firmly admini­
Consequently, it took the British nearly forty years, from
1874 to 1914, to complete their control of the peninsula.

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agreements signed with the Rulers, the Malay states came under

British "protection.1,32 The notion of "protected" state

maintained that the Malay States remained as "independent"

states, but there would be a division of sovereignty based

upon the treaty agreements between the British Government and

the particular Ruler. Moreover, the implicit understanding

between the British authorities and the Malay Rulers was this;

the land belonged to the Malays and that the British were

merely their temporary "trustees."

British indirect rule strategy used the Ruler institution

as the main instrument to establish and to mask their control.

Though the British preserved a Ruler's sovereignty and symbo­

lic importance as the Head of State, the latter's sovereignty

was reduced to jurisdiction over issues that concerned Malay

customs and Islam. In the FMS, a British agent, the

Resident33, was initially appointed to give influential and

32 The Treaties were not elaborate pieces of legal

documents but, rather, were essentially "letters of consent."
For example, the Pangkor Treaty between the British Government
and the British recognized Perak Malay chiefs, which became
the basis for the other treaties, consisted merely of 14
points (Pangkor Treaty in Stockwell ed. 1980). For an
excellent discussion on the legal status of the Malay States
see Roland Bradell (1931).

33 This is better known as the so-called Residential

System. For example, Article IV of the Pangkor Treaty states:
That the Sultan receive and provide a suitable residence for
a British Officer to be called a Resident, who shall be
accredited to his court, and whose advice must be asked and
acted on all questions other than those touching Malay
Religion and Custom. In the UMS it was called the Advisorial

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responsible advice to the ruler. But later the Resident's

status evolved to the extent that he became the supreme power

in the Malay state (Sidhu 1980: 18). This was because under

the new constitutional arrangement, the ruler forfeited his

sources of income, authority, and domination to the Resident;

the ruler's source of income now consisted of an "allowance"

from the Resident who took over the task of collecting

revenues, and his roles as protector and benefactor were

displaced by the Resident-controlled permanent standing police

force and judicial system. The Resident thus was the real

power behind the throne. In short then, the Ruler institution

was preserved to maintain the fiction of the Resident as

merely an "adviser" in and to the public.34

A State Council, with the Ruler as the head and the

Resident as the moderator, was established to legislate and

deliberate on the affairs of the state. Other members of a

State Council included members of the Malay elite, selected

abd appointed by a Ruler and approved by the Resident, British

System, which more or less played the same functions and roles
as the Residential System.

34 However, it should be noted that in reality the ruler

in his own way could, to some eextent, manipulate things to
his advantage. For example, in the UMS states, where British
rule was weak, the rulers in general had more say in the
business of ruling. See Roff (1974) for an excellent treatment
of the contest between the British authorities and the
traditional Malay ruling elite in Kelantan. Nevertheless, the
logic of colonial rule was the gradual political erosion of
the k e r a j a a n system — even in the UMS.

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officers, and, in the FMS, in view of the increasing Chinese

presence in the states, prominent Chinese businessmen as well.

But, despite a Council's ethnic composition, power was clearly

the prerogative of the Residents and, to a limited extent, the

Rulers. Thus the Chinese representatives were mainly consulted

on economic issues, and the Malay appointees on affairs that

affected the Malay community. And though the Council at first

was conceived as an advisory body, it soon began to take up

other functions such as acting as the sole legislating body,

as well as the chief executive body (Sadka 1968: 184). Also,

further constitutional developments resulted in a distinct

allocation of authority between the FMS and UMS; in the FMS

the executive function of the State Councils was transferred

to a central body, the Federation Council, headed by a High

Commissioner, while in the UMS the executive function remained

the prerogative of the individual State Council.

At the local government level, the British intervention

tended to strengthen the Ruler institution vis-a-vis the other

members of the traditional ruling class. Indeed, the colonial

state gradually deprived the non-royal elites of their

hereditary ranks and privileges, as well as their traditional

sources of incomes and authority. For example, in the FMS,

many of the territorial chiefs' had their districts and

functions taken over by British District Officers (DOs). In

fact, in a number of instances the non-royal elites were

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reduced to poverty — unless they were on the payroll of the

new regime. Hence, the British authorities put on their

payroll only those elites whom they established a working

association, such as the elites who were appointed to sit on

the State Councils, the chiefs who were appointed to the

position of Malay Magistrates, and others who were appointed

to fill the post of p e n g h u l u s . In this way, the British

renovation of the k e r a j a a n system gradually led to the demise

of the non-royal elites as a political group. Above all, since

the elites' new salaried positions in the new regime were non-

hereditary, it meant that their descendants would become a

ruling class in "search of an occupation.11

Perhaps understanding the non-royal elites' predicament,

as well as feeling obligated, the British35 later partially

alleviated their male descendants' dilemma when they committed

themselves "to the policy of increasing Malay employment in

the Colonial Government Services in general and opening the

Administrative Service to the elite in particular (Khasnor

1984: 23).

In line with this emerging British "pro-Malay" policy,

selected male descendants of the ruling elite were send to a

35 This change in policy marked the increasing strength

of the "pro-Malay" British officers, such as Frank Swethenham,
Hugh Clifford, R.O. Winstedt, and R.J. Wilkinson.

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special college where they were educated36 and prepared for a

career in the colonial government. Thus the descendants of the

ruling elite were trained and transformed into paid civil

servants of the colonial state — born aristocrats,

"administocrats" they became (Jomo 1986: 243). Moreover, to

facilitate the emergent of this new social group the British

established the Malay Administrative Service (MAS) scheme in

1910. This elite corp of Malay administrators initially played

subordinate roles, or were "subalterns," within the civil

service.37 As the First World War created a shortage of

available British men for colonial service, and combined with

the moral obligations felt by certain segment of the British

MCS38, led the British to increase the numbers of and

36 It was for this purpose that the British established

the Malay College at Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), Perak in 1905. The
purpose and spirit of the college was, as articulated by
Hargreaves, the first principal of MCKK;
It should ... be explained to the Crown Agents that
the school is one where Malays, generally of good
birth are being instructed in the English language
and the English notion of honour and duty, so as
to fit them to take part in the administration of
their country ... (quoted in Khasnor 1984; 30).
Later, the British also admitted Malays of commoner background
into the College and, hence, the service as well.

37 However, it should be noted that the British

preserved the p e n g h u l u , the village headman, institution. In
fact, acting as the layer between the common people and the
British, the p e n g h u l u institution was crucial to the District
Officers capacity to effectively communicate and govern their

38 By sentiments of a segment of the MCS I am refering

to British civil servants who held the view that they, the
British, must protect the Malays from being overwhelmed

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responsibilities of the administocrats. In short, the

establishment of the MCKK and MAS, resulted in the absorption

of the non-royal ruling elite into the colonial machinery.

Broadly speaking then, in the FMS, the MAS members had

only limited roles in the business of ruling as they usually

functioned as subordinates to British officers. Moreover,

policies in the FMS were formulated, not at the local level,

but by the center: in the person of the High Commissioner. In

the UMS, however, matters were slightly different. When the

British entered the UMS, they found that the Rulers in all the

states had already initiated some sorts of administrative

reforms, which they had borrowed liberally from the British

model in the FMS (Emerson 1937; Roff ed. 1974; Sharom 1984;

Shaharil 1984). For a number of reasons, the British would

send only a small number of MCS officers to help run the UMS;

usually just an Adviser and a few technically trained British

officers. In addition, unlike in the FMS where the British

centralized the structure of government, by creating a uniform

administrative system that came under the control of a High

Commissioner, the UMS remained more or less a decentralized

unit, consequently then, the Rulers and State Councils of the

especially by the Chinese. To bring selected members of the

ruling class into the colonial service was one way of helping
them to learn the ropes of modern government which one day in
the future they would need to govern themselves. This move was
also expanded during the Great Depression as a cost cutting
measure, that is, it costs less to employ a Malay than a

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UMS would have more influence than their counterparts in the

FMS. Hence, the MAS administrators in the UMS had larger roles

in the running of their states as they were assigned to more

important posts; for example, all DOs in the UMS were

Malays.39 In short, relative to the FMS the UMS states

retained much more of their Malay characteristics, both in

government and in population.40

Let us summarize some of the consequences of the

expansion of British colonial rule. First, because the British

laissez faire economic policy attracted Chinese labor from

China, and Indian labor from India, it resulted in the growth

of a multiethnic society, or plural society. Yet, with the

increasing influx of Chinese and Indian immigrants to the

peninsula, and, perhaps by the turn of the twentieth century,

with a significant segment of the immigrant communities sho­

wing signs of wanting to settle permanently in the peninsula,

the British authorities, nevertheless, did not implement any

policy towards the social and political integration of the

immigrant communities. Instead, they continued to treat the

immigrants as foreigners and to propagate the idea that Malaya

39 However, being aware of the delicate nature of ruler-

chief relation, the British never appointed a Malay to admini­
strate the royal district. Instead, the Advisor usually was
the person in charge of the royal district.

40 For instance, while English and Malay were used in

the state councils in the FMS states, only Malay was used in
the state councils in the UMS states. In fact, Malay was de­
clared the official language in the UMS states' constitutions.

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was the land of and belonged to the Malays.

Indeed, the idea of Malaya as T a n a h M e l a y u (Malay land)

was reinforced by the British invented colonial "hierarchical"

membership status system; "hierarchical" pertains to the

unequal bundle of rights accorded to the different membership

status, which, not surprisingly, overlapped with ethnicity.

The most coveted status was British citizenship which only the

Queen's subjects, restricted to arrivals from United Kingdom

and their descendants, were entitled. Malays, regarded by the

British as the indigenous group, were considered subjects of

the various Rulers. For the non-British and non-Malay

population, the colonial state created two types of limited

membership status. In the SS qualified Chinese and Indians

were accorded British "subject" membership status, while in

the Malay states the British established the "protected"

person status for them. Above all, the majority of the

immigrants were classified as "aliens"; in other words, they

held none of the rights and privileges that membership

entailed. The point here is that while as British subjects

or "protected" persons qualified Chinese and Indians were

entitled to certain rights, the bottomline was that they were

still regarded as nationals, or citizens, of their respective

mother country. In a nutshell, they remained as foreigners who

did not "belong" to the peninsula.

In a sense the idea of T a n a h M e l a y u was also reinforced

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by the establishment of the elite Malay administrators of the

MAS. Since the British had always maintained they were just

temporary "trustees," their creation of the MAS was one of

their ways of preparing the Malay elites to eventually assume

their rightful place. At the same time the British preserved

the "outsider" status of the Chinese and Indians by excluding

them from the upper echelon of the colonial civil service and

by limiting their political participation in general.

However, the British colonial rule did result in the

formation of a new kind of "state," as well as formed new

social and political relations in the peninsula. When the

ruler institution became incorporated into the British

rational bureaucratic structure, the kerajaan'3 sacred and

supernatural foundations were undermined. A desacralized ruler

institution meant that a ruler was transformed into a secular

figure without any "special powers." In addition, under the

British systems of law and order, the symbolic role of the

Ruler as the fount of justice and supreme authority of the

traditional judicial system collapsed; initially, the British

DOs took over the administration of justice and, later,

trained magistrates replaced the DOs as the formal legal

system covered more and more aspects of colonial life.41

In short then, the social bases of the traditional ruler-

41 For example, see Harring (1991) and Sutherland

(1980) excellent studies on the permeation and expansion of
British colonial law in Selangor and Trengganu respectively.

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ruled relations were radically transformed. For example, the

"exchange of service" between the ruler and the ruled petered

out as the colonial state expanded its control and entrenched

itself between the ruling elite and the subjects. Indeed, with

with the British maintaining law and order, the subjects no

longer needed the protection of the ruling elite. Given that

the elites were deprived of their sources of authority and

power, certain elements of the vertical relationships which

structured and integrated Malay traditional society were

disrupted and diluted, if not destroyed. For example, the

British abolished the traditional slavery and debt-bondage

practices in the peninsula and hence eliminated this

particular form of feudal relationship between the elites and

their subjects.

The transformation of the ruler institution into a cog in

the secular colonial state, and the elimination of the

positions of the non-royal elite resulted in the decay of the

"personalized" rule that characterized the traditional Malay

polity.42 Thus the kinship-based ascriptive foundation and the

vertical relationships that structured and integrated the

42 The best example of "depersonalization" was

undoubtedly with regard to the position of the aristocrats.
Their ascriptive status no longer could guaranttee them any
rank in society but, instead, they had to "retool" themselves
in order to gain a niche in the colonial bureaucracy: to
become an administocrat. That is, in the new political system
they had to prove by what they could do and not by what they

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kerajaan system lost their validity when political offices

became delineated by the British imposed rational-legal

system. Furthermore, the customary laws and practices were

rationalized and superseded by the British common law and

administrative practices.43 In fact the administrative state

was "official, highly distinctive, and relatively visible" and

as such it "moved ... up and away from the larger society to

a level of its own, where specifically political personnel and

functions were concentrated" (Poggi 1978: 78),44 It follows

that the boundaries between state and society became more and

not less clearly defined. Hence, when the kerajaan-state's

"personalized rule" was displaced by the formal bureaucratic

state, public authority became differentiated from private


Consequently, since the British administrative state

perceived itself as the "public authority" representing the

"public interest," and working for the "public good," it meant

that the state would to some extent seek inputs from the

43 Interestingly, the British codification of

traditional customary laws in print became, in later years,
the standard reference for everybody, the Malays included
(Peretz 1993). See Sutherland (1980) for a penetrating study
of how the British gradually transformed the Trengganu legal

44 For example, the state's codes and statutes were put

in print and published, and officially promulgated and widely
diffused. The adoption of uniforms for both military and
civilian functionaries of the state placed the same emphasis
on the distinctiveness and unity of the state apparatus.

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public. Indeed, since there was an application of the Rule of

Law, the public would have access to certain civil rights and

freedoms. But, nonetheless, for the colonial state, only the

elite segments of the public were included in the decision­

making processes; as such only British citizens, members of

the traditional and bureaucratic elites, and prominent non-

Malay businessmen were politically active. The Malay commoner

and Chinese and Indian workers were largely excluded from the

political process. Indeed, there were no institutionalized

mechanisms for them to participate in the decision- and

policy-making processes.

In other words, the autocratic kerajaan rule was

displaced by the authoritarian British rule. The British

"depersonalization" of public authority transformed the

"representative public sphere," where the traditional Malay

ruling elite represented their authority "before" the people,

into a "modern public sphere," where there existed limited

autonomous social and, perhaps, political spaces. Hence, the

public could organize and form associations to protect and to

represent their collective interests.


Hence, before the coming of the British, the Malays did

not imagine themselves as belonging to a "nation" in the

modern sense. The Malays, though ethnoculturally bonded, only

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could conceive themselves as subjects of the Rulers of the

different kerajaan-states. With the advent of British colonial

rule, however, the foundations of the kerajaan system and the

autonomy of the kerajaan-states were greatly transformed and

reduced. On the one hand, the Ruler institution was rein­

vented and absorped into the colonial bureaucratic machinery,

with the business of governing transferred from the Rulers to

the British authorities. On the other hand, the non-royal

elites as a social group were phased out, and their descen­

dants trained to become colonial officers.

And as British interventions intensified, due to either

necessity and/or contingency, the colonial state increased in

size and complexity, and roles and functions. Thus eventually,

the kerajaan state's personalized rule was displaced by the

colonial state's legal-rational rule. Hence, despite the

formal organization of the peninsula into three separate

administrative entities, it was nevertheless clear that the

trend in the peninsula was towards the strengthening of the

center and weakening of the pheriphery. In this way, a

centralized political system, with power concentrated in the

hands of the colonial state, emerged from the ashes of the

diminishing kerajaan system.

Also, under the British colonial rule the demographic

composition of the peninsula underwent a dramatic change. That

is, the British laissez faire development strategy attracted

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a huge influx of Chinese and Indian immigrants to the penin­

sula. British Malaya thus became a multiethnic society. But

despite the bulging immigrant population, the British made no

efforts to integrate them into the colonial society. Instead,

the colonial state continued to treat the immigrants as

foreigners. In this way, the colonial state persisted in

perpetuating the perception that the peninsula belonged to the

Malays and that Malays were the real rulers of Malaya. In

fact, the "Malayness" of British Malaya was reinforced by the

hierarchical colonial membership system and by the exclusion

of the Chinese and Indians from the upper echelon of civil

service in the FMS and UMS.

Finally, with the development of the colonial state and

the modernization of the economy and society, there emerged in

the peninsula the colonial civil society (see Chapter 3). And

given the expanding application of the Rule of Law in the

society, private individuals were to an extent endowed with

the rights and freedoms to form groups in the colonial civil

society. Yet, because of the emerging ethnic pluralism in the

society, the colonial civil society became populated by mainly

ethnic groupings. In the next chapter we will deal with the

emergence of ethnic groupings in the peninsula.

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Undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable developments

during British colonial rule was the emergence of civil

society in Malaya; a sphere of society distinct from the state

and with forms and principles of its own (Habermas 1989) .

Sociologically speaking, civil society refers to a space

"between household and state, other than the market, which

affords possibilities of concerted action and social self-

organization" (Bryant 1993). With the appearence of colonial

civil society, private individuals came together publicly and

began to make their presence known, and felt. Thus it denoted

the inception of public participation in Malayan society.1 It

was only natural that the colonial civil society found its

fullest expression in the urban areas where societal moderni­

1 The colonial civil society, which was regulated from

above by the British administrative state against the public,
soon became a contested realm. The medium of this political
confrontation was peculiar and without precedent in Malayan
history: the common people's "public use of their reason." To
regulate the groups in civil society the British authorities
introduced a series of mechanisms that limited the colonial
subjects' civil rights, that is, freedoms of association,
press and speech. For example, freedom of association,
formalized in the 1899 Societies Ordinance, was used as a
means to control Chinese societies' activities.

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zation and capitalist production were most evident2. This

chapter, which focus on the period from 1900 to the Japanese

occupation, examines the emergent Malay and Chinese communal

movements in colonial civil society.

Since the British l a i s s e z f a i r e economic policies helped

to develop a multiethnic society in the peninsula, ethnicity

became a reality s u i generis. The multiethnic environment

heightened ethnic consciousness and identification, which

thereby enhanced the development of ethnic group awareness. As

such, the higher-order ethnic differentiations (Malays versus

Chinese) gained ascendancy and gradually eclipsed the lower-

order intra-ethnic differentiation (Kelantanese versus

Perakians, or Hokkiens versus Cantonese). This clearly led to

and was expressed by the emergent communal groups in the

society. And while the British state generally granted a

measure of autonomy to emergent communal groups, during the

Occupation, the Japanese military state basically debarred

almost all forms of public participation. Above all, the

Japanese repressive rule immeasurably radicalized the society,

especially, the relations between the Malays and Chinese.

2 For example, Weld (1972: 130-139) gave an interes­

ting account of the incipient "flowering of several critical
and outspoken English-language newspapers" in the SS, from

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The M a l a y Communal Movements

Despite the rapid and far-reaching socioeconomic changes

in the peninsula, the Malay social and economic relationships,

for a variety of reasons, remained essentially untouched.3

Also, the British continued to nurture the fiction that the

rulers were still independent and autonomous, and capable of

looking after the interests of their subjects. Nevertheless,

at the turn of the twentieth century the rulers, and the other

traditional elites, were challenged by the emergence of new

social and political elite groups in Malay society. Most of

the emergent elite groups were naturally located in the urban

areas where the relatively open public sphere permitted

private individuals a measure of personal liberties. Morever,

improvements in transportation and communications with the

outside world increased the traffic of news and ideas into the

peninsula, especially the urban areas. Hence, the ideational

and intellectual horizons of Malay society were greatly


Among the Malays there emerged three important new elite

3 For example, Malay peasant society did not undergo

any radical changes as the British policy sought actively to
shield it from the effects of the new economic order. Thus the
British development strategy created a "dual economy;" on the
one side, the Malay-dominated peasant economy, and, on the
other, the "modern" sector (such as plantation, mining,
commerce) where most of the new immigrants were employed. In
this way the dual economy resulted in the ethnic division of
labor in Malaya. For an excellent discussion of economic
development in colonial Malaya see Jomo (1988).

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groupings, distinguishable from one another by class and

educational backgrounds of their members, and by their

cultural-political orientations. All three groups, however,

were communal groupings in that they identified themselves

with the Malays and were only concerned with the issues and

problems facing their community. The earliest group came from

the Arab-Malay merchant community in the SS and was influenced

by the Islamic reformism in the Middle East. The second group

was the "autochthonous" Malay intelligentsia, products of a

renovated Malay vernacular school system, especially the

famous teacher college Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) in

Tanjung Malim, Perak4. Mostly of peasant or commoner

backgrounds the overwhelming majority of members of this group

subscribed to a "pan-Malay nationalism." The final group was

the pro-status quo administrators, comprising of the English-

educated administrative elites and usually graduates of the

MCKK, with strong ties to the traditional ruling elites.

The Religious Reformists

Ideologically, the religious reformist movement had its

origin in the Islamic renaissance which occurred in the Middle

4 SITC (est. 1922) was made possible by the efforts of

the "forward-looking" Sultan Idris of Perak, who it was named
after. Unlike the MCKK whose students were of aristocratic
background, the SITC students came from all sorts of class
background. Also, the SITC used Malay as the medium of
instruction. It was thus sometimes refered to as the
"Vernacular University." The term "autochthonous" was coined
by W.R. Roff in his classic study on Malay nationalism (1967).

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East, specifically in Egypt, around the turn of the twentieth

century.5 Experiencing the military and economic decline of

the Islamic world, many Muslim intellectuals called for the

restoration of Islam to its original unadulterated form and to

regain its open-minded and progressive approach. They also

called Muslims to unite to oust the Western colonialism, and

argued that to uplift their community Muslims must be prepared

to accept change and link that change to Islamic values and

ideas. The initial purveyors of the Muslim reformists' ideas

to Malaya were the descendants of Arab (Malayo-Muslim)

merchant communities in Penang and Singapore. This was

because they were the ones who could afford to perform the haj

(pilgrimage) , or to further their education in the Middle East

(McDonnell 1990).

Versed in both Arabic and Malay languages, the Malayo-

Muslims largely identified themselves with the Malay

community.6 They were concerned with how to renovate Islam

such that it could help the Muslim community (umat) in Malaya

to meet the economic and social challenges posed by the

5 The two most important destinations were Mecca, for

the haj (pilgrimage), and Cairo, for education. The Al-Azhar
University in Cairo served as the center of activism for Malay
students. See Roff (1970) study of Malay and Indonesian
students in Cairo in the 1920's, Milner (1986) study of the
impact of the Turkish Revolution on Malaya, and Fatimi (1963)
Islam comes to Malaysia.

6 In fact, inter-marriages between Arabs and Malays

were fairly common. The Malayo-Muslims were identifiable
usually by their names, such as Sheik and Syed.

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British and the Chinese. To deal with the Malay community's

"backwardness" they encouraged Muslims to acquire and to

spread Islamic knowledge to the larger Muslim community. Their

contribution to the spread of reformist ideas in the Malay

world was mostly in their role as founders and editors of

reformist newspapers and journals of the time, and educational

institutions (Roff 1967: 43-55). Their most important

newspaper, the Al-Imam (The Leader)7, a monthly published

between 1906 and 1908, was founded by Sheik Mohd. Salim al-

Hadi (b. 1862), a prominent merchant from Singapore.8 For the

founders of Al-Iman, their objectives were to educate the

Muslims as stated in the editorial in its first issue: ""to

remind those who are forgetful, arouse those who sleep, guide

those who stray, and give a voice to those who speak with

wisdom" (Al-Imam, 17 September 1906).

Because they were inspired by Islamic reformism, the

Malayo-Muslims first concern was not with social or political

change, but with religion. They exhorted the Malays to return

7 The first Malay newspaper in Malaya was the Jawi

Peranakan (local-born Muslim) founded in 1876 by a group of
Indian-Muslims in Singapore. Roff (1967) observed that Malay
journalism and book publication in Malay owed its origins very
largely to the locally born Indian-Muslims. For instance, the
first important modern Malay intellectual was an Indian-
Muslim, Abdullah Munshi, best known as the author of Hikayat
Abdullah (Abdullah's Story) published in 1874.

8 The other prominent figures associated with the Al-

Imam were Haji Abbas Taha (b. 1885) who succeeded Al-Hadi as
the editor in 1908, and Sheik Tahir Jalaluddin (b. 1869).

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to a purer Islam and for them to get rid of the unlslamic

practices in their daily lives. They were especially opposed

to the unlslamic aspects of the a d a t system and to the "heavy

accretions of folk Islam and traditional electicism" (Mutalib

199: 20). The Islamic reformers criticized the traditional

Malay elites for their failure to "hold fast to and carry out

their obligations to the community,"9 and also chastized them

for their indulgence in unlslamic acts like comsumption of

alcohol and smoking c a n d u (opium). In short then, for the

reformers the solution to Malay backwardness was for the

Malays to return to the true principles of Islam based on the

Q u r a n and S u n n a h .

Although the reformers first concern was with religion,

they sometimes critically pointed out how the Malays were

completely dominated by the foreign races in the economy,

especially the Chinese. Yet, their status was not disimilar to

that of the Chinese in that they too were "foreigners" who

prospered in the new land. In fact, at that time the Malays by

and large perceived them as "foreigners" too. Not surprising­

ly, Sheik Mohammed Salim, realizing the Malayo-Muslims

marginal status within the Malay community, wrote in the

preface to the first issue of the A l - I m a m (17 September 1906):

though P e r a n a k a n 10 we are not of the same direct

Al-Imam, 17 September 1906.

Literally it means "local born."

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descent as the people here, but we love this

country as our homeland, have drunk its milk,
used its products to increase our flesh and blood,
[and] received from it the good things of life.
Are we not indebted to it, and its children.

In fact, the Malayo-Muslims identification with the Malay

community was also based on the Islamic concept of umat

(community). That is, they argued that since Malays were also

Muslims, then they all were part of the umat Islam (Islamic

community) sharing the same set of beliefs and values. Yet,

despite their efforts to identify themselves with the Malay

community, many Malays continued to question their claims to

be part of the Malay community. Indeed, it was only after the

Second World War, with the birth of a new expansive Malay idea

of "nationalism," that they were accepted by the rest of the

Malay community (see Chapter 4).

Initially, the influence of the Malayo-Muslims was

limited to the urban areas, especially Penang, Malacca, and

Singapore. But gradually through their newspapers, journals,

and other publications, the reformers to an extent managed to

propagate their ideas through the length of the peninsula.

Yet, nevertheless, it was with the expansion of educational

facilities for Malays in the first two decades of the

twentieth century that their ideas found a major pathway to

reach the larger Malay community.11

11 See Loh's S e e d s o f S e p a r a t i s m : e d u c a t i o n a l p o l i c y in
Malaya 1874-1940 (1975), chapter 1.

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Two educational institutions which became the vehicle for

the propagation of the reformists7 ideas were the p o n d o k and

madrasyah system (Firdaus 1985: 8-19).12 In particular, the

multiplication of m a d r a s y a h s at the turn of the 20th century

greatly helped in the propagation of the reformers’s ideas to

the younger generation of educated Malays. The graduates of

the m a d r a s y a h s came to be known as the " K a u m M u d a " (Youth

Faction) movement (Roff 1967: 56-90). Strongest in Penang and

Singapore, the K a u m M u d a also aimed to cleanse Malay customs

of its unlslamic elements that they claimed contributed to

retarding the progress of the community. In turn, they

advocated a return to a purer form of Islam, and emphasized

the social equality of all Muslims before God. Precisely

because of their "radical ideas," the K a u m M u d a came into

conflict with the traditional Malay elite and the traditional

ulamas (religious teachers), or K a u m T u a (Old Faction), who

were allied with the elites.

For the elites and the Kaum Tua, the Kaum Muda's

"radical" Islam threatened the traditional bases of their

authority and legitimacy. For the K a u m M u d a , they regarded the

Kaum Tua and the Malay elites "conservative" Islam as an

obstacle to the social and economic progress of the Malay

community. In light of the conflict between the K a u m Muda and

12 The p o n d o k is the traditional Malay vernacular

village school and the m a d r a s y a h is the religious school.

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the elites and K a u m Tua, many of the K a u m M u d a ' s writings and

publications were banned by the Malay states. Also, the K a u m

M u d a did not manage to infiltrate the religious establishment

and, more importantly, did not attract a large following among

the conservative and tradition-minded Malay peasantry.

Worse yet, in the 1930's the K a u m M u d a identification

with the Malayo-Muslim community became a serious handicap

when "chauvinist" Malay communalism gained ascendancy.

Finally, in face of the growing anti-colonial nationalism and

anti-foreigner sentiments, the K a u m M u d a became increasingly

politicized as well. Subsequently, the apolitical type of

Islamic reformism advocated by the Malayo-Muslims slowly was

surpassed by a more "racial" brand of reformism.

The Malay Intelligentsia

Broadly speaking, the Malay intelligentsia were products

of Malay vernacular schools and, in terms of ideational hori­

zons, ranged from "chauvinist" communalism to pan-Indonesian

nationalist socialism (Roff 1967: 126-177; Firdaus 1985). In

the 1920s and 1930s, the SITC graduates were significantly

adding to the growth of an "autochthonous intelligentsia" in

Malay society. Since the majority of the Malay intelligentsia

were found in the teaching profession, journalism and publi­

shing, through their various writings, whether as articles in

the newspapers and journals, short stories, or novels, they

tried to educate and to raise the group consciousness of the

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Malay readers. Indeed, the majority of Malay intelligentsia

were ardent language nationalists; they encouraged the use of

Malay language as the medium to transmit knowledge because for

them their language was intimately related to their

cultural identity, both as the most expressive

vehicle for a society's beliefs, values, and
sentiments — for its innermost spirit — and as
a means of self-recognition. (Hence) one of the
first signs of a conscious ethnicism ignoring
local political boundaries was a concern for
the nuture of the language as symbol and
expression of the group (Roff 1967: 46).

Besides playing a crucial role in the development of the Malay

language, literature, and letters, this group also was instru­

mental in the creation of a critical Malay journalism.13

Importantly, their newspapers and journals acted as a forum

for the educated Malays to air and exchange their views on a

wide array of issues and problems affecting the Malay


In contrast to the Malayo-Muslims who emphasized the

unity of the umat Islam, the Malay intelligentsia subscribed

to a more or less ethnocultural conception of identity. A

number of young Malay intelligentsia even questioned the

Malayo-Muslims claims to be part of the Malay community. For

them, the Malayo-Muslims could npt be part of the Malay

13 Three of the best known Malay newspapers of this

genre were Warta Malaya (est. 1930), Majlis (est. 1931), and
Utusan Melayu (1939-1941). The years 1935 and 1936 alone saw
twenty-five new magazines and newspapers.

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community because they were not "Malays" (Ariffin 1993: 16-

17). For example, Abdul Rahim Kajai, one of the most important

Malay journalists, insisted that "Islam is not a bangsa14 but

a religion," and thus rejected the idea that Islam was a bond

that linked the Malayo-Muslims to the Malay community.15 That

is, Kajai rejected the reformers' universal notion of umat

Islam. This "chauvinist," and parochial, communalism was,

however, opposed by the more "open-minded" Malay intellectuals

such Zainal Abidin bin Abas (Za'ba), a leading Malay man of

letters. Za'ba publicly stated his opposition in an article he

wrote for the November 1926 issue of Al-Ikhwan (The


My state! My community (bangsaku)! Right or wrong

my my community! If the other bangsa can become my
slaves and give me some benefits, so much the better.
So long as my bangsa becomes important!! (The Malay
lands for the Malays only! Java for Javanese only.
The Johore Malays say only Johore is great! Kelan-
tanese will say only Kelantan! ...) In reality,
these sentiments of race consciousness and terri­
tory must not at all be planted in us.

Similarly, Kajai and Za'ba ideological differences were

reflected in their attitudes towards the immigrant

14 Bangsa can mean either race or nation. As there is

a close affinity between the two meanings, it is only logical
that one's conception of race affects one's understanding of
nation, and vice-versa.

15 This became known as the Melayu Jati (Pure Malay)

versus Peranakan debates. For example, Kajai in his usual
sarcastic wit labelled the descendants of the Indian-Muslims
as Darah Keturunan Keling (DKK) and of the Arabs as Darah
Keturunan Arab (DKA).

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communities. While Za'ba argued that Malays must recognize

that the immigrant communities had helped to develop the

country and thus had a stake in this country, Kajai insisted

that the foreigners, including the Malayo-Muslims, had no

place in the Malay states.16 Nevertheless, despite Za'ba's and

his supporters' opposition, it was the narrow-minded Malay

communalism that gained ascendancy in the Malay educated

circles in the 1930s as the latter increasingly felt

threatened, if not overwhelmed, by the immigrant communities.

Finally, there was a third group of Malay intelligentsia

who were mainly influenced by the more militant Indonesian

nationalism. In 1938, a group of Malay students returning from

Cairo and Malay-educated intellectuals from the Malay vernacu­

lar schools, including graduates of SITC, formed the first

left-wing Malay nationalist movement, the Kesatuan Melayu Muda

(KMM).17 All its members were of commoner background and a

significant number of them were first generation Indonesian-

16 The 1930s witnessed a heated debate between certain

Straits Indians and Chinese who claimed to be "Malayans" —
entitled to equal rights as the Malays — and Malays who
refused to recognize the term and regarded them as foreigners
who had no rights in the Malay states (Roff 1967: 209-210).

17 Through 1938 its membership numbered perhaps no more

than fifty or sixty. The leading members of KMM were: Ibrahim
Yaacob (SITC), the founding president, Ahmad Boestaman (jour­
nalist) , Ishak bin Haji Mohammed (journalist), Abdul Rahim
Rashid (SITC), Hassan Manan (SITC), Isa Mohammed bin Mahmud
(SITC) and Haji Othman bin Abdullah (Al-Azhar). Because many
of them were from island of Sumatra, the KMM was sometimes
referred to as the "Sumatran" clique. See Ahmad Boestaman

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Malays. In terms of occupations, most of them were employed as

teachers, clerks, journalists, and so on. The varied

individual backgrounds and personalities involved in the KMM

resulted in, as Ibrahim Yaccob, the founder president, aptly

wrote in his memoirs, a situation where the KMM "meant

different things to different people."

Yet, nevertheless, members of the KMM all did, more or

less, support the group's radical "anti-feudal, anti-colonial,

and anti-capitalist" political platform. Lika the majority of

the Malay intelligentsia, the KMM was very critical of the

traditional Malay elites, as well as the English-educated

elites, collaborations with the British colonialists. For

example, Ibrahim Yaccob wrote:

... there is one thing that saddens me: i.e. ...

when one observes the lethargic Malay represen­
tatives in the State Councils, that some of them
are there just to warm their seats. With due
respect to these very learned Malays ... some of
them have been representing the Malays for years,
but we have not even heard them coughing. Are
they carrying out their responsibilities
(as quoted by Firdaus 1985: 59-60)?

However, unlike the other Malay intelligentsia groups, there

were elements in the KMM who, inspired by the Indonesian

nationalists' republican ideas, harbored — mostly in private

— an anti-feudal sentiment.18 But, realizing that the bulk of

18 In fact, there were members of the KMM who secretly

also were members of Sukarno's Fartai Nasionalis Indonesia. In
addition, the KMM had ties with the Malayan, and Indonesian,
communist party, even though they did not entirely agree with
the MCP on every issues — particularly on the "commnual"

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the Malay population would not support, if would not be

outright hostile to, any such republican moves, the KMM did

not publicly advocate the removal of the rulers, and, instead,

reluctantly sought to accommodate them in their political


Finally, like Za'ba, the KMM were highly critical of the

narrow-minded communalisms that inflicted the Malay community.

They criticized the Melayu Jati (Pure Malay) versus Peranakan

debates, and the parochial "regionalisms" espoused by the

various "quasi-political" state Malay Associations established

by the English-educated administrators (see below). An idea of

the KMM's nationalism could be deduced from the group's

ultimate objective of creating a Melayu Raya or Indonesia Raya

(Greater Malaya or Greater Indonesia). From their Melayu Raya

vision, it was clear that the KMM subscribed to an expansive

culturally-based nationalism. Precisely believed they believed

that the Malays and Indonesians belonged to the same bangsa,

the KMM perceived the Malays and Indonesians as "One Race,

speaking One language, and belonging to One Nation" (Cheah

1983: 11). The KMM thus urged the still largely parochial

Malay population to transcend their narrow state identities

and loyalties in order to create a new and wider bangsa Melayu

(Malay nation). Hence, the KMM persisted in viewing British

Malaya as a Malay polity, and the Chinese as "foreigners."

issues (Cheah 1992).

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Though the KMM regarded the British colonialists as the

main enemy, and reserved their most trenchant criticisms for

them, they could not publicly show their strident anti­

colonial stance without incurring outright repression by the

British authorities. Instead, they adopted a "non-cooperative"

stance, and only vented their anti-British feelings privately.

With regards to the various immigrant communities, they too,

like the majority of the other Malay intelligentsia, were wary

of the increasing economic power and political assertiveness

of the Chinese, such as the SS Chinese's demands for "equal

rights" as Malays. This is because they accepted the view that

Malays are the "rightful owner" of the land and regarded the

Chinese as foreigners. Above all, the KMM, strongly influenced

by Malay communal and populist sentiments, harbored a tendency

that regarded the Chinese immigrants, irrespective of class,

as exploiters of the entire Malay race.

Because of their populist nationalist rhetoric and anti­

colonial stance, the KMM received cautious surveillance by the

British authorities. For example, between December 13 to 18

1940, the British authorities detained 150 KMM leaders and

supporters. And when the Japanese were showing interests in

the Malay peninsula, it was not surprising, given their anti-

British stance, that the KMM turned to the Japanese for help.

In fact, just prior to the Japanese invasion in December 7

1942, members of the "inner circle," came in touch and colla­

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borated with Japanese agents (Cheah 1983: 12). Finally, just

like the K a u m H u d a and the other Malay intelligentsia groups,

the KMM did not succeed in gaining the trust and confidence of

the conservative Malay masses.

The Administrative Elites

The third important group of Malays who played important

roles in the early formative stages of Malay political

thinking and collective action were the English-educated Malay

administrators. As civil servants of the colonial state the

administrative elites were legally not permitted to partici­

pate in any form of political activities. They thus could not

join any political groups without jeopardizing their positions

in the civil service. Because of this rule of conduct, a few

Malay civil servants left the MAS when their participation in

certain "political" groups or public debates came into direct

conflict with this rule. For the majority who remained in the

MAS, given the growing social and political changes, and

communal sentiments, in the society, it becoming absolutely

impossible for them to remain idle.

In the 1930s Malay Associations were established in the

Malay states by the English-educated Malay civil servants.19

19 The Kesatuan Melayu Singapura (est. 1926) was the

first Malay Association, and it subsequently established
branches in Penang and Malacca in 1937. However, the Malay
Associations in the s s differed from those in the Malay
states' in that they were founded by the Malayo-Muslim
community. All the Malay Associations in Malaya were founded
between 1938 and 1939; for example, Pahang (3/1938), Selangor

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Because of the way the Malay Associations were defined by

their founders, as "quasi-political" organizations, they were

legally exempted from the Societies Act — which meant that

civil servants could legally join them.20 On the one hand, the

Malay Associations were formed to protect Malay interests and

Malay rights (hak Mela y u ) in the respective states. This was

especially true of the states where the Malay administrators

felt that the Chinese were threatening the position of the

Malay community as the "rightful owners" of the land. On the

other hand, the administrators formed the associations to

protect their own interests and positions within the civil

service from what they perceived to be encroachment by the

Straits Chinese and Indians; in this, they successfully

pressured the British authorities to institute a hiring quota

that was favorable to them.

However, unlike the Kauai Muda and KMM, the Malay

Associations were essentially pro-status quo and pro-British.

They were pro-status quo in that the Malay adminstrators were

supportive of the traditional ruling elites, particularly the

Rulers, and generally loyal to their respective states. But,

(6/1938), Negeri Sembilan (9/1938).

20 See Roff (1968) study on the Persatuan Melayu

Selangor. One of its founding members was Tengku Ismail, a
scion of the Negeri Sembilan royal family and trained as a
lawyer, who used his understanding of the colonial laws to
write up the Association's constitution so that it was not
within the purview of the Societies Act.

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of course, this did not mean that there were no tensions in

the relationship between the two groups. In fact, precisely

because of their respective position in society, both the

traditional and the administrative elites held legitimate

claims to Malay leadership — the former as traditional

leaders of the country by hereditary rights, and the latter by

their position within the colonial administrative service

(Khasnor 1984: 169). However, despite this potential area of

conflict, there was in practice barely any competition between

the two. There are two possible explanations. Firstly, they

shared a common class background and usually were related to

one another by kinship ties, and held a more or less common

value system. Secondly, since neither group held any real

power, there was no political power to struggle over; rather,

it was to their advantage to work together to preserve their

privileged position in colonial society. Naturally, it was in

this group's interests to promote particular state loyalty or

parochial nationalism21, as a means to protect their privi­

leged position. Hence, the group was wary of any British

efforts to further reduce the sovereignty of the Malay states.

Above all, the administraive elites did perceive the

21 Indeed, the bureaucratic elites were supicious of

Malays whom they considered "outsiders" or o r a n g d a tang,
especially the P e r a n a k a n group. For example, in one of their
national conferences, the Malay Associations excluded a Penang
branch because its members were mostly p e r a n a k a n "Malays." For
a personal experience of an o r a n g d a t a n g see Abdul Majid

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British as protecting Malay interests in general, and their

interests in particular. In this way they remained loyal

to the British, and saw working closely with the British

authorities as the best way to advance the interests of their

community. Thus they saw themselves as "civil servants" of the

colonial government and supported the "sovereignty" of the

Malay states as stated in the various treaty agreements. And

because of their kinship ties to the traditional ruling

elites, since many of them were of aristocratic background,

the Malay administrators were influential for they had

accessibility to the larger Malay community which remained

conservative and tradition-minded. In other words, the Malay

administrators could use the traditional structures of

authority and consciousness to influence the Malay masses.

Their strength, however, was not perceptible precisely because

their activities remained "semi-public," that is, the admini­

strators prefered the "backdoor diplomacy" approach; they

prefered to influence the British authorities through private

discussions and negotiations. This "backdoor diplomacy" stra­

tegy of decision-making, which excluded the public, probably

was detrimental to the growth of democratic citizenship

practices in the Malayan society.

The Chinese Communal Movements

By the first quarter of the twentieth century the Chinese

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immigration to Malaya had dramatically altered the population

landscape of the peninsula.22 In Penang and Singapore where

the Chinese immigrants formed the overwhelming majority, they

had essentially became Chinese "states." In fact, according to

the 1941 population census the Chinese had outnumbered the

Malays in Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, and Johore. While

Pahang and Kedah also had a credible Chinese presence, only in

Kelantan, Trengganu, and Perlis did Malays remained the

overwhelming majority (Table 7).

Just like the Malays, the turn of the twentieth century

witnessed the emergence of new social and political elite

groups in the Chinese community. Three political groups stood

out in particular: the Chinese-educated nationalists who were

inspired by the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese-educated

leftwing nationalists inspired by the Chinese communists, and

the English-educated "Malayan" nationalists. The first two

groups were China-oriented in that they were primarily

concerned with the social and political developments in China.

It was only the members of third group who looked towards and

regarded Malaya as their new "homeland."

The Kuomintang Nationalists (KMTM)

In China in 1911 when the nationalist revolution occured,

22 According to the 1939 Malayan Year Book there were

(in millions); 1.4 (52%) Malays and 0.9 (33%) Chinese in 1911,
1.6 (49%) and 1.2 (35%) in 1921, and 2.0 (45%) and 1.7 (39%)
in 1931. See Table 1.

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it was only understandable that the Chinese immigrants,

especially among the sinkeh and laukeh23 who felt close

affinity with their kinsmen and villages, organized in support

of this momentuous event. Subsequently, several branches of

the Kuomintang (KMTM) movement were established in Malaya in

1912. In fact, the growth of the movement was phenomenal such

taht by 1925 it was estimated that the KMTM controlled six

local newspapers, twenty-six schools, and fifteen propaganda

organs, and had a total of approximately 30,000 members. They

established various open front organizations such as

educational societies and institutions, commercial

organizations and enterprises, social clubs, reading
rooms, public media, and, to a leser extent, trade
unions for political purposes (Yong 1981: 120).

As expected most of their activities were directed at events

taking place in China. Through their various organizations

they attempt to raise the political awareness of the Chinese

community about political developments in China, to spread

revolutionary and anti-colonial ideas among the local Chinese,

and to raise money for the nationalist movement in China.

The majority of the office-bearers and prominent leaders

23 Both sinkeh and laukeb are China-born immigrants.

The difference between them is that the laukeh ("old guests")
were immigrants who had lived longer in Malaya. The sinkeh
("new guests") were new arrivals to Malaya. For an excellent
study of the impact of the 1911 Revolution on the Chinese in
Malaya see Yen (1976) . A pertinent fact is that quite a number
of the 1911 Revolution's leaders also were from the same
southern provinces, like most of the Chinese immigrants to

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of the KMTM were from the merchantile and business class, who

also were members of the Chinese Chambers of Commerce (CCC).24

Some of them were also members of the Tung Meng Hui (1900-

1911) , an organization set up by Sun Yat Sen, a leading

Chinese nationalist. As the majority of them were China-born

and Chinese-educated, they had difficulties in communicating

with the British authorities. But, nevertheless, with the

cooperation of the English-educated Straits Chinese who became

"born-again" Chinese nationalists25, they were abled to work

with the British. Moreover, the Straits Chinese members of the

KMTM leadership made the movement, for a while, acceptable to

the British authorities. For example, they helped to dilute

and, thus, cloaked the anti-British colonial sentiment and

rhetoric of the KMTM ideological baggage. Perhaps, more

importantly, the KMTM leadership also assisted the British

authorities in controlling the activities of the party's more

radical rank and file. Nonetheless, the KMTM branches were

24 The leadership of the CCC normally overlapped with

the huay kuan's. In the Chinese immigrant society the
businessman was someone who was highly looked up to as having
"made it" in life. Tan Kah Khee, a Fukien-born wealthy
merchant in Singapore, usually was considered the most
important Nanyang Chinese leader.

25 The two most famous SS Chinese who became ardent

China-nationalists were Lim Boon Kheng, an Edinburgh
University trained medical doctor, and Song Ong Siang, a
Cambridge University trained lawyer (Yen 1977).

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banned in 192526 when the British authorities decided to clamp

down on the spread of anti-imperialist ideas and the pro-China

mass demonstrations that were disrupting public order.

Despite the ban, the conservative leadership was more or

less permitted to continue its mobilization and organization

of the Chinese for non-KMTM purposes. In any case, in reality,

the top leadership of the KMTM had only limited control over

its rank and file membership since it was the second-tier

leadership was in touch and had control over the rank and file

of the KMTM (Yong 1981) . Political agents and school teachers

were the most important groups in the second-tier leadership,

especially when it came to recruiting and mobilizing members,

and spreading the nationalist ideas. In fact, since nearly all

the political agents and teachers were educated in China, they

inevitably were more radical than the merchantile and business

classes leadership.

For instance, given the important role played by Chinese

teachers in KMTM activities, Chinese schools became "important

vehicles for the political and social indoctrination of

Chinese youths ..." (Heng 1988: 22). Chinese schools in Malaya

enjoyed considerable autonomy as they were completely financed

26 However, from 1925-1931, an agreement between the

British and Chinese authorities permitted Chinese in Malaya to
become individual members of the KMT of China but were not
allowed to organize local branches, spread propaganda, and
raise funds in Malaya for political purposes (Yong 1981).

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and run by the Chinese community.27 Statistically, there were

many more Chinese children and youths enrolled in the Chinese

schools rather than in the English schools; in 1938, the

enrollment of Chinese schools in the SS and FMS was 91,534

compared to 26,974 in English schools (Kua 1985: 6). Because

most of the teachers were recruited from China, and because

the schools' reading materials came directly from China and

their curriculum were based on the KMT Government's educa­

tional reforms, students mainly were taught Chinese history

and literature, the political ideas espoused in Sun Yat Sen's

San Min Chu I28, and, above all, to be loyal to China and to

make China strong. The introduction of Kuo Yu (Mandarin) as

the medium of instruction in the Chinese schools in 1917,

however, helped to break down the traditional dialect group

barriers in Malaya.

Yet, despite the limits of the KMTM China-oriented

nationalism, their activities, such as the promotion of

Chinese culture and education, the introduction of Kuo Yu as

the medium of instruction, and the use of the newspapers and

journals to inform the immigrants of developments in China, to

some extent helped to galvanize the Chinese community. Indeed,

27 For a history of the development of the Chinese

vernacular education system in Malaya see Kua (1985) and Tan
Liok Ee's chapter on Chinese education in Suryadinata (1989).

28 "The Three Pinciples of the People:" Nationalism,

Demo-cracy, and Livelihood. Livelihood refered vaguely to
"socialist" practices such as the equalization of land rights.

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their activities served to unify the Chinese; it paved the way

for inter-dialect group cooperation in the management of

community affairs, and generated a sense of pan-Chinese

nationalism (Heng 1988: 23). In the end, however, the KMTM's

China-oriented outlook obstructed the development of a Malayan

consciousness and outlook among the Chinese.

The Laftwing Nationalists

Given the predominantly China-oriented nationalism of the

Chinese in Malaya, it was only natural that the Kuomintang and

Communist Party split in China in 1927 led to a split in the

Malayan Chinese community as well. Basically, the Chinese

split into two camps: a pro-communist group, the Malayan

Communist Party (MCP)29 and a pro-nationalist, or KMT, group.

The latter initially had the upper hand over the MCP in

mobilizing the support of the Chinese community, but a number

of factors30 gradually led to the MCP dominance over the pro­

nationalist group.

Although the communists established themselves in Malaya

29 Established in 1924, the MCP did not become a fully

independent party with its own central committee until in
1930. Since it had only a few Malay and Indian members, the
MCP was essentially a Chinese grouping. For an excellent
collection of documents on the early influences and
activities of the MCP see Cheah Boon Kheng's From PKI to
Comintern, 1924-1941: The Apprenticeship of the MCP (1992).

30 For example: (1) the MCP won the support of a

significant number of the teachers, political agents, and
trade unionists, and (2) the pro-nationalists partly
discredited themselves as their leadership worked together
with the British authorities.

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around the same time as the nationalists, they had always had

to operate as a clandestine movement. Since the British

authorities were suspicious of their anti-capitalist and anti­

imperialist ideas, they consistently barred all communist

societies and activities. The police kept a close surveillance

of all suspected pro-communist activities and organizations.

Periodically, pro-communist teachers and union leaders were

arrested and deported to China under the Dangerous Societies

Ordinance. As such, before the split in 1927, communist

sympathizers were abled to work within the pro-nationalist

front organizations; thus could disguise their true identity.

But after the 1927 split, the communists had to operate in a

clandestine structure. Given the appeal of their aggressive

anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist ideas, their strong

influence in the Chinese schools and cultural organizations,

and, in the late 1930s, their control of the labor movements,

the MCP became an increasingly influential group. Throughout

the 1930s MCP trade unionists and student leaders mobilized

and staged a series of nation-wide strikes over a variety of

issues. The communist-led agitations reached its climax in

1940 when they staged a huge May Day demostration attended by

about 15,000 -20,000 participants throughout the peninsula

(Stenson 1970: 11-37; Lim 1992: 67-90).

Beginning in the late 1930s, in face of the mounting MCP

public challenge, the British authorities reactions were swift

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and predictable. The communists brazen public display of

anti-capitalist and anti-British sentiments posed a direct

challenge to British political power. Numerous suspected pro­

communist leaders were arrested and deported to China, where

in most likelihood they were executed by the KMT Government,

and organizations and publications which were suspected to

be controlled by the MCP were either undermined or banned

outright. A series of new restrictive regulations and laws

were introduced to curb trade union and Chinese school acti­

vities.31 By 1941, the MCP and its united front organizations,

and MCP-dominated trade unions, were severely weakened by the

British authorities' reprisals.

However, perhaps the central MCP shortcoming was that,

despite its class ideology, the party could not shake off its

Chinese communal character. For example, in terms of labor

union activities it focused its energies in organizing the

Chinese workers and totally neglected the Indian estate

workers and — most importantly — the Malay peasantry.32 This

31 For example, the British authorities amended the

Trade Union Act and the Societies Act in order to control the
labor unions and Chinese cultural organizations respectively.
With regard to Chinese schools they banned both the recruit­
ment of teachers and the importation of books from China, as
well as gained control of the schools' curriculum.

32 Nonetheless, the Comintern and Indonesian

communists, working with the MCP, did make efforts to reach
out to the Malays and Indians. However, their activities were
seriously hampered by British intelligence which focused
especially on them. But the main factor which killed the
efforts to recruit Malays and Indians came in the late 1930s

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was made worst by the fact that most of their activities had

more to do with political developments in China than Malaya;

best illustrated by their massive campaigns to aid China in

the immediate aftermath of the Japanese invasion in 1938. This

was not surprising given the fact that most of its local

leadership came from the Chinese-educated lower-middle class

stratum: for example, Chin Peng, Lam Swee, Lau Yew, and Wu

Tien Wang. In short, instead of building up a multiethnic mass

base, the communists adopted an opportunistic line by riding

on the coattails of a rising Malayan Chinese nationalism as

the easiest way to obtain mass support.33 In this sense, the

MCP "itself was as much a patriotic movement as an instrument

of class struggle" (Stenson 1970: 36) .

From the point of view of the political development of

the Chinese community, both the KMTM and MCP, by raising the

Chinese group awareness, partly enabled the Chinese in Malaya

to transcend their dialect, kinship or regional loyalties. In

terms of the civil society claiming access to the public

sphere, the movements radicalized the Chinese community use of

public spaces; for instance, they made full use of the social

when the MCP decided to focus its energies on tapping the

growing nationalism among the Malayan Chinese.

33 However, the leader of the MCP until 1946 was Lai

Tek, an Annamese, and allegedly a Comintern agent. It was
later revealed that he, at different times, also worked for
the French, British, and even Japanese intelligence. The
intrigues regarding Lai Tek remain to be fully studied (Cheah

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and political spaces to organize, recruit, speak publicly,

assemble, and demonstrate. With regard to the MCP, though

their strategy was delimited by their China-oriented

mentalities and activities, the communists did contribute to

mobilizing the Chinese workers to fight for better wages,

living conditions, and rights. In short then, the KMTM and MCP

radical use of the public spaces transformed the public sphere

into a contested realm between the British state and the

emerging colonial civil society.

The Malayan Chinese Nationalists

Unlike the KMTM and the MCP whose politics and

nationalisms were China-oriented, the third Chinese group, the

Straits Chinese British Association (SCBA), regarded them­

selves as Malayan nationalists. Formed in 1900 in Malacca and

Singapore by Straits Chinese, or Chinese Babas34, the SCBA

initial aims were: (1) to inspire and to preserve the loyalty

of the Straits Chinese as subjects of the Britain, and (2) to

promote social and educational welfare (Tan 1947) . Yet,

because British colonial policy persistently excluded them

from important posts in the civil service, and never treated

them as equals, the SCBA vigorously fought to protect and

advance the interests of the Malayans in general and of

34 Chinese Babas refer specifically to the assimilated

Chinese community in the Straits Settlements. In 1931, their
population was estimated at 200,000. See Tan (1988) and
Clammer (1980) for excellent studies on the Babas.

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Straits-born Chinese in particular. The SCBA hence became an

active, and to an extent effective, voice in the colonial

politics of Malaya.

Though the SCBA was a small and elitist organization, it

was politically significant because its leaders were English-

educated professionals and wealthy merchants, the elites of

the Straits Chinese community, who were familiar with British

culture and ideas. Moreover, they were the Chinese leaders

whom the British regarded as responsible representatives of

the Chinese community. The most prominent members were Dr. Lim

Boon Kheng, Song Ong Siang, Tan Cheng Lock, and Lim Cheng Ean.

Throughout its existence, from 1900-1942, the SCBA remained a

small organization; it started with 800 members and in 1931 it

had only 1,060 out of an estimated Straits Chinese population

of 200,000 (Heng 1988: 26).

Politically, the SCBA maintained an "Anglophile"

political identification and was largely antipathetic towards

developments in China. They strongly advocated the formation

of a self-governing British Malaya made up of people "who are

loyal to the country, to the Empire and to the [British]

King." Tan Cheng Lock (b. 1883), a Malaccan born Straits

Chinese and its most outspoken leader, in 192 6, stressed,

our ultimate political goal should be a united

self-governing British Malaya, with a Federal
Government and a Parliament for the whole of
it, functioning at a convenient centre, say at
Kuala Lumpur, and with as much autonomy in
purely local affairs as possible for each of

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its constituent parts. I think it high time

that we commence to take action towards forging
the surest and strongest link of that united
Malaya by fostering and creating a true Malayan
spirit and consciousness amongst its people to
the complete elimination of the racial or
communal feeling. We should aim at building up a
Malayan community with a Malayan consciousness
closely united with the British Empire (1941: 45).

In other words, they were Malayan nationalists who conceived

themselves as belonging to a plural Malayan nation. As such,

the SCBA perceived the KMTM's and the MCP's China-oriented

nationalisms as anathema to the development of a truly Malayan

nationalism. In particular, they were wary of the KMTM and MCP

espousing of what they regarded as narrow Chinese communal

interests. Moreover, since they prosperous English-educated

businessmen, they were strongly at odds with the communists'

class ideology and anti-British activities. In the end, the

SCBA political stance was best characterized as a "Malayan-

centered bourgeois patriotism mixed in with an Anglophile

sentiment" (Heng 1985: 27).

Since the SCBA members considered themselves as Malayan

nationals who were entitled to the same rights as the Malays,

they became locked in a heated exchange with the Malay

intelligentsia and bureaucratic elite over the issue of Malay

versus Chinese rights. The Straits Chinese sentiment was

squarely articulated by Lim Ching Yan, a Straits Chinese

unofficial member of the Penang State Council, in a speech to

a Chinese association in 1930, where he asked,

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Who said this is Malay country? When Captain

Light arrived, did he find Malays or Malay
villages? Our forefathers came here and worked
hard as coolies — weren't ashamed to be coolies
— and they didn't send their money back to
China. They married and spent their money here,
and in this way the Government was able to open
up the country from jungle to civilization. We've
become inseparable from this country. It's ours,
our country ... (cited in Roff 1967: 209).

In this way the SCBA was critical of the British policies

which continued to treat Chinese as "outsiders," and denied

them the equal status as the Malays. Thus, though the British

maintained a good working rapport with the leadership of the

SCBA, and appointed some leaders of the SCBA into the SS civil

service and into the Federal Council, the Chinese as a whole

retained only a minority voice in both institutions.

Specifically, the British pro-Malay policy denied the Chinese

elites the kind of status and privileges they granted the

Malay traditional and bureaucratic elites. As such, the SCBA

actively campaigned for the removal of the "color bar" that

excluded them from important positions in the colonial

bureaucracy. Yet, nevertheless, unlike the public challenge

mounted by their radical counterparts, the SCBA shied away

from outright public confrontation with the British autho­

rities. That is, they, like the Malay bureaucratic elites,

prefered to influence the British through the "backdoor

d ip1omacy" strategy.

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J a p a n e s e O c c u p a t i o n a n d it s impact on ethnic relations

To understand the radical political developments in the

late 1940s and the 1950s, it is necessary to evaluate the

impact of the Japanese military rule on the intra- and inter­

ethnic relations. Japanese forces landed in Kota Bharu,

Kelantan, on December 8, 1941, and, within 70 days, defeated

the British to assume control of the Malayan peninsula. Under

the Japanese military rule, the limited autonomous social and

political spaces that individuals enjoyed under the British

rule were proscribed. Though the Occupation lasted about 3

years, the Japanese's harsh "divide and rule" strategy

considerable damaged the relationship between Malays and

Chinese. This was because whie the Japanese regarded the

Chinese as "enemies" and treated them brutally, they regarded

the Malays as allies and thus adopted a "pro-Malay" policy

(Akashi 1970). In this way, the Occupation contributed to the

disrupted, negatively, the relationships between the two

ethnic communities, such that in the immediate post-occupation

period the animosities between the two communities, for

variety of reasons, flared up in inter-ethnic skirmishes.

Japanese pro-Malay policies

As part of their anti-British strategy the Japanese

proclaimed their support for Asian solidarity — specifically

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with the Malays, as well as the Malayan Indians. Ibuse35, in

an editorial in T h e S y o n a n T i m e s wrote

The substitution of Nipponese for English as the

lingua franca in Malaya is but the natural
recognition of a nation which has stood up for
things Asian and which is now in the process of
saving Asians from continuing to be victims of
the British strategy to squeeze the wealth and
culture of Asians (Akashi 1991: 119).

To demonstrate their solidarity with the Malays, and to

purportedly prepare them for eventual self-rule, the Japanese

implemented the "Nativization" program, which essentially

preserved the British's pro-Malay policy. I will focus here on

the fates and fortunes of the Malay bureaucratic elites and

the left-wing nationalists, the KMM.

During the Occupation, the Japanese state basically

preserved the British administrative system, but replaced the

higher officers, formerly British, with Japanese, and for the

rest of the civil service they pursued a policy which decided­

ly favored the Malays. For example, in the SS where there were

a significant number of non-Malays in the civil service, the

Japanese immediately increased the number of Malay officials.

Hence, the administrative elites not only continued to occupy

their high positions, but "were generally trusted, well paid,

and well treated" by their Japanese superiors who "came to

rely heavily on their services and advice" (Cheah 1983: 43).

35 Ibuse Masuji later became a major novelist in

postwar Japan. S y o n a n is the Japanese name given to Singapore.

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Since the Japanese had to rely more upon them to ensure the

proper and smooth functioning of the administrative apparatus,

the administrative elites' expanded role raised their expecta­

tions and confidence. Yet, nevertheless, the Japanese military

style of rule severely curtailed the Malay officials' freedoms

to act.36 Even more importantly, because the Malay officials

had to at times carried out their Japanese rulers' unpopular

policies, greater social frictions eventually arose between

the officials and the Rulers and Malay public.

If the administrative elites, under the Japanese, did

fairly well, the Rulers' status, in contrast, was further

reduced to that of "minor officials, [and] heads of the state

Islamic affairs bureau" (ibid: 28). For example, their

prestige as nominal heads of their own states were eliminated

and their stipends cut. The public humiliations and manifest

feebleness of the Rulers resulted in their loss of prestige

before their subjects (Cheah 1988). Consequently, with their

reduced status, there were several instances where the Rulers

clashed with the administrative elites when the latter had to

carry policies in which they had to deal with the Rulers.37

36 Indeed, though the Malay administrative elites were

functionally allocated larger roles, their relations to the
Japanese rulers were one of fearful cooperation. See the
personal accounts of Tunku Rahman (1959), Tun Razak (1976),
Mohamad Said (1982), and Mohamad Yusoff (1983).

37 Or, alternatively, Rulers were very upset with the

Malay administrative elites who would follow the orders of the
Japanese but not theirs. Of course, given the circumstances,

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Moreover, the Malay officials also incurred much resentment

and resistance from the Malay public, because of the many

unpopular policies (such food rationing programs) the group

were directed to carry out. In general then, during the

Occupation, social frictions developed between the Malay

officials, and the Rulers and ordinary Malays.

Since the KMK had helped to supply intelligence services

to the Japanese in their invasion of Malaya, as a reward a

number of their leaders were appointed as political agents and

advisers to the Japanese goverment. But within a few months,

the KMM was eliminated when the Japanese dramatically altered

their policy of supporting nationalist movements. Nonetheless,

probably the single-most important reason why the party was

banned was that the Japanese suspected that members of the KMM

were working with the resistance movement.38 However, even

though the KMM was banned many of its members continued to

work with the Japanese. For example, with the support of the

Japanese, a number of ex-KMM members established a paramili­

tary organization called Pembela Tanah Air (PETA) or Avengers

of the Homeland. This paramilitary outfit, led by the former

president of KMM, Ibrahim Yaacob, was supposed to govern

the Malay elites would be jeopardizing their own lives if they

were to carry out Rulers' order that antagonized the Japanese.

38 See Ahmad Boestaman's Carving The Path To The Summit

(1972). Boestaman was one of the important KMM leaders who was
secretly working with the resistance forces.

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Malaya when the Japanese merged the peninusla into a greater

Indonesian republic. But, the PETA's plan to assume control of

Malaya was preempted by the Japanese surprise surrender in

1945. Subsequently, with the impending return of the British,

a number of PETA's leaders and followers fled to Indonesia.

Finally, another aspect of the Japanese "Nativization"

policy pertained to the recruitment of the many ordinary Malay

men into the police, local militia, and voluntary forces. The

primary tasks of the Malay police and militia were the mainte­

nance of law and order in the society, whereas the Malay

voluntary forces, were given military training, like Japanese

soldiers, as they were sometimes used to fight the resistance.

In the end, the bureaucratic elites and the KMM roles in the

Japanese Occupation Government, and the Japanese use of Malays

to maintain law and order resulted in the Chinese public

perception of Malays as Japanese "collaborators" in general.

Japanese anti-Chinese policies

For a number of reasons the Chinese bore the brunt of the

Japanese brutality during the occupation.39 The magnitude of

the Japanese brutality towards the Chinese were vividly illus­

trated by the intermittent bloody "sook ching" (purification

39 Because of the war in China the Japanese naturally

viewed the local Chinese as potential enemies. Afterall, the
Chinese in Malaya supported China in its war against the
Japanese. For example, the Malayan Chinese raised $146 million
between July 1937 to November 1940 for the Chinese war
efforts, a sum that was more than half of the total sum of
$228 million contributed by the overseas Chinese worldwide.

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by elimination) campaigns conducted to weed out suspected

anti-Japanese elements.40 The total reported death tolls from

the sook ching campaigns were estimated to be between 30,000

to 40,000 (Cheah 1983: 23). Not suprisingly, the Japanese

found the Malayan Chinese population generally uncooperative,

if not outright hostile.

Chin Kee Onn's (1946) book Malaya Upside Down ably

described both the Chinese traumatic experience and condition

with the advent of the Occupation. The initial phase of the

Japanese invasion was marked by the pillage, plunder, and

punishment of the Chinese community. After seizing control of

the peninsula, the Japanese did not discontinue their brutal

treatment of the Chinese community. For instance, the Japanese

periodically held gruesome public executions of suspected

Chinese guerillas and their supporters. Fearing and knowing

the Japanese soldiers' brutality, many Chinese fled from the

urban to the rural areas to avoid the persecution. This

movement of large numbers of Chinese to the rural areas was

also perpetrated by the breakdown of the food production and

distribution sysem during the Occupation. As a result, many

Chinese became cultivators in the remote parts of the jungle,

40 The most brutal sook ching campaign was conducted in

Singapore; it began on February 21 1942 and continued for
several weeks. A survivor reported that 400 Chinese were
executed at Changi beach. This was not surprising as the much
feared kempeitai indiscriminately arrested a wide range of
Chinese classified as "undesirables" (Akashi 1970: 68).

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and became the primary support base for the MPAJA (Malayan

Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army) forces. In a sense then, the

Japanese Occupation, more or less, resulted in a disruption

of the Chinese social structure as many Chinese families and

communities were uprooted or dislocated.41

During the Occupation, the traditional Chinese elites,

the heads of clan, dialect, and business organizations,

witnessed a dramatic decline in their standing within the

Chinese community. For example, the SCBA leaders who fled

Malaya and sought refuge in other countries were perceived to

have deserted the Chinese masses. And of the traditional

elites who did not, or did not manage, to flee the colony,

some were arrested42 and some were coerced into joining the

various Japanese-sponsored Overseas Chinese Associations

(OCAs), established throughout the peninsula. The main

function of the OCAs was to garner Chinese support for and

41 For example, of the prewar 1,522 Chinese schools

with an enrollment of 137,328 students, during the Japanese
occupation, only about 200 schools were reopened with an
enrollment of about 25,000. In other words, only 11 percent of
Chinese reopened compared to 90.7 percent of Malay and 76.9
percent of Indian schools (Akashi 1970: 84).

42 For example, Dr Lim Boon Kheng, the Singapore

Straits Chinese leader, Lim Chong Pang, the Singapore KMT
head, and Lai Tek, the secretary-general of the MCP. However,
Tan Kah Kee, the leader of the Chinese Salvation Front,
managed to flee Singapore, but his followers were among the
"undesirables" arrested.

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cooperation with the Japanese.43 Of course, for some elites

the OCAs served as a means to protect themselves, their

families, and their followers. The local Chinese population,

as such, perceived the OCAs' elites as puppets of the Japanese

rulers. Hence, the Chinese community's overall impression was

that their traditional leaders either had fled to save their

own skins or had become Japanese puppets and collaborators.

In this way, the Chinese masses had no alternative but to

turn to the only force that was resisting the Japanese

oppressors — the communists-led resistance. The MCP thus

assumed the leadership role of the Chinese community. To

resist the Japanese, the MCP formed the MPAJA and its under­

ground civilian wing, the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Union

(MPAJU)•44 Indeed, setting aside their political differences,

many young Chinese joined these underground movements; the

average age of the MAPJA army was nineteen and its total

strength increased from 3,000 to. 4,000 in 1944 to about 6,000-

7,000 in 1945. Most importantly, perhaps, was that in their

war with the Japanese the MPAJA received much support and help

43 For example, the OCAs were forced to collect $50

million from the Chinese community which the Japanese demanded
as a "gift" and as a sign of the Chinese "cooperation." Given
this unpopular task to perform, the OCAs role was resented by
most Chinese.

44 The British also cooperated with the MPAJA to fight

the Japanese. See Spencer Chapman's The Jungle is Neutral
(1952). During the MCP war with the British state, the MPAJU
became the basis of the Min Yuen, the MCP network of civilian

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from the Chinese community as a whole — despite the fact that

punishment meted out to suspected MCP sympathizers was brutal.

Hence, just like the Malays, the Japanese Occupation

widened the social divisions within the Chinese community.

But, unlike the Malays in which no one group managed to

increase its status, the MCP gained considerable prestige, and

subsequently became the unacknowledged leader of the Chinese

community. It is this way then that the Occupation radicalized

Chinese politics, which was to have major repercussions in the

postwar political struggles between the returning British, the

Chinese, and the Malays.

The 1945-6 Inter-ethnic Clashes

Without any doubt, postwar Malayan political development

was crucially affected by the Japanese authoritarian "divide

and rule" strategy. On the side of the Malays, the pro-Malay

policy helped to invigorate Malay nationalism, as well as the

"overall upliftment of Malay moral, confidence and political

consciousness" (Cheah 1983: 294). On the Chinese side, the

Occupation led to the emergence of the MCP as the most power­

ful group, as a well-armed "Chinese" fighting force, and,

above all, "forced the Chinese to look inwards to Malaya"

(ibid). Given the postwar alignment of ethnic sentiments,

relations and forces, and the social and political uncertaini-

ties, a contest of, and for, power ensued between the Malay

and Chinese communities.

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Immediately after the Japanese surrender, the MPAJA

emerged from the jungles and seized various regions of the

peninsula. As a matter of fact, before the British Military

Administration (BMA)45 consolidated its rule, the MPAJA

reigned as the most powerful military force. In many areas

where the MPAJA seized control, a "reign of terror" ensued

when people, usually Chinese who were, of felt, victimized

during the Occupation, sought revenge on those whom they

perceived to have collaborated with the Japanese oppressors

(Burridge 1957; Cheah 1981). And in numerous instances, the

MPAJA guerrillas led and participated in the "reign of terror"

in which alleged Chinese and Malay "collaborators" were tried

and executed.

Because many more Malays participated in the Occupation

Government as civil servants, police officers, soldiers, and

so on, they more than Chinese were targeted as collaborators

and condemned to death.46 The persecution of alleged Malay

45 The main objective of the BMA was to reimpose

British rule in the colony.Though ostensibly a military
government the BMA did permit to some extent autonomous spaces
for individuals and gxoups to public participation (Khong
1984: 37-72).

46 Of course, who is a collaborator and who is not is

clearly adifficult problem given the
vague boundary between coerced into cooperating,
cooperating reluctantly and collaboration can at
most be subjectively interpreted and experienced
by the victims which made the issue of determi­
ning whether a person was a collaborator or not
extremely difficult (Cheah 1983: 76).
Nevertheless, given the radicalized conditions, the spirit of

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"collaborators" by the Chinese-dominated MPAJA led the Malays

to interprete it as attacks on the Malay community. As such,

in the affected areas, Malays reacted by forming armed groups

to protect themselves, as well as to retaliate back at the

Chinese in general (Cheah 1977). And in the ensuing spiral of

reprisals, numerous innocent Malays and Chinese became victims

of senseless ethnic violence. Indeed, for the near future, it

seemed the violent clashes had created an almost irreparable

ethnic polarization of Malayan society. Above all, the MPAJA

actions came to be regarded by the Malays, particularly the

elites, as Chinese attempts to seize political control of

"their" country. Indeed, it was the fears of Chinese political

dominance that led the Malays to

discover the need to sink their differences

and to build their unity. With this unity they
were able to take on successfully first the
Chinese and MCP challenge, and then the British
challenge ... (Cheah 1983: 298).

In short, the MCP attempt to seize political power resulted in

alienating the Malay community.47

vengance ruled the day.

47 Interestingly, the MCP's Chinese character was again

raised during the Baling Talks (1956: 8), an unsuccessful
attempt to reconcile with the communists before independence;
The Tunku [Abdul Rahman] stated ... "To ask us to
recognize you as a party, so that you can disperse
throughout the country to organize your communist
activities, naturally, you must understand that the
people of this country would not accept that." Chin
Peng then [asked] ... whether the difference was
"... because most of the members of the MCP are
Chinese." The Tunku added ... the Malays felt that

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In conclusion, among the Malay groupings, their main

concern was with the "backwardness" of their community,

especially in relation to the increasing Chinese economic

dominance in general, and the Straits Chinese claims for equal

rights in particular. Needless to say, the Malays continued to

see Malaya as belonging to them and thus to regard the Chinese

as outsiders and intruders. Yet, however, the Malay communal

groups remained disunited as they held different

interpretations of and solutions to the Malay dilemmas; the

Kaum Muda urged a return to the pristine Islamic principles,

the Malay-educated intellectuals proposed various ethnocul­

tural nationalist programs, and the English-educated elites

demanded more British protection of the Malay special posi­

tion. In addition, they emphasized different aspects of Malay

culture and identity; the Kaum Muda focused on the universal

notion of umat Islam, the Malay intelligentsia's ranged from

a "chauvinist" to a pan-Indonesian nationalism, and the admi­

nistrative elites remained rooted in "parochial nationalism."

Yet, despite their differences, the Malay groupings did help

to raise the Malay group awareness and, most importantly, the

identification of themselves as a people sharing a common

territory, history, culture, and language.

the Communists owed their allegiance to China

"because ... there are more than 90 percent
Chinese in the Party."

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Among the Chinese, although the KMTM and MCP were limited

by their China-oriented nationalisms, nevertheless, through

their activities they raised the Chinese consciousness as a

"nation." But since their outlook was defined in relation to

the social and political developments in China, they remained

more or less oblivious to the politics of their immediate

environment. The Straits Chinese-dominated SCBA, however, did

attempt to create a genuine "Malayan" nationalism that would

transcend the ethnic identities and loyalties. Yet, because of

their English-educated background, the SCBA remained a

marginal force within the Chinese community.

Generally speaking then, pre-World War Two Malayan

society was essentially a society of "fellow strangers," if

not "fellow foes": the Malay and Chinese groupings hardly

interact with, instead were supicious of, one another. Indeed,

they did not share any common values, practices or goals. Thus

there did not exist a common Malayan public culture. And given

the mutual distrusts between the two communities, the Japanese

invaders found an ideal ready-made conditions to conduct a

"divide and rule" policy. The Japanese Occupation consequently

dramatically widened the higher-order ethnic differentiations

in the society, such that it polarized the society into two

rival camps, Malays against Chinese. In the next chapter we

will discuss how the rise of political communalisms shaped the

making of the national citizenship constitution.

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This chapter examines how the rise of communalisms,

especially Malay communalism, influenced citizenship formation

during the decolonization period. If the brief Japanese

military rule did not leave any lasting legacies, it did

heighten, however, the Malays' recognition of the Chinese

political threat to their standing in society. Consequently,

when the British proposed to reconstitute the colony into a

unitary nation-state with a common Malayan citizenship for all

those who qualified, it propelled the Malay elites to mobilize

their community, by invoking Malay interests and symbols, to

oppose it. Confronted with the emergence of a strident Malay

communalism, in confluence with other social and political

developments, British authorities dropped their plan to create

a common citizenship for all. Instead, during the negotiations

for political independence, in the midst of the war with the

MCP, the British encouraged the conservative elites of the

rival ethnic communities to work towards a political accommo­

dation. Thus, an "involuntary" consociation1 of Malay and

1 By "involuntary" I am refering to the fact that the

ethnic elites' decision to work together was to a large extent
determined and structured by the terms and conditions set by

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Chinese elites was formed to represent the rival ethnic

groups. In this way, the H e r d e k a (Independent) Constitution

was a political compromise between the British authorities,

the Malay administrative elites and rulers, and the Chinese


T h e B r i t i s h P r o p o s e d " O n e St a t e , One Nation"

In line with the post-World War Two trend of the British

policy of preparing their colonies for self-government2, plans

for restructuring British Malaya had already been extensively

debated among officers of the Colonial Office prior to the

Japanese defeat (Lau 1990: 28-63). The blueprint for restruc­

turing the peninsula became known as the M a l a y a n Union Plan.

It was apparent that the plan was an exclusively British

invention as the local Malayan population was excluded from

participating in its formulation process.3 Not surprisingly,

when the M a l a y a n U n i o n W h i t e P a p e r was announced on 22 January

the British authorities (Turnbull 1987).

2 The various possible motives that moved the British

to create the Malayan Union have been well studied (Allen
1967; Sopiee 1974; Stockwell 1979; Lau 1990). For a fine study
of ideas expressed by British official classes in planning
decolonization see J.M. Lee C o l o n i a l D e v e l o p m e n t a n d G o o d
G o v e r n m e n t (1967).

3 Indeed, the Malayan Union was truly a "Whitehall

Hall" invention because the debates were limited to a select
number of British officers, even excluding former Malayan
officers, with minimum inputs from the Malayan people or their

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1946, it caught the Malayan public totally by surprise. As one

observer puts it, the announcement "was like an electric

shock" (ibid: 125).

Given the postwar economic doldrums, the Colonial Office

pragmatically held the view that progress towards self-

government would depend on advances in the colony's economy,

which in turn necessitated improvements in the machinery of

the colonial state. For the planners this would entail further

centralization of the state machinery, and in the interests of

efficiency, it would be undesirable to restore the prewar

constitutional and administrative systems. Moreover, the

British authorities' end goal, in the long run, was to

transform British Malaya into an independent "one state, one

nation" based on the principles of "democracy and equality."

It was hence agreed that

self-government should not develop towards a

system of autocratic rule by the Malay Rulers
but should provide for a growing participation
in the Government by the people of all the
communities in Malaya, subject to a special
recognition of the political, economic and
social interests of the Malay race (War
Cabinet Document 26).

Two reforms figured prominently in the British proposed

new constitutional state: one, the integration of the plural

society, and, two, the closer association of the territories

(Stockwell 1987: 32). In line with the idea of constructing a

multiethnic democratic nation-state, it was agreed that

foundations be created for building two central democratic

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institutions, that is, a common citizenship and an multiethnic

parliamentary Government. Thus the Malayan Union scheme called

"for a constitutional Union of Malaya and for the institution

of a Malayan citizenship which will give equal citizenship

rights to those who can claim Malaya to be their homeland"

(White Paper, January 1946).

The Multiethnic State

The plan conceived a closer integration of the nine Malay

states and the two Settlements of Penang and Malacca into a

unitary state.4 As part of its centralizing goal, the plan

suggested doing away with the entire prewar administrative

structures (FMS, UMS, SS), replacing them with a single,

centrally controlled structure. The Malayan Union Government

thus would be a "single united authority" headed by a British

Governor, with an Executive and a Legislative Council (ibid:

198-199),5 Membership of both councils were either by

4 For economic, political and demographic reasons

Singapore was left out of the Union (Malayan Union And
Singapore, Cmd. 6724, 1946). The idea of creating a colonial
government based on the Westminister parliamentary democracy
model was rejected on the grounds that the existing nature of
the society and the realities of colonial administration made
the Westminister model unsuitable. Of course, there was the
British belief that the "non-white races" were incapable of
governing themselves. For example, Sir Frederick Weld
commented that "the capacity for governing is a characteristic
of our race (British)." This attitude rationalized and
justified the denial of full democratic rights during

5 Of course, in terms of the future Malayan

Government, the Governor, Executive, and Legislative
institutions were supposed to be the precusor of the future

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appointment or nomination, with the Governor having the final

say. While British officers would be presented in both

councils, it was also suggested that the various ethnic

communities be proportionally represented.6 Also, there was to

be in each State and Settlement a State or Settlement Council

to legislate on matters of a purely local nature. The plan

hence called for a closer administrative and political

integration of the nine Malay states and the two Settlements.

If the Malayan Union Plan proposed to form a unitary

state, then how would that affect the position and sovereignty

of the Rulers and the Malay States? Afterall, the prewar

Treaties between the Malay States and the British Government

legally recognized the sovereignty of the Rulers and the

autonomy of the Malay states.7 Indeed, the various Treaties,

in the eyes of the Malays, bounded Britain, legally and

morally, to preserve the Malay character and identity of the

Prime Minister, Cabinet, and Parliament institutions


6 For example, the Executive Council would comprise

five officials and five unofficials appointed on the basis of
race (two Europeans, one Malay, one Chinese, and one Indian
member drawn from the Legislative Council). The Legislative
Council would comprise of twenty-one unofficials (seven
Malays, seven Chinese, and seven others) and a number of
officials not exceeding twenty-one. See Lau (1990: 83-90).

7 There are two excellent studies on the legal status

of the Malay States; Roland Bradell's The Legal Status of the
Malay States (1931), and Arthur K. B. Terrell's Malayan
Legislation and Its Future (1932). Also, it should be noted
that each of the Unfederated State has its individual
Constitution as each regarded itself as a "sovereign" state.

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States, as well as to protect their interests and "special

position." Clearly, the prewar British "pro-Malay" policy had

reinforced this general perception. However, since the Malayan

Union Government was to be a unitary state, then the indirect

rule strategy had to be abandoned and new treaties had to be

negotiated with the Rulers.8

In the proposed Union Government, the Rulers "would be

shorn of all their powers apart from their personal prestige

and dignity" (Lau 1987: 84) and the Malay States'" autonomy

would be severely curtailed. At the state level, the State

Council, chaired by the Resident, would only have powers to

legislate on matters of a purely local nature or on matters in

respect to which legislative powers had been delegated to it

by the Legislative Council. Also, the scheme would have the

Ruler excluded from the State Council and delegated to preside

over an "Advisory Council," a body that was limited to dealing

with matters pertaining to Islam and Malay customs (Lau 1990:

90). At the federal level, to maintain the facade of Rulers'

sovereignty, the plan proposed the creation of a "Council of

Sultans" that would serve as the institution for the Rulers to

"advise" the Governor or to bring matters up to his atten­

tion. In this sense, the "Council of Sultans" was strictly a

8 Sir Harold MacMichael, a highly regarded foreign

service officer and former High Commissioner of Palestine and
Trans-Jordan, was send to Malaya to "renegotiate" with the
Rulers. See his R e p o r t o n a M i s s i o n t o M a l a y a 1946. For a
detailed account of his trip see Allen (1967).

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"consultative and deliberative" body with basically one

function — to advise the Governor who would preside over the

council. Finally, the power of assentment of Bills passed by

the Legislative Council was to be transferred from the Rulers

to the Governor. In short, in the proposed Malayan Union

Government, both the State Councils and Rulers were excluded

from the policy- and decision-making process which became the

province of the center.

Lastly, as the Colonial Office's long-term plan was to

prepare the local population for self-government, in about

twenty-five years, it also identified the need to nurture a

reliable political and administrative multiethnic elite (Lee

1967: 195). The Colonial Office thus proposed the recruitment

of non-Malays into the higher echelons of the administrative

service, which in the past were only opened to the male

descendants of the traditional Malay elites. The logic was

that if in an ethnically plural civil service all the ethnic

groups equally shared in the tasks of governing, then there

would be racial harmony as no ethnic group would feel itself

discriminated. Without question, the idea of including non-

Malays in the elite civil service challenged the prewar

prevailing perception that the right to rule remained the

prerogative of the Malays, the Malay elites in particular.

The Proposed Common Citizenship

To build a Malayan nation the Union scheme proposed to

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create an inclusive citizenry, a common citizenship where

every fully recognized citizen, regardless of ethnic

background, would have equality of rights. Indeed, this was a

truly radical departure from the prewar years where there was

no uniform citizenship status and where the status of the

immigrant groups remained at best uncertain (Lau 1930: 15-20;

Cheah 1978: 95).9 It indeed represented a radical shift from

the prewar British policies which administratively recognized

the "special position" of the Malays in the peninsula and

treated the Chinese immigrants as foreigners.

Generally, the British argued that the creation of a

common citizenship would act as a countervailing force to the

existing ethnic communalisms and parochial nationalisms (Dodd

1946; Purcell 1946). That is, while Malays persisted to

identify only with their community in general and with their

Ruler/state in particular, the Chinese outlook was still

Chinese- and China-oriented. A common Malayan citizenship

would encourage both the Malays and the Chinese to go beyond

their allegiance to their particular community and/or State or

country to a new political community — the Malayan nation.

For, if a Malayan citizenship endowed every fully recognized

9 After the Second World War, citizenship in the

British colonies were formulated in terms of the Commonwealth
Laws. Roughly speaking, for the Malays, since the Malay States
were "protected" states, they remained as subjects of the va­
rious Rulers. The Chinese were divided into three categories;
British subjects in the SS, British "protected" persons in the
Malay States, and "aliens."

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citizen the equality of rights, then it would mean that the

Malays must not rely upon past "privileges" and the Chinese

must not regard Malaya simply as a source of material wealth

or "second motherland." In particular, since it was recognized

that the Chinese prewar legal status had not helped them to

develop a Malayan consciousness, it was thus argued that the

creation of a common Malayan citizenship could help them to

nurture such a consciousness.

Above all, for the planners, the creation of a broad-

based citizenship was a necessary step towards the creation of

an ethnically balanced parliamentary democracy. If endowed

with equal political rights, then members of each ethnic

community could freely elect their own representatives into

the parliament. In this way, there would emerge a new plural

political elite, via the process of free election, who could

claim the right to exercise political power. And in the long

run, the political elites were to become the political

successors of the colonial authority.10 In a sense, the plan

to establish a broad-based citizenship was a result of the

British recognition of the existence of the permanent multi­

ethnic Malayan society. The question was, then, to determine

10 This was all part of the British official thinking

of training the natives for democracy. For example, through a
limited franchise the initial batch of native political elite
would be elected to work in tandem with the British officials
during the transition period, a sort of apprenticeship in

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who qualified for the Malayan citizenship

The Malayan Union scheme naturally took the position that

Malays and other subjects of the Malay Rulers would automati­

cally qualify as Malayan citizens.11 With regard to the

immigrant communities' status the British proposed a liberal

set of criteria for the acquisition of a Malayan citizenship;

(1) any person born in the peninsula before the date when the

Order comes into force, (2) any person aged 18 or above who

has resided in the peninsula for a period of 10 years during

the 15 years preceding the 15th of February 1942, and who

swears allegiance, (3) any person born in the peninsula after

the date when the order comes into force, and (4) any person

whose father is a Malayan citizen (Malayan Union Proposals,

1946) ,12 These liberal provisions would enable the majority of

the Chinese to become Malayan citizens; 62.5 percent would

qualify by jus soli and, out of the remaining 37.5 percent who

were born outside of Malaya, many of them would qualify by the

process of naturalization (Cheah 1978). Nevertheless,

recognizing the postwar Malay anxieties regarding their

11 "Subjects of the Rulers" include (i) any person who

belongs to an aboriginal tribe resident in that State; or (ii)
any Malay born in that State or born of a father who is a
subject of the Ruler of the State; or any person naturalized
as a subject of that Ruler under any law for the time being in
force. A person is considered a Malay if the person (a)
habitually speaks the Malay language, (b) professes the Muslim
religion, and (c) conforms to Malay custom (Constitutional
Proposals, 1946: 25).

12 Importantly, this included residency in Singapore.

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special position, and the economic disparities between the two

ethnic comunities, the British surmised there must be "special

recognition of the political, economic and social interests of

the Malay race" (War Cabinet Paper, Document 26). In part to

ensure that Malays remained the majority, Singapore was

excluded from the Union scheme.

In the end, the proposed Malayan Union constitutional

state was an "act of realism" (Stenson 1969: 344). In taking

the longer view of creating a multiethnic democratic polity,

the British proposed the extension of citizenship to the

majority of the non-Malays. Since for the British officials

the concept of citizenship equality provided a pragmatic

foundation as a concept of fairness and justice for a plural

society, they wanted the future Malayan Union Government to

represent, as well as to be responsive to, the multiethnic

populace of Malayan society. As such, for them, the state

machinery itself must be as pluralistic in composition as

possible. However, the British insisted that while the non-

Malay communities would have equal rights, they would not have

equal status. That is to say, for the British, history

dictated that the Malay community remained the dominant group

in the Malayan society.

Communal Groups and the Malayan Union

In the postwar politically charged atmosphere, the

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British proposed Malayan Union constitutional plan encountered

a Malay communalism that adamantly rejected what it perceived

as the reduction of their status as a "nation" to that of just

a community on par with the other ethnic communities — in

their own land. Not surprisingly, the proposed constitution

galvanized the Malays — across class lines — in opposition

to the plan. The Malayan Union Plan not only jolted many

Malays into intense political activity, but also awakened them

as a race-cum-nation. Reactions of the Chinese community, on

the other hand, "ranged between scepticism about the practica­

bility of the Malayan Union and the expressions of satisfac-

faction about the proposed citizenship rights" (Cheah 1978:

102) . In this way, the Chinese generally low-keyed response to

the proposed plan was interpreted by the British as "apathy,"

and, subsequently, it partly led to the British decision to

drop the Malayan Union Plan.

Chinese "Apathy" towards the M alayan Union

On the whole the Chinese welcomed the idea of equal

citizenship for all fully recognized citizens, but, for a

number of reasons, they were not that enthusiastic about it.

The immediate reason was that faced with the postwar food

scarcity and economic rehabilitation, the bulk of the Chinese

population was more concerned with eking out a livelihood than

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with political issues.13 Also, the British failed to publicize

or educate the Chinese population about the constitutional

changes. In addition, since a high portion of Chinese were

either uneducated or Chinese-educated, and remained parochial

in outlook, the constitutional issues "meant little or nothing

to them, except where they affect their own personal affairs"

(Lau 1990: 127) . Above all, the two most active Chinese

groupings, the communists and the Malayan nationalists, found

the Malayan Union proposal unacceptable — in that it did not

immediately plan to create an independent and elected govern­

ment. As such, the Chinese as a whole conveyed the general

impression that they were "apathetic;" only among the more

politically conscious Chinese was the significance of the

Malayan Union Plan not lost.

Among the China-born and pro-KMT Chinese, they were

generally reluctant to accept the Malayan Union citizenship as

they feared losing their Chinese nationality (Lau 1990: 127).

This was because most Chinese failed to clearly understand

the distinction between citizenship and nationality. In this

way, they assumed that in accepting the former they would

automatically annul their Chinese nationality.14 As such this

13 For short discussion of the postwar economic

situation see Stenson (1970: 84-91).

14 The KMT Government at that point was strongly

encouraging Nanyang Chinese (Overseas Chinese) to remain loyal
to their "ancestral" homeland. In fact, in the KMT nationalist
ideology there is a close affinity between nationality and

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group who continued to have a strong attachment to China was

ambivalent towards the idea of a Malayan citizenship. Clearly

for them, and perhaps for many Chinese in general, their

ideal, as Purcell (1946) puts it, would be to retain their

affiliation to China and at the same time enjoy all the rights

and benefits of attaining Malayan citizenship.15

But of more important political consequences was the

position and attitude adopted by the most powerful Chinese

political force in postwar Malaya, the MCP. For many reasons,

the Malayan Union Plan was unacceptable to the MCP.16 While

the MCP supported the creation of a common citizenship and the

construction of a central government, they criticized the plan

for not going far enough. They attached additional demands

such as immediate self-rule, the establishment of a democrati­

cally elected government based on universal suffrage, and the

citizenship; the KMT Government preceived and declared that

every overseas Chinese national was a Chinese citizen. This
led the China-born and pro-KMT Chinese to equate nationality
with citizenship and thus to the premise that becoming a
Malayan citizenship would result in losing one's Chinese
nationality. The KMT citizenship position was later, however,
rejected by the CCP Government.

15 A Chinese sponsored dual citizenship, China and

Malayan, proposal was immediately rejected by both the British
and Malays.

16 The MCP's published its 8 point policies in The

Democrat on 12 May 1946. Broadly speaking, their policies
proposed ; (1) Singapore would be part of Malaya, (2) an
elected democratic government, (3) universal franchise, and
(4) no restrictions on language, educational standards,
residential period, property or sex would be imposed in any
form (Khong 1984: 91).

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conferring of equal citizenship rights to all domiciled

persons above the age of eighteen. However, as a revolutionary

party, it was also clear that the MCP criticisms of the plan

could not be separated from the party's unacknowledged real

intention — its aim of seizing power (Stenson 1970: 91-98;

Cheah 1983: 241 -265; Khong 1984: 47-72). In the end, the MCP

leadership attitude towards the Malayan Union proposals was in

a sense nonchalant precisely because it was busy, covertly,

preparing for a war of national liberation.

It was only a small section of the Chinese community —

the English-educated Straits Chinese17 — who received the

Malayan Union proposals with enthusiasm, but critical. They

were receptive of the Malayan Union because they saw it as a

progressive step towards the eventual establishment of a

democratic Malayan nation with a common national citizenship

based on the principle of equality. However, while they had

reservation concerning the exclusion of Singapore from the

Union, a position held by the Chinese community as a whole,

their central objection was that the Malayan Union plan did

not address the question of democratic representation. Thus

they objected to the fact that the plan would preserve British

17 This group was divided into the conservative SCBA

and the democratic socialist Malayan Democratic Union (MDU).
The leadership of the former were mainly wealthy businessmen
(Tan Cheng Lock) and the latter professionals (Lim Kean Chye).
For a fine study of the MDU see Cheah's The Masked Comrades

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colonial rule, which was in conflict with their demands for

immediate self-government, a freely elected Legislative

Council, and universal suffrage (Lau 1989: 130). However,

since they constituted only a small percentage of the Chinese

community, the Straits Chinese did not make a significant

impression on the British nor on the larger Chinese


Malay Opposition to the Union

It was the almost universal rejection of the Malayan

Union Plan by the Malays — particularly the Rulers and

administrative elites — that most surprised and affected the

British authorities (Allen 1967; Soipee 1974; Lau 1989). In

contrast to the relatively lukewarm reactions of the Chinese

community, the Malay community vigorously and publicly

displayed their opposition to the Malayan Union.19 Hence in

retrospect, for the Malays, the Malayan Union was a "blessing

18 This was because the Straits Chinese community too

was recuperating from the Japanese occupation. Moreover, the
standing of the SCBA among the Chinese was at a low point
given their ineffective wartime roles.

19 Before the publication of White Paper on January 22

1946, Malays, led by the administrative elites, were already
voicing their opposition to MacMichael's trip. In Kota Bahru,
Kelantan, about 10,000 Malays protested when he arrived there
to meet their Ruler. Its publication gave Malays a rude jolt
which resulted in further galvanizing Malay demonstrations
against the Malayan Union. The demonstrations, however, was
not specifically against the British, but, rather, they were
directed at the immigrant communities — the Chinese in
particular — who were perceived as attempting to usurp the
Malays of their "special rights".

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in disguised" as it galvanized the Malays such that it led

them to form the most important Malay political party, the

United Malay National Organization (UMNO).

Though the radical Malay nationalists of the Malayan

National Party (MNP)20 initially concurred with certain

aspects of the Malayan Union scheme, their attitudes towards

the plan changed after they had time to critically assess its

full implications. As a "republican" party the MNP, did not

view the reduction of the Rulers' sovereignty as harmful to

the Malays; in fact, they regarded it as a progressive act.

Also, given the MNP's pan-Indonesian nationalism, it did not

object to the closer union of the Malay States as it coalesced

with their idea of a Greater Indonesia Raya; in fact, they

objected to the exclusion of Singapore firom the Union.

Finally, the MNP did not see granting equal citizenship rights

to the Chinese as a threat to the Malays. This was because the

radicals did not forsee any Chinese political threat in the

context of Indonesia Raya with its huge "Malay" population.

But, while they accepted equal citizenship rights for all

those who qualified, the MNP rejected the notion of "Malayan"

citizenship on the ground that it would reduce the Malays from

20 The MNP, the first Malay political organization, was

the focus of radical Malay nationalists politics in postwar
Malaya. It was founded by a few ex-members of the defunct KMM,
a group led by led by Mokhtaruddin Lasso who was affiliated
with the MCP, and, indirectly, an Islamic group led by Dr.
Burhanuddin Al-Helmy on October 17, 1945 (Firdaus 1985: chpt
4) •

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a nation to a community; instead, the MNP demanded the

establishment of a Melayu citizenship. In fact, from its

eight-point program21 it was clear that the MNP remained

Melayu-centric in its outlook (Ariffin 1993: 191-195). For

example, the MNP was the first Malay group to vigorously

demand that the Malay language be the sole official language

in the Malayan Union. The main MNP criticism of the Malayan

Union scheme, however, was that it would prolong British

colonial rule. This was against the MNP immediate goal of

achieving self-government, and the 'creation of a form of

government based on electoral representations to take over the

reins of power. Nonetheless, because of its radical nationali­

sm, the MNP was regarded as a "subversive" organization by the

British authorities; the party thus was banned with the advent

of the MCP armed revolution. In any case, the MNP was a not

serious threat to the British authorities as it could not

manage to amass a large Malay following.22

21 Some of the pertinent points are; (1) to unite the

Malay race (bangsa Melayu) and instil nationalism (kebangsaan)
in the Malays with the aim of uniting Malaya in a Republik
Indonesia Raya, (2) to raise the socioeconomic position of the
Malay race, (3) to enhance the political position of the Malay
race, and (4) to work with other races who live in the country
to fight for Malaya to be independent as a part of Greater
Indonesia. In a sense, the MNP solution to the Chinese
"problem" would not be disimilar from that found in Indonesia
(Khong 1984: 87-88; Ariffin 1993: 38-39).

22 Although the MNP claimed to have a membership of

about 60,000, it was most probably the case that its
membership numbered only in the hundreds (Ariffin 1993) .

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On March 1, 1946, more than 200 Malays representing as

many as 41 assorted organizations came together in the Sultan

Suleiman Club, Kuala Lumpur, to take part in the four-day Pan-

Malayan Malay Congress. The main organizers of this major

conference were the bureaucratic elites of the various Malay

state associations. Out of that congress, UMNO was established

with a twofold agenda: one, its immediate aim was to defeat

the Malayan Union and to restore the Rulers' authority and

Malay rights, and two, its long-term aim was to protect and

promote the Malay community's interests.23 While the UMNO

leadership was dominated by the administrative elites, it was

also clear that the party attracted support from nearly all

segments of the Malay community (Stockwell 1977).

Surprisingly, what the conservative administrative elites

wanted was a restoration of the prewar status quo; that is,

they insisted that the Malays needed British protection and

did not want self-government. In this sense, for them, with

the Malayan Union plan, the British had reneged on their

promise to protect Malay interest and special position. Since

the administrative elites regarded the Malay states (Tanah

Melayu) to be the domain (hak) of the Malays, and the immi­

grant communities to be "lodgers," they viewed the reduction

of the Rulers' sovereignty and the opening up of the civil

23 Interestingly, the MNP was a founder-member of UMNO

but left within three months because of ideological as well as
personal differences with the administrative elites.

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service to the non-Malays as violating the symbol and

substance of the Malay-based polity. Also, for them, the

introduction of a Malayan citizenship would deprive Malays of

their "special rights" as indigenous people of the land. Thus

Datuk Jaafar onn, the founder-president of UMNO, declared on

February 1947,

We know very well that there is not only one race

staying in Malaya, that are also other Asiatic
races inhabiting this land. We have kindly allowed
them to stay here but now they have even started to
clamour for our land. But notwithstanding all their
attempts we shall always maintain that this land
belongs to us. I speak so because I notice that the
other races in the peninsula affirm that they have
the right to demand equality of treatment. Whatever
comes we will never to consent to this. We wish to
make them understand that they are only tenants of
the house but not the owners.
(cited in Funston 1980: 137)

In this way, the terms of the Malayan Union were perceived by

the elites as "pro-Chinese" and amounted to the British

betrayal of their historical treaties and obligations to the

Malays. The UMNO's communalistic outlook was clearly

articulated by the party's motto: "Takkan Melayu hilang di

dunia ini" (The Malay race/nation will never disappear from

this earth).

Two parallel political developments during this period

were the continuing deterioration of the Rulers' status and

the seizure of the Malay community leadership by the conser­

vative administrative elites. On the one hand, the Malays felt

that the Rulers in signing the Malayan Union agreements had

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surrendered their birth rights in the process. They viewed the

Rulers as incapable of fulfilling their traditional roles as

protectors of the Malay race. On the other, the administrative

elites' strong actions and successful campaigns against the

Malayan Union plan helped them to win the support of the

ordinary Malays.

This change in leadership was reflected in the UMNO's

political thinking. For UMNO, since the Rulers were no longer

the protectors of the Malays, it follows that the k e r a j a a n

institution became no longer the focus of the Malay worldview.

Rather, the focus of Malay identity was replaced by the idea

of b a n g s a ; for example, the UMNO rallying cry was "Hidup

Melayu" (Long Live the Malay people) and not "Hidup Raja"

(Long Live the King). Hence, for the UMNO, it was the inte­

rests of the Malay race that must be upheld over all else or,

in short, the idea of k e b a n g s a a n M e l a y u (Malayism) (Ariffin

1993: 52). It follows that the Malay rulers would now be

subordinated to the interests of the Malay race and not vice

versa. In this way, the UMNO interpreted democracy to mean a

representative k e r a j a a n based on popular Malay sovereignty. In

the end, for party, the ruler institution "is important but

not of itself, but important as both a guarantee and symbol of

Malay k e b a n g s a a n (Malayism) vis-a-vis the foreign bangsa in

Malaya" (Milner 1982: 8-9). Nevertheless, realizing the

symbolic importance, and to an extent the influence, of the

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rulers, UMNO entered into a pact of convenience with them.

This was succinctly articulated by Datuk Jaafar Onn's slogan,

Ra j a jadi Rak y a t dan Rakyat jadi Raja (the Ruler is the People

and the People are the Ruler), which affirmed a new form of

political relationship between the ruler and his "subjects."

(Ariffin 1993: 178).

Given their Malayism outlook and interest, the

administrative elites felt threatened by the Malayan Union

proposed structure and form of "one state, one nation." To

protest their objections to the Malayan Union, they, with the

cooperation of the Rulers, organized huge demonstrations

against the British.24 Because of its Malayism outlook, UMNO

rejected the idea of Malayan citizenship and, instead, wanted

citizenship right to be limited to Malays. Perhaps, just as

important, the prevailing popular Malay moods rejected the

inclusive Malayan Union citizenship, and demanded the protec­

tion of Malays' "birth rights" and the Rulers' sovereignty

(Abdul Rahman 1986). The general Malay popular belief was that

they were the rightful owner of the land and that any future

nation must be founded upon Malay culture and identity. As

such for the UMNO then the determination for national

24 The sudden appearance of the huge demonstrations

throughout the peninsula so startled the British who still
held the view that the Malays were "apolitical." See Noordin
(1974: 21-29). Just as important was the pressures put on the
British government ex-Malayan officers in Britain to reverse
the Malayan Union policies.

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citizenship qualification would depend on the particular

ethnic group's commonalities with, or assimilation of, Malay

life and culture. In this sense, the Indian-Muslims, Arabs,

and, especially Indonesians, would be better qualified for

full citizenship status than the Chinese.25

Yet, nevertheless, the UMNO leadership did offer a number

of "concessions" to the British authorities — among them the

principle of extending citizenship to "qualified" non-Malays.

In exchange for the recognition of Malay "special position,"

the UMNO proposed that citizenship, in a strictly legalistic

sense, would be opened to Chinese who are British subjects,

that is, Straits Chinese. The rest of the Chinese who were

"truly Malaya minded" could become "British protected persons

after a period of residence to be agreed, [or] persons

'domiciled' after affirming their intention to have Malaya as

their home provided ... were of good conduct, and spoke either

Malay or English" (Lau 1989: 191). In a nutshell, in the UMNO

scheme, citizenship would remain inextricably linked to

ethnicity: there would be two "classes" of citizenship, one

for the Malays and one for the "immigrants."

The reasons why the British decided to drop the Malayan

Union Plan have been studiously examined by various authors

25 As a matter of fact, the membership of some of the

UMNO branches in Penang were composed of mostly Indian-
Muslims. In addition, inter-marriage between Indian-Muslims
was fairly common.

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(Allen 1967; Stenson 1969; Soipee 1974; Lau 1989).26 Suffice

to say, the defeat of the Malayan Union scheme was seen as a

victory for the Malays in general and the UMNO in particular.

More significantly perhaps, the defeat of the Malayan Union

scheme represented a major turning point in the development of

the concept and practice of citizenship in Malaysia. While the

Malayan Union scheme would have created only one class of

citizen, the UMNO demands logically would create a citizenship

hierarchy which combined the principles of jus sanguiris

(citizenship by descent) and jus soli (citizenship by birth­

place) . Subsequently, excluding the participation of the

public in general and the Chinese in particular, the British

met with selected members of the Malay elites27 to negotiate

a new constitution. These negotiations led to the 1948 Fede­

ration of Malaya Agreement. Not surprisingly, the terms of the

Federation Agreement were significantly influenced by the UMNO

26 Besides the Malay community objections, the Colonial

Office also faced severe criticisms in the British press from
former Malayan British Officers. Basically, these former
Malayan officers accused the Colonial Office of selling out
the Malays. They insisted that the Malay special position must
be reinstated and the Rulers sovereignty restored. In this
sense, they were "prisoners of their paternalism" (Lau 1989).

27 The Working Committee of twelve were composed of six

British officials, four Malays representing the Rulers, two
Malays representing the UMNO, and two British legal advisors
nominated by the Rulers nad the UMNO.

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demands for the restoration of the Malay "special position."28

The British-UMNO-Rulers coalition and its constitutional

compromise, the Federation Agreement, was immediately rejected

by the non-Malay communities. In particular, the Chinese —

across class lines — were opposed to the terms of the

Federation Agreement. Indeed, it galvanized the non-Malays, as

well as the radical Malay groupings, and subsequently they

united and launched a series of’public demonstrations against

the compromise (Khong 1984: chpt 3)-29 However, with the

advent of the Emergency in 1948, the British authorities

severely restricted the oppositional forces the rights to

organize and to public participation. And ultimately, the

suppression of the oppositional forces cleared the path for

28 It is important to note that Federation of Malaya is

translated in Malay as Persekutuan Tanah Melayu which literal­
ly means "Federation of Malay Lands." Among the pro-Malay
elements in the Federation Constitution were; (1) the partial
restoration of the Rulers sovereignty, (2) the High Commissio­
ner special responsibilities towards the safeguarding of the
special position of Malays, and the securing to the Malay
members of the Federal public service any of their rights and
the safeguarding of their legitimate interests (Article 19(1)
(d) , (e)), and (3) Malay and English as the official languages
(Federation Agreement 1948).

29 See the PUTERA-AMCJA Constitutional Proposals. This

became known as the anti-Federation Movement, 1947-1948. For
an excellent analysis of the intricacies of the opposition to
the Federation Agreement see Khong (1984) . Unfortunately, the
major weakness of the various anti-Federation coalitions was
also it major strength; that is, the coalitions' dependence on
the M C P . While the MCP and its various united front organiza­
tions were the pillars of the coalition, they also generated
much British suspicions towards the coalitions. Therefore,
with the advent of the armed struggles the coalition
immediately collapsed.

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the institutionalization of communal politics, represented by

the emergent consociation of ethnic elites, the Alliance


F o r m a t i o n of t h e E t h n i c C o n s o c i a t i o n d u r i n g t h e E m e r g e n c y

With the advent of the communists armed insurrection on

June 1948, the British authorities declared a state of

Emergency which lasted twelve long years, 1948 to 1960 (Short

1975).30 During the Emergency, many opposition parties and

30 As Stenson (1969) correctly pointed out most studies

do not sufficiently take into consideration the fact that the
Alliance was formed when the society was practically under
military rule during the Emergency period. The Emergency
commenced with the MCP decision to take up arms struggle after
it failed to achieve its political goals through peaceful
means. In postwar Malaya most of the General Labor Unions
(GLUs) were founded, led, and controlled by operatives of the
MCP. The MCP initial strategy was to use the labor unions to
advance its cause. This was initially rather effective as GLUs
grew rapidly because of the opportune postwar conditions and
because of the British authorities' liberal policies in the
period preceding 1947. In a short time, however, the British
came to realize that the GLUs had more socio-political
intentions instead of the industrial functions they had in
mind. They thus concluded that the GLUs under the control of
the MCP was "being use as a weapon for seizing political
power" (Purcell 1956: 177). Hence from 1947 onwards the
British began to keep a close watch on the labor union
activities, as well as tightened the screws on their rights to
organize and to strike. As the British increased their
pressure the MCP found it harder and harder to organize and to
use the unions as a tactical weapon. Finally, it led the MCP
to launch its war of national liberation in 1948. At its
height the Emergency pitted 8,000 - 10,000 MCP guerrillas
against 250,000 British armed, police, and paramilitary
forces. Perhaps, most importantly, because the communists were
mostly Chinese, it was perceived by the Malays as a Chinese
attempt to seize political power. See Anthony Short (1970) for
the excellent study on the Emergency.

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groupings either were banned outright or had their activities

curtailed severely. In fact, with the Emergency laws in full

force the democratic spaces which permitted individuals to

exercise their rights to free speech, to organize, and to

public participation were severely reduced.31 But, since the

British authorities were aware that to defeat the communists

they could not depend solely on a military solution, they also

started to look for a political solution as well. It thus was

during the Emergency, when opposition to British colonialism

was curtailed and suppressed that the British successfully

cultivated a new political elite grouping.

While the British authorities suppressed the radical

political forces, the UMNO and MCA were given a free hand —

and encouraged — to organize, to mobilize, and to consolidate

their mass support. Thus playing the neutral authority, the

British encouraged the UMNO and MCA rivals to work towards a

political accommodation. Nevetheless, initially, differences

between the UMNO and the MCA elites were great, but with the

British officials' arbitration they gradually worked out their

31 Under the Emergency Regulations proclaimed on June

1948, the state could;
order the detention of anyperson without trial for
a period of two years, prohibit the publication,
sale,issue, or circulation of any documents, posters
or placards which in the opinion of the police had a
seditious tendency, take possession of any building
or vehicle, control all movements on the road,
disperse any assemblies, impose curfews, arrest
any person without a warrant ....

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differences and accommodated one another. Moreover, there was

the British ultimatum to the ethnic elites which specified

that Britain would grant Malaya independence only if the

leaders of the ethnic groups demonstrated that they could

unite and share power to rule the country. In the end,

however, the formation of the Alliance Party was not without

its obstacles and setbacks.

The rise of UMNO

It was clear that when the MNP left UMNO, the administra­

tive elites of the Malay Associations managed to increase

their control over the leadership of the party (Funston 1980) .

Indeed, UMNO was not weakened by the MNP's departure as it

remained a strong organization with vast grassroots support.

This was because UMNO had the support of the majority of the

Malay civil servants, Malay school teachers, the Malay Rulers,

and the Malay peasants. This was helped, of course, by the

UMNO accessibility to the traditional political structure and

the administrative offices which enabled UMNO to mobilize the

Malay masses more effectively than the MNP. In fact, UMNO's

capacity to mobilize the Malay masses was already convincingly

shown by the huge demonstrations the party organized against

the Malayan Union scheme. The successful mobilization against

the Malayan Union also confirmed UMNO's supreme role in the

political awakening of the ordinary Malay.

With the defeat of the Malayan Union, UMNO's prestige and

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position were greatly enhanced. When the MNP allied itself

with AMCJA32 to oppose the Federation proposals, many Malays

and the Malay media, particularly Utusan Melayu, switched

their support to UMNO. By playing upon the Malays' fear of the

Chinese, UMNO successfully stole the higher ground from the

MNP. And unlike the MNP which was hounded by the British,

UMNO's generally conservative positions were welcomed.

Finally, there was also the close rapport between the Malay

administrators and the British officials from years of working

together in the prewar colonial bureaucracy. In short, all

things considered, the British came to regard the UMNO as the

Malay political organization which represented, worked for,

and protected the Malay community that they could reasonably

work with.

During the Emergency, with the full backing of the

British authorities, UMNO successfully expanded its political

base. Much efforts were made by UMNO officials to reinforce

their support in the kampungs by increasing their contacts

with the rural leadership, especially the penghulus. Tunku

Abdul Rahman wrote,

Sometimes I am away from the office for months on

end. At the most I am here about 7 days a month.
My duty is to make contact with the kampong people
who are the backbone of UMNO at this moment

All-Malaya Council of Joint Action. This was a

coalition of several non-Malay organizations that opposed the
British-UMNO-Rulers alliance (Khong 1984: 108-119).

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Both the British authorities and UMNO had a common interest in

mobilizing the rural Malays as both were wary of the MCP's

attempts to influence the latter. In order to gain the support

of the rural Malays, UMNO needed the cooperation of the Rulers

which some of them initially were reluctant to give because

they considered UMNO as a potential threat to their authority.

But, since in the postwar period the popularity of the Rulers

was at an all time low, the Rulers realized that cooperating

with the UMNO might help to preserve what was left of their

prestige; perhaps, even to regain some of their traditional

authority. Of course, it also helped that most of UMNO's

leaders were of aristocratic background themselves. In short,

during the Emergency period, UMNO, through intense grassroots

mobilization and through cooperation with the Rulers, emerged

as the largest and most powerful Malay political organization.

The rise of MCA

With the demise of the anti-Federation AMCJA (All Malaya

Council of Joint Action) in 1948 and the disbanding of the

various MCP-led united front organizations, such as the Ex~

MPAJA Association and New Democratic Youth, Chinese political

activities were thrown into a major crisis. Also, ambivalent

political sentiments and divided loyalties plagued the Chinese

community which was left without any institutional means to

articulate their grievances and interests. For example, many

politically moderate Chinese, such as elements of the SCBA,

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felt that just because they were Chinese and critical of the

Federation Agreement, they were unfairly suspected of

sympathizing with the MCP when in fact they, condemned the MCP

ideology and its armed struggle. Moreover, though the only

legal functioning Chinese "political51 organization after 1948,

the SCBA initially was not influential among the Chinese

population. In short, the advent of the Emergency pushed the

Chinese community into a severe state of political crisis. In

this way, when the MCA was established in 1949, it filled the

political vacuum vacated by the radical Chinese grouping, the

MCP (Roff, Margaret, 1965).

The MCA brought together the two main conservative seg­

ments of the Chinese community — both of which were opposed

to the MCP. On the one side were the English-educated lea­

ders33 of the SCBA and their Straits Chinese followers, and on

the other were the mainly Chinese-educated business leaders34

and their followers from organizations such as the Chinese

Chambers of Commerce and the h u a y ku a n s . Organizationally, the

MCA national leadership were in the hands of the English-

educated Straits Chinese, with the Chinese-educated leaders

making up the second-tier of the leadership. The important

33 Tan Cheng Lock and Tan Siew Sin, the father and son
team (Heng 1988: 291).

34 For example, H.S. Lee, a properous tin-miner from

Selangor, Leong Yew Koh, a Perak businessman, and Yong Shook
Lin, a rich Penangite. It was also well-known that many among
this group were ex-KMTM members, if not KMTM sympathizers.

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role of the English-educated national leadership was that they

could better communicate with the British authorities and,

later, the English-educated Malay administrative elites. On

the other hand, it was only with the addition of the KMTM and

the traditional Chinese associations that made the MCA into a

credible political force with mass support. As the second tier

of the leadership, the Chinese-educated leaders was the key to

reaching out and mobilizing the Chinese masses.

In terms of political tendencies, the MCA was split into

three strands: SCBA Malayan nationalism, KMTM Chinese chauvi­

nism, and the majority who probably were politically undecided

or somewhere in-between. Just like the UMNO, the MCA had the

support of the British who helped them to reach out to the

Chinese in the New Villages35 to build up their political

base. In the absence of viable opposition, but with the

threats of assassination by MCP hit squads, the MCA gained

considerable mass support during the Emergency (Heng 1988: 98-

135) .

Formation of the Alliance Party

In accordance with the general decolonization policy,

35 The New Villages, or "strategic hamlets," were

created under the Briggs Plan, beginning in 1950, in order to
"remove the sea from the fish." The aim was to deny the MCP of
its mass base, mainly Chinese living in the rural areas. Close
to 513,000 Chinese were transferred to New Villages between
1950 and 1960, and another 650,000 people were regrouped on
tin mines and estates. All in all, about 1,000,000 — 86
percent Chinese — rural dwellers were resettled in about 600
"new villages" (A General Survey of New Villages, 1954).

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the British authorities realized the need to "foster natural

nationalist aspirations over communist opportunism by working

with genuine nationalists" (Khong 1984: 159). Clearly not just

any nationalists would do, but nationalists who would not

jeopardize British interests in the peninsula. It was the then

British Governor-General of Malaya, Malcolm MacDonald, who

initiated the idea of encouraging the "responsible" leaders of

the Malay and Chinese communities to meet to discuss the

concerns of their respective community. Hence the Communities

Liaison Committee (CLC) was established in January 1949 (Tan

1968). The CLC participants consisted of five UMNO and four

MCA representatives36, with Malcolm MacDonald present in all

their meetings. While the CLC did lead the UMNO and MCA

leaders to work out a number of issues, particularly with

regard to the issues of the access to and terms of citizenship

rights. But due to various reasons, the CLC fell into

obscurity in 1950. Nonetheless, the CLC discussions did lead

to the belief among the ethnic elites that real constitutional

progress could come through "conference and consent" (Turnbull

1987: 19).

One of the most important outcomes of the CLC was that it

36 For UMNO Dato Onn Jaafar (President of UMNO), Dato

Panglima Bukit Gantang (Chief Minister of Perak), Salleh Hakim
(Selangor state Councilor), Zainal Abidin (Secretary-General
of UMNO) , and Dr. Mustapha Osman. For MCA Tan Cheng Lock
(President of MCA), Yong Shook Lin (Vice-President), Dr. Lee
Tiang Keng, and C.C. Tan (Secretary-General of MCA).

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influenced the participants to attempt to establish a truly

inter-communal coalition. For example, in 1951 Datuk Onn,

convinced of the idea and ideal of inter-communal politics,

proposed to open up the UMNO to the non-Malays who qualified

as Federation citizens: that is, the SS Chinese. He proposed

changing the UMNO to stand for United Malayan National

Organization. But his proposal was rejected by an overwhelming

majority of the UMNO. Subsequently, Datuk Onn resigned from

the UMNO in mid-1951 and, in September of the same year,

established the first inter-communal party in Malaya, the

Independence Malayan Party (IMP). But, partly because of its

inter-communal politics, the IMP could not attract much

support from the Malay and Chinese communities. Indeed, its

inter-communal ideas were too radical as they were anathema to

the predominantly conservative and communal-minded ethnic

communities. Hence, before its demise in 1954, the IMP in

successive elections failed to defeat the communal approach

adopted by the UMNO and the MCA.

The beginning of UMNO-MCA coalition has been shown to

have come about more by accident than by design, especially

given that at the national leadership level there existed no

signs of the two parties coming to work together (Heng 1988:

159) . Specifically, it had its origins in the Kuala Lumpur

municipal elections in February 1952 when the local MCA

decided to form an informal front with the UMNO to challenge

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the IMP.37 Working together, the informal alliance divided the

constituencies among themselves on the basis of ethnic compo­

sition of the constituency; the MCA contested in the Chinese-

dominated seats while the UMNO candidates contested in the

Malay-dominated ones. Appealing and manipulating the communal

fears and anxieties, the MCA and UMNO successfully defeated

the IMP in ten of the twelve seats.

The electoral success of that temporary alliance planted

the seed for the future cooperation between UMNO and MCA.

Thus, the UMNO-MCA alliance was formed even though "the people

who negotiated the initial agreement might not have intended

it, but they had found a winning formula that was to be

applied throughout the country" (Khong 1984: 173). Since the

constitutive parties of the Alliance continued to appeal to

their exclusive ethnic support base, it meant that the coali­

tion formula would perpetuate communal-based politics in the

society. The success of this new consociation was dramatically

shown in the first national elections, held in 1955, where the

Alliance (now with the addition of the Malayan Indian Con­

gress, MIC) swept nearly all the seats which they contested.38

37 The Kuala Lumpur MCA leadership was in the hands of

Colonel H.S. Lee who had the support of the Chinese-educated
second tier leaders and who for a number of reasons decided to
cooperate with the Kuala Lumpur UMNO leaders.

38 It should be noted at that time there was only

limited suffrage for the non-Malays. The composition of the
eligible voters was 84.2% Malays and 11.2% Chinese, and Malays
were the majority in 42 out of the 52 seats. In other words,

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With the consolidation of the new consociation, the Alliance

Party, the British authorities had found their desired native

successors to take over the reins of power.

Malay Communalism and the Constitutional Negotiation

It would seem that the British did not learn from the

Malayan Union and the Federation Agreement experiences as the

public was again relegated to a limited role in the Merdeka

Constitution negotiation process. Right from the start the

British authorities decided to give more weight to the

Alliance proposals. The reason was simply because the Alliance

won 51 of the 52 seats in the 1955 federal election — a

questionable outcome as the limited franchise excluded the

majority of the population in general, and the non-Malay

population in particular. While it follows that the Merdeka

Constitution would not reflect the general public opinion, it

also, surprisingly, did not reflect an unanimous view of the


On March 1956 the Alliance established The Alliance Ad

Hoc Political Working Committee to draw up the Alliance

proposals for the Merdeka Constitution. As expected the

working committee consisted preponderantly of the English-

educated leaders of the UMNO, MCA, and MIC. Among those

the electoral roll was not representative of the ethnic

composition of the society. The Alliance won 51 out of the 52
seats or 81% of the total votes.

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representing UMNO were Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tunku Abdul Razak,

Dr. Ismail, Khir Johari, Senu Abdul Rahman, Rahman Talib, Aziz

Ishak and Abdul Kadir Mohammed. And, among those representing

the MCA were Tan Siew Sin, Ong Yoke Lin, T.H. Tan, H.S. Lee,

Leong Yew Koh, Too Joon Hing, and Yong Pung How.39 While there

were obvious points of disagreement between the UMNO and the

MCA and among members of each party, especially at the second-

echelon and grassroots levels, the English-educated leaders of

both parties were given the "mandate" to bargain for their

respective party (Heng 1988: 224-225; Funston 1980: 134-161).

In this sense, the final constitutional compromises were, more

or less, the outcomes of the "gentlemen's agreement" among the

Malay administrators and the Straits Chinese business groups.

While both the UMNO and MCA generally supported the

rights to private property, there were major disagreements

over the religion, language, and citizenship issues. Since

the 1948 Federation Agreement had enabled Chinese to become

citizens both by a limited application of the principle of jus

soli and of the naturalization process, the majority opinion

of the UMNO was to stick to those terms.40 A vocal minority,

Tan Cheng Lock was left out for health reasons. The
MIC was represented by V.T. Sambanthan, V. Manikavasagam, K.L.
Devaser, K. Ramanathan, and B. Kaher Singh

40 In the Federation constitution a Chinese would

qualify for citizenship by birth (jos soli) , but to qualify by
naturalization a Chinese must have resided for a continuous
period of not less than fifteen years in Malaya and as well as
demonstrate an adequate command of either the Malay or English

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in fact, wanted to deny the.Chinese the rights to citizenship.

In addition to this, the UMNO was unanimous in demanding for

the constitutional protection of their special position and

economic interests, of Islam as the official religion, and of

Malay as the sole offical language. The party's manifesto, The

Basis of UMNO's Struggle (Dasar Perjuangan UMNO), states;

The theory of nationalism pursued by UMNO is a

broad concept ... that while striving for the
privileges, sovereignty and priority (hak,
kedaulatan, keistimewaan) of Malays as the
owners of this country, UMNO also acknowledges
that members of the other races who have
already become citizens ... also shall receive
specified rights as citizens of Malaya.

Given the prevalence of Malay communal nationalism in UMNO,

there was considerable pressures on the leaders not to concede

any ground to the MCA on the citizenship, religion, and

language issues.

On the side of the MCA, the Chinese wanted to renegotiate

the Federation citizenship terms; to expand the principle of

jus soli and to relax the naturalization terms so that more

Chinese would be eligible for citizenship. In addition, they

demanded that the citizenship granted to them should observe

its universal principle; that is, every fully recognized

citizens to be endowed with equal political, economic, and

cultural rights. Finally, the Chinese-educated second-echelon

language, (most Chinese were not fluent in either of the

languages) Thus, given the stricter terms of acquiring
citizenship many of the Chinese born outside of Malaya would
not qualify for Federal citizenship.

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leaders and the majority of the grassroot membership wanted

Kuo Yu to be an official language and its usage be allowed in

the elected legislative assemblies, and Chinese education be

given equal consideration. In this sense, the leaders of MCA

too were under considerable grassroots pressure to advance

their communal interests of the Chinese community.

Given the diverging, and, perhaps, irreconcilable,

grassroots viewpoints it was clear to the English-educated

leaders that there probably was no one set of constitutional

compromises that could satisfy everyone. Consequently, the

final Alliance constitutional proposals were "reached after

much heated argument, offering and withdrawing of tentative

compromises, and protracted bargaining" among the English-

educated leaders. Since the 1948 Agreement had upheld the

principle of jus soli and the British authorities had made

known that they wanted this principle upheld, the UMNO leaders

not only agreed to it, but also agreed to relax the criteria

for gaining citizenship. Thus while the application of jus

soli in the 1948 Agreement awarded citizenship status to any

Malay or British subject born in the Malay states and the SS

(Penang and Malacca) "before, on or after the appointed date,"

the Alliance proposals agreed to a more expansive application

of jus soli; automatic citizenship qualification of "all those

born in Malaya on and after the date of independence." The

UMNO leaders also agreed to relax the naturalization terms;

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for Chinese born in Malaya before independence they would

qualify for citizenship if they have resided in the country

for five out of seven years preceding the date of application

for citizenship, and for foreign-born Chinese they would

qualify after a period of eight out of twelve years (Alliance

Memorandum 1956).

In exchange for the UMNO citizenship "concessions," the

MCA leadership agreed to the inclusion of certain provisions

in the constitution to protect the Malay "special position."

The final Alliance agreement hence states:

While we accept that in independent Malaya all

nationals should be accorded equal rights,
privileges and opportunities and there must not
discrimination on grounds of race or creed, we
recognize the fact that the Malays are the
original sons of the soil and that they have a
special position arising from this fact, and
also by virtue of treaties made between the
British Government and the various sovereign
Malay states. The Constitution should, therefore,
provide that the Yang di-Pertuan Besar should
have the special responsibility of safeguarding
the special position of the Malays. In pursuance
of this, the Constitution should give him powers
to reserve for the Malays a reasonable proportion
of lands, posts in public service, permits to
enagage in business or trade, where such permits
are restricted and controlled by law, grant
scholarships and such similar privileges accorded
by the Government; but in pursuance of this fur­
ther responsibility of safeguarding the legitimate
interests of the other communities, the Consti­
tution should also provide that any excercise of
such powers should not in any way infringe the
legitimate interests of the other communities
or adversely affect or diminish the rights and
privileges at present enjoyed by them.
(Alliance Memorandum 1956: 17)

Hence, in exchange for a more liberal application of the

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principle of jus soli and of the naturalization process, the

MCA leadership agreed to recognize the Malay special position

arising from their indigenous status. This UMNO-MCA citizen­

ship compromise became the so-called often quoted "bargain."

However, though the MCA leadership conceded to the

elevation of Malay41 as the sole official language and Islam

as the religion of the federation, there was considerable

opposition within the party, especially from the Chinese-

educated second-echelon leaders. So much so that on the

language issue there were two separate submissions to the Reid

Commission. While the joint UMNO-MCA-MIC statement supported

Malay as the sole official language and Islam as the religion

of the federation, an alternative MCA submission by its

second-echelon leaders proposed the creation of multicultural

society, with Kuo Yu as one of the official languages, and the

equal treatment of every ethnic culture (Heng 1988: 227).

To prepare the Merdeka Constitution, the British set up

an independent Constitutional Commission for the purpose of

drawing up a Draft Constitution.42 Though independent the Reid

Commission was instructed, among other things, to base the

41 The English-educated Alliance leadership also agreed

to English as an official language for a maximum period of ten
years after independence.

42 The Commission was headed by Lord Reid (U.K.), W.J.

McKell (Australia), B. Malik (India), Justice Abdul Hamid
(Pakistan), and Sir Ivor Jennings (U.K.). This became better
known as the Reid Commission.

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Constitution on democratic ideals and to create a common citi­

zenship while at the same time preserving the Malay special

position. The Commission toured Malaya from March to May 1956

where it held a number of public meetings and requested the

views of various influential individuals, groups, and organi­

zations. Yet, shortly afterwards, the Commission announced its

unanimous opinion that "the best proposals for dealing fairly

with the present constitution are those put forward by the

Alliance." However, if the Commission was generally satisfied

that the Alliance agreement offered "a better way of doing

justice between the races than any other that has been

suggested", it also had a number of telling reservations.

Since the Reid Commission supported the idea of a liberal

multiethnic democratic polity, it was skeptical of the Alli­

ance proposals' overemphasis on "the symbolic and substantive

Malay character of" an independent Malaya (Reid Commission

Report, 1956) . The Report regarded the allocation of permanent

special rights in the constitution to Malays as detrimental to

the construction of a common citizenry as it would create a

"hierarchical" citizenry along ethnic lines. Thus the Reid

Commission recommended that "transitional and temporary

clauses" be added which would entail reviewing the possible

removal of the Malay special rights after a period of fifteen

years after independence. In short, while the Reid Commission

supported the inclusion of special rights as a means to alle­

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viate the Malays' socioeconomic conditions, they also saw the

necessity — in the long run — to ensure that the principle

of equal rights are upheld.

With regard to the language issue, the Reid Commission

agreed that eventually Malay should be the sole official

language, but suggested that English, Kuo Yu and Tamil be

official languages for a period of ten years or more after

independence. Their reasoning was that while a single official

language would facilitate social integration, the temporary

official use of the other languages, they argued, would enable

the non-Malays to more fully participate in the social and

political life of the society in the meantime. Also, since the

Commission supported the establishment of a secular state, it

was against the UMNO's inclusion of Islam as the official

religion of the federation as it would complicate the separa­

tion of "state and mosque."43 Hence, it suggested that Islam

and Muslim affairs be relegated to the local administration.

Finally, following the British concept of constitutional

monarchy, the Commission proposed that the Rulers' role in the

Government — in particular at the state level — to be only

symbolic and ceremonial.

Given that the Reid Commission recommendations seemed

to be slightly in favor of the non-Malays, the latter was in

43 However, the Commission was not unanimous on this

point as the Pakistan representative, Abdul Hamid, supported
the idea of Islam as the state religion.

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general satisfied with the Draft Constitution. On the other

hand, the Malay public in general and UMNO in particular were

disappointed with the Draft Constitution stance on the

language, religion and citizenship issues. Indeed, the popular

Malay opinion was that the Commission had let the Malays down

badly. Not surprisingly, in the last stage of the constitution

negotiations, the Commission's recommendations on the special

rights, language and religion issues were rejected. Instead,

the Constitutional Working Party overwhelmingly decided in

favor of the Alliance constitution proposals.44

After much deliberations between the British, the Ruler

and Alliance representatives, the citizenship, language and

religion issues were settled — evidently in UMNO's favor (See

end of chapter for selections from the Constitution). While

the principle of jus soli was upheld and the naturalization

terms were relaxed, Malays as the "definitive community" was

written into the Constitution in Article 153. The provision

assigns to the King45 the constitutional authority to reserve

for the Malays a reasonable proportion of land (Malay

Reservation Act), permits or licenses to engage in business or

44 This was not surprising given the composition of the

Working Party: the High Commissioner, 4 representatives of the
Rulers, 4 representatives of Alliance, the Chief Secretary,
and the Attorney General.

45 Or Yang Di-Pertuan Agung is the title given to the

Ruler for the whole country. The Ruler position is a five-year
tenure which is rotated among the nine state royal families.

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trade, and scholarships and educational privileges, and posts

in the federal public civil service. Indeed, Article 153

assigns to the King the constitutional role of safeguarding

the "special position" of the Malays.44 With regard to the

religion issue, Article 3 states: "Islam is the religion of

the Federation, but other religions may be practised in peace

and harmony in any part of the Federation." Lastly, on the

language issue Article 152 states that Malay shall be sole

national and official language, as well as the language of

Parliament, but adds that "no person shall be prohibited or

prevented from using (otherwise than for official purposes) or

from teaching or learning, any other language." But it was

agreed that English would remain as an official language for

ten years after independence so as to facilitate non-Malays'

social and political participation.47

Thus the Merdeka citizenship Constitution, more or less,

legalized the UMNO view of the ethnic distribution of powers

in the society. It delimited a certain type of Malay(si)an

individual circumscribed by a prescribed set of rights. That

46 Although the other natives "special position" are

also protected, subsequent history showed that they have not
benefit as much as the Malays. Furthermore, the Constitution
stipulates that the Rulers cannot be "liable to any
proceedings whatsoever in art} court" (Article 32) ; in other
words, the common laws would not be applicable to the Rulers.
Instead, a Ruler can only be tried by his fellow Rulers.

47 Meaning the English-educated non-Malays, especially

the MCA and MIC leaders.

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is, the Merdeka Constitution crystallized UMNO's dominance

within the Alliance and, in general, legitimized the political

relations of a Malay (si) an society dominated by the Malay com­

munity. Thus the status of the non-Malay citizens' political

and cultural rights remained uncertain. If the equality of

political rights means the equality of opportunities to poli­

tical participation in society, then it could, and probably

would, conflict with the UMNO tendency to equate Malay special

position with legitimizing Malay political dominance. If

cultural rights means the freedoms of speech, religion, and

culture in the public spaces, how would that work out when the

Constitution sanctioned an unequal ranking of ethnic cultures

in the society. In short, the logic of citizenship and commu-

nalism co-exists ambiguously in the constitution. Above all,

the framers of the Constitution, the Malay bureaucratic and

Straits Chinese elites, can hardly be said to represent the

views of their respective communal base.


In summary, the British attempt to create a common

citizenship for all qualified individuals irrespective of

ethnic background failed precisely because it was rejected by

the Malays in general and the Malay elites in particular.

Instead, a conception of citizenship that acknowledged the

"special position" of the Malays was instituted. Though the

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majority of the Chinese were against the Federation citizen­

ship compromises proposed by the Malay elites and the British,

the advent of the Emergency seriously pre-empted their efforts

to challenge it. Indeed, the Emergency broke up the Chinese

solidarity against the proposed Federation citizenship.

As a part of their strategy to defeat the communists, the

British encouraged the Straits Chinese and the Chinese busi­

ness community to form their own political organization in

order to represent the Chinese interests. Subseguently, the

British successfully convinced the Malay and Chinese English-

educated leaders of the UMNO and MCA to work together. Hence,

prior to the achievement of political independence in 1957,

the English-educated leaders agreed upon a citizenship model

that both recognized the Malay "special position" and made it

easier for the majority of the immigrants to become citizens.

Immediately after independence, the ambiguity of the

terms of the Merdeka Constitution became intertwined with the

accentuating ethnic tensions in the society. This is because,

as Wolin (1989) astutely observed, a constitution is simulta­

neously a political event and a hermeneutical event. As a

political event, the Merdeka Constitution represented a set­

tlement about power on terms that the English-educated leaders

of the Alliance, that is, the UMNO administrative elites and

the MCA Straits Chinese business elites, agreed upon and

believed they could persuade their respective ethnic community

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to accept. As a hermenutical event, it was a document whose

content was agreed upon by the negotiators — although its

meaning was not.

Not surprisingly, even among the English-educated leader­

ship there was strong disagreement over the interpretation of

the meaning of Malay "special position" and of its inclusion

in the constitution. The MCA leadership took it to simply

denote the indigenous status of the Malays and its inclusion

in the constitution as a temporary means to improve the

Malays' socioeconomic position. The UMNO leaders, particularly

the second-echelon and grassroots, however, interpreted the

Malay "special position" to mean the dominant status of their

community in the society, and thus the constitution provision

as the permanent guarantee of their status. Perhaps, most

importantly, after independence, the various groups which were

excluded from the negotiations process, both in and out of the

Alliance, began to attack the terms of the Constitution. The

following chapter will examine the dissension in and out of

the Alliance, and as well as the effects of the increasing

pressure exerted by the Malay communal nationalists.

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E x t r a c t f r o m t h e F e d e r a t i o n C o n s t i t u t i o n 195 7

Fundamental Liberties

5. (1) No person shall be deprived of his life or personal

liberty save in accordance with law.

6. (1) No person shall be held in slavery.

8. (1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to
the equal protection of the law.

(2) Except as expressly authorized by this constitution,

there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the
ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in
any law or in the appointment to any office or employment
under a public authority or in the administration of any law
relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of
property or establishing or carrying on of any trade,
business, profession, vocation or employment.

(3) There shall be no discrimination in favor of any person

on the ground that he is a subject of the ruler of any State.

10. (1) Subject to clause 2,

(a) Every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and
(b) All citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and
without arms;
(c) All citizens have the right to form associations.

(2) Parliament may by law impose:

(a) On the rights conferred by [clause 1] such restrictions
as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the
security of the Federation, friendly relations with other
countries, public order or morality ... .

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[Communal A s p e c t s of t h e Cons t i t u t i o n ]

3. Religion of the Federation

(1) Islam is the religion of the Federation, but other

religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of
the Federation.

32 Supreme Head of the Federation, and his Consort

(1) There shall be a Supreme Head of the Federation, to be

called the Yang di-Pertuan Agung, who shall take precedence
over all persons in the Federation and shall not be liable to
any proceedings whatsoever in any court.

152 National Language

(1) The national language shall be the Malay language and

shall be in script as may by law:
Provided that:
(a) no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using
(otherwise than for official purposes) or from teaching or
learning, any other language; and
(b) nothing in this Clause shall prejudice the right of the
Federal Government or of any State Government to preserve and
sustain the use and study of the language of any other
community in the Federation.

153 R e s e rvation of quotas in respect of services,

permits, etc . , f o r M a l a y s a n d o t h e r n a t i v e s

(1) It shall be in the responsibility of the Yang Di-Pertuan

Agung to safeguard the s p e c i a l p o s i t i o n of the Malays and
other natives and the legitimate interests of other
communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article.
(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, but subject
to the provisions of this Article, the Yang DiPertuan Agung
shall excercise his functions underthe Constitution and
federal law in such manner as may be necessary to safeguard
the s p e c i a l p o s i t i o n of the Malays and natives and to ensure
the reservation for Malays and natives of such proportion as
he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service
(other than the public service of a State) and of scholar­
ships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training
privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the
Federal Government and, when any permit or license for the
operation of any trade or business is required by federal law,
then, subject to the provision of that law and this Article,
of such permits and licenses.

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With the achievement of political independence, the

Alliance Government inherited an unranked society where the

two dominant ethnic communities, Malays and Chinese, were

locked in a fierce struggle over; which should be the official

language(s); which language(s) should be recognized in the

parliaments, bureaucracies and courts; what should constitute

the national culture; should each ethnic group have publicly

funded cultural institutions and education in their mother-

tongue; should affirmative actions be based on income or

ethnic criteria; should political offices be distributed in

line with the principle of ethnic proportionality, or reserved

for members of particular ethnic groups, etc. (Vasil 1970;

Means 1976)? In short, the achievement of independence

excerbated the conflict between the universalistic principles

of citizenship on the one hand and the particularistic claims

of ethnic communities on the other.

Therefore, in the wake of independence, the overriding

concern was whether the society could remain in one piece,

given that the Malay and Chinese communities were sharply

divided on almost all issues. Moreover, ethnic groupings which

were suppressed by the British in the fifties, and excluded

from the preindependence constitutional negotiations,

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reemerged to challenge the citizenship compromises agreed to

by the Alliance English-educated leadership.1 In the 1960s,

then, the public discussions on citizenship became largely

overwhelmed by the ethnic groupings' struggles over the

political and cultural rights of their respective group. This

chapter examines how the complex struggles over ethnic and

citizenship rights affected the ruling consociation, the non-

Malay and Malay opposition groupings2, and the non-communal

political parties, and how the struggles resulted in the

communalization of politics.

Fissures in the Ruling Consociation

With the achievement of independence, the British role as

the neutral power broker that encouraged the rival ethnic

elites, UMNO and MCA, to work towards a political accommoda­

tion came to an abrupt stop. With this qualitative transfor­

mation, from involuntary to voluntary consociationalism, the

1 Also, the majority of the Chinese, since indepen­

dence, had acquired Malaysian citizenship by virtue of the new
citizenship laws.

2 I shall focus here on political parties. The reason

is that civil society in the sixties was essentially constitu­
ted by ethnic groupings and institutions. For example, the
business community was comprised of Chinese, Malay, and
Indian business councils. Even the trade unions were hardly
multiethnic; for instance, the National Plantation Union
Workers were dominated by Indians, the Transportation Workers'
Union by Chinese, and the civil servant union (CUEPAC) by
Malays. In short, civil society at that point did not offer an
alternative political outlook to the
existing political parties.

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ethnic elites would now have to resolve their disputes by and

among themselves. And almost immediately, the political diffe­

rences and competition within the UMNO and MCA, and between

them, began to take its toll on the fragile consociation.

Broadly speaking, the disputes between the MCA and UMNO were;

on the one hand, the MCA wanted a more equal political part­

nership and Chinese cultural rights; and on the other hand,

the UMNO wanted to preserve, if not enhanced, their political

dominance, to increase the public presence of Malay symbols

and participation in the economy and education.3

Dissension in the MCA

Historically, the first fissure in the MCA took place

during the 1950s preindependence constitutional negotiations

(Heng 1988: 237-246). The Chinese-educated second-echelon

(Laukeh) leaders, being dissatisfied with and mistrustful of

the English-educated Straits Chinese leadership willingness to

fight for Chinese cultural rights, decided to break away from

the MCA in order to directly lobby the British authorities. In

their petition to the British authorities, they stated their

case for Chinese political and cultural equality. In this the

Laukeh leaders had considerable support from the majority of

the Chinese guilds and associations, especially the Chinese

3 Also, with political independence the Malay Rulers'

became increasingly assertive, especially at the state levels,
which led to a series of confrontations between royalty and
the Alliance Government (Shafruddin 1987: chpt 6). It, of
course, further added to the fears of Malay disunity.

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education movements, UCSTA and UCSCA.4 But, because the Laukeh

leaders such as Lau Pak Khuan, Leong Chee Cheong, Cho Yew Fai,

and Lim Lian Geok were ex-KMTM members, their loyalty to

Malaya was effectively raised as an issue by both the British

and the UMNO. For example, the UMNO alleged that they were

pro-China and represented a Chinese "fifth-column" with the

hidden agenda of making Malaya into a province of China.

More importantly, however, was that the British

authorities refusal to include them in the constitution

negotiations meant that the Laukeh leaders remained a

peripheral political force. Taking full advantage of the

Laukeh's weak position, the English-educated leaders assumed

the main role in the pre independence constitution negotiations

with the British authorities and the UMNO. Yet, as both came

from the business class group, the English- and Chinese-

educated leaders could not afford to remain disunited as it

would irreparably weaken their class bargaining position vis-

a-vis the UMNO. Consequently, the two groups reconciled their

differences immediately after independence; this was publicly

formalized by the Conference of Chinese Associations on

November 10, 1957.

4 United Chinese School Teachers Association (UCSTA;

est. 1951) and United Chinese School Committees' Assocation
(UCSCA; est. 1954) were essentially grassroots movements led
by and comprised of the Chinese-educated segment of the
Chinese community. For a fine study of these two movements see
Tan Liok Ee's Dongjiaozong and The Challenge to Cultural
Hegemony 1951-1987.

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If the first quarrel in the MCA was eventually resolved

without damaging the party, a subsequent quarrel that occurred

just before the first federal elections in 1959, however, led

to a permanent split in the party. This time the L a u k e h lea­

ders were joined by a group of young moderates led by Dr. Lim

Chong Eu, a Cambridge trained physician and leader of the

Penang MCA. With the support of the L a u k e h leaders and other

moderates, and as well as a large number of the grassroots

membership, Dr. Lim defeated Tan Cheng Lock, the incumbent and

leader of the old English-educated group, to become the second

president of MCA in 1958. Predictably, in contrast to the

preindependence English-educated leaders, the new group of MCA

leaders led by Dr. Lim clashed with the UMNO over the issues

of political equality and Chinese cultural rights.

Dr. Lim and his supporters were dissatisfied with the

terms of the M e r d e k a Constitution, specifically with what they

regarded as the unequal political relationships between the

Malays and Chinese in general, and between UMNO and MCA in

particular. The group thus wanted a renegotiation of the

existing political partnership. First, they argued that in

order to allay the Chinese fear of Malay political domination,

the MCA must be allocated at least one-third of the federal

seats.5 The logic was that by controlling one-third of the

5 In his letter to Tunku Abdul Rahman, then President

of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaya, Dr. Lim wrote that the
Chinese remained fearful of Malay communalism precisely

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federal seats, the non-Malays, through the MCA, could prevent

any attempt by the Malays, be it UMNO or PMIP or together, to

further include more "pro-Malay" amendments in the constitu­

tion. More generally, the MCA's calculation was that if the

Malay parties did not have the two-third majority, then no one

ethnic community would have absolute control of parliament.

Second, the group also wanted the power to select MCA

federal, and state, candidates be transferred from the

Alliance National Council to the MCA Executive Council.6 If

the MCA retained the autonomy to pick its candidates, then it

would make the process more "democratic," and allowed Dr.Lim

and his supporters to pick their own people. Lastly, pressured

by the Chinese middle-class, the group proposed that the

Government increased the intake of qualified Chinese into the

Malayanized civil service; the existing recruiting quota was

four to one in favor of the Malays. Obviously, if the above

because a provision in the constitution "allows amendment of

the constitution with a two-thirds majority." This provision
became problematic because, on the one hand, the UMNO was
allocated more than two-thirds of the seats, and, on the other
hand, the extreme Malay communalist PMIP was apparently
gaining political momentum. The letter requested, or rather
demanded, that MCA seats be raised from 28 to 40. Also, it was
argued that this was a logical step since the Chinese now made
up 35.6 percent of the electorate.

6 In the existing candidate selection process, the

final candidate list was wholly up to the Alliance Executive
Council, by agreement whose chairman has to be the President
of UMNO. Although the Council membership was comprised of 6
UMNO, 5 MCA and 3 MIC representatives, the chairman had
considerable power in deciding the final candidate list.

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demands were accepted, it greatly would strengthen the MCA

participation in the decision-making process, and probably

would contribute towards equalizing the political .relation­

ships between the UMNO Malays and MCA Chinese.

The second point of contention was with regards to the

question of Chinese cultural rights, specifically the status

of Chinese education and language. These two issues were once

more raised by the L a u k e h group and a large segment of the MCA

grassroots and Chinese community, with the UCSTA and UCSCA as

the prime movers.7 Without any doubt, the popular Chinese

opinion was increasingly clamoring for cultural pluralism,

especially the elevation of K u o Y u to official language status

and the equal treatment of Chinese education. In this way,

they did not object to the idea of the Malay special position

in the country in so far as it did not mean the relegation of

the non-Malay cultures to a "second-class" status. Feeling

this popular Chinese pressure, Dr. Lim and his group thus

demanded a review of the Alliance Government's official

language and education policies — but they astutely stopped

short of challenging the constitutional position of the


Nevertheless, faced with the UMNO's vehement rejection of

7 Indeed, immediately after independence, a number of

second-echelon leaders, especially in Perak and Selangor,
began to mobilize the Chinese community to struggle for the
equality of Chinese cultural rights. Moreover, they also
called for the union of Singapore with the Federation.

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their demands, and the subsequent acceptance by the MCA

Executive Council, by a narrow margin, of Tunku Abdul Rahman's

ultimatum, Dr. Lim and many of his supporters left the MCA in

1959 (Tunku 1986: 70).8 The departure of the Laukeh leaders

and the moderates, and their supporters, as well as the censu­

ring of those who remained in the party9, seriously reduced

the MCA's political popularity and credibility. Finally,

before Tan Siew Sin, the new MCA President, and the other

English-educated leaders could reorganize the party and

remobilize their mass support, they were dealt another severe

blow by the Alliance Government new education policy, the

Talib Report (1960), named after Abdul Rahman Talib, the then

Minister of Education. As Tan (1992) puts it,

Where the Razak Report10 had tried to marry the

8 Apparently, because Dr. Lim's letter was released,

without his consent, to the public, the Tunku, given the
circumstances, strongly rejected the demands. Instead, he
issued his own ultimatum; either the MCA follow the Alliance
under his leadership or they could withdraw from the Alliance.
His ultimatum forced a crisis in the MCA and was used by the
English-educated group, led by Tan Siew Sin (Tan Cheng Lock's
son) and Ong Yoke Lin, to defeat Dr. Lim and his group.

9 For example, H.S. Lee, the prominent Laukeh leader

of Kuala Lumpur who played an instrumental role in the forma­
tion Alliance and the first Minister of Finance, was demoted.

10 The Razak Education Report (1956) was the most

important preindependence document on the development of
education in Malay(si)a. It recommended three controversial
guidelines; (1) the separate language-medium school systems
were to remain, (2) the adoption of common syllabuses for all
schools in the country, (3) the making of Malay and English as
compulsory subjects, (4) all schools were to be made eligible
for state grants-in-aid provided they conformed to the

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divergent linguistic and cultural commitments

with the objectives of a national policy, the
Talib Report stated ... that the "legitimate
interests" of the various communities were
simply "incompatible" with the creation of a
national consciousness and the position of
Malay as a national language (191).

Th new education policy recommended that the different

languages would be allowed as medium of instruction at the

primary school level, but that all national secondary schools

must teach in either Malay or English (until 1967). Chinese

schools which refused to switch to either of the official

languages would be deprived of all forms of government aid. In

addition, the report decided that certificates from Chinese

secondary schools would no longer be recognized by the

Government. Above all, while Chinese primary schools were

incorporated into the national system, their continued exis­

tence remained uncertain as Clause 21(b) of the Education Act

of 1961“ vested the Minister of Education with the power to

change the language of instruction of primary schools from Kuo

Yu to Malay. Despite the fact that a majority of the Chinese

educational policy, and (5) to form a unified teachers scheme.

11 The Chinese language and schools issues have

continued to invoke passionate reactions from both the Malay
and Chinese communities. For example, in early 1987, Anwar
Ibrahim, then Minister of Education, proposed to appoint non-
Mandarin speaking administrators to Chinese schools. This move
was met by strong Chinese protests, which in turn led UMNO
Youth to demand the Government to implement Clause 23(b).
Interestingly, this was a prelude to the October 1987
Operation Lallang, when the State detained more than 150
Government critics and severely curtailed democratic rights.

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community were strongly against this major change in the

Alliance Government's education policies, the English-educated

MCA leadership could not, and did not, present a strong voice

to support their concerns.

In the end, the apparent ineffectiveness of the MCA to

influence the Alliance Government's decision-making and

policies gradually eroded the support of its traditional

political base, the Chinese community. It was perceived by the

Chinese community as weak and incapable of fighting for their

political and cultural interests and rights. In terms of class

perspective, an increasing portion of the middle- and working-

class Chinese also became dissatisfied with the business

class-dominated MCA leadership failure to address their econo­

mic welfare. Not surprisingly, MCA popularity suffered a

precipitous decline throughout the 1960s, culminating in the

1969 disastrous electoral elections when the party failed to

win a majority of the Chinese votes; hence lost its claim as

the major legitimate representative of the Chinese community

(Vasil 1972). Above all, the 1969 electoral fiasco led to

another round of divisive power struggle in the party.

Dissension in the UMNO

Just like the MCA, the UMNO too was riddled with internal

quarrels, but, unlike the former, the party by and large

managed to hold together the warring factions. As a political

organization that was essentially founded in the midst of the

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upsurge of Malay political consciousness that accompanied the

Malayan Union, the party attracted support from nearly all the

elements that composed the Malay community (Funston 1980).

Thus, while the UMNO national leadership came predominantly

from the administrative elites, the second-echelon leadership

was comprised mostly of Malay teachers, religious teachers,

and lower-echelon civil servants. It follows that the national

leaders, given their British education and aristocratic back­

grounds, were usually more modern, more tolerant, and less

tradition-bound in outlook. But, given their background, they

usually were also pro-monarchist, as defined in the 1957

constitution. By contrast, the political sentiments of the

second-echelon leaders were a rather mix lot; some harbored

leftist ideas, some populist, some anti-aristocratic, and so

on.12 Perhaps more importantly, the second-echelon leaders

were usually conservative and tradition-bound, and, above all,

retained a strong sense of Malay communal nationalism. As

expected, with independence the political differences between

the national and second-echelon leaders periodically came head

to head in the open.13

12 A religious faction in the UMNO left the party in

1951. This group became one of the founders of the PMIP.

13 Even during Datuk Jaafar Onn's tenure there were two

major controversies in the party. As mention earlier, one was
in relation to Datuk Onn's attempts to convert the party into
a inter-communal party. The other was connected to an earlier
effort by Datuk Onn to extent full citizenship rights to the
non-Malays. His proposal, he then was influenced by the CLC

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One of the most important UMNO platforms was its aims of

improving the Malay community socioeconomic conditions. But,

however, there were differences of opinions as with regards to

the best means to achieve the desired results. The national

leaders, led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, largely subscribed to a

laissez faire policy which would largely depend on the market

to redress the economic disparities between the ethnic groups

(Jesudason 1989: chpt 3).14 It follows that State-supported

programs to help the Malays were kept to a minimum. The

resulting slow, or lack of, economic progress of the Malay

community led many second-echelon leaders and rank and file

UMNO members to become increasingly impatient with their

national leaders.

Outside of the UMNO, the Malay business and middle-class

groups also were growing more and more critical of the Alli­

ance Government economic policies. For a number of reasons,

the second-echelon leaders were inclined to interpret the

economic issue in ethnic terms. Specifically, they attributed

the UMNO's incapacity to improve the material well-being of

meetings, was only accepted after he and the rest of the top
leadership threatened to resign from the party. While it was
doubtful whether the UMNO as a whole accepted the idea of full
citizenship rights for the non-Malays, it, nevertheless,
showed the immense resistance in UMNO to the idea of equal
citizenship status.

14 Of course, the business-dominated MCA also

essentially subscribed to the free market approach.

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the Malays on the MCA Chinese towkays' unduly influence.15

More generally, they blamed the Chinese community for not

willing to share and to help the Malays. Hence, to protect and

to promote Malay economic interests, they wanted the state to

play a more interventionist role. For instance, they wanted

the state to implement economic controls and even to natio­

nalize selected industries. However, policies based on such

controls were scuttled by the Tunku's Government because

implementing them would severely strained the UMNO's relation­

ship with the Chinese business class-dominated MCA leadership.

The best example of this quarrel was the case of Aziz

Ishak, a senior UMNO leader and minister, who wanted the state

to play a more interventionist role in promoting Malay socio­

economic welfare. In 1961 he proposed the creation of a

"welfare state" to solve the problem of Malay poverty (Aziz

Ishak 1977) . Later, in 1962, when he was the Minister of Agri­

culture, he tried to intervene in the pattern of agricultural

production to protect the Malay peasants by displacing the

Chinese middlemen with state institutions and by decreasing

the dependency on importation of fertilizer, controlled by

multinationals like ICI and ESSO, by building local fertilizer

plants. His plans, even though supported by United Nation ex­

15 In a sense this was symbolically represented by the

fact that the two most important cabinet positions dealing
with the economy, Finance and Trade and Industry, were held by
MCA. In addition, financially, the UMNO, with only minimal
resources, was dependent on the MCA.

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perts, invoked strong objections from the Chinese and foreign

business interests which fought strongly for less state

intervention in the agricultural sector in particular, and in

the economy in general. As result of this event, and other

personal differences that he had with Tunku Abdul Rahman, Aziz

Ishak was expelled from the UMNO in late 1962 even though when

there was much sympathy for him from the second-echelon lea­

ders and the rank and file members.16 Indeed, he also had the

support of the Malay middle-class and the increasing assertive

Malay business class, which were in favor of the state playing

a larger role precisely because their economic opportunities

had stagnated in the laissez faire strategy pursued by the

state. However, only a handful of UMNO members followed Aziz

Ishak to form a new political party, the National Convention

Party (NCP).

The second divisive issue which generated frictions

within UMNO was in relation to the unresolved tensions between

citizenship and cultural rights.17 The general UMNO grassroots

16 Nevertheless, his criticisms of the Government

economic policies were noticed. For example, moderates liked
Tun Razak, the deputy Prime Minister, and Dr. Ismail, the
Minister of Home Affairs, managed to convince the Tunku
Government in the mid-1960s to create a number of institutions
or expand the role of existing institutions (MARA, FAMA,
RISDA, Bank Bumiputra).

17 Religious issues did not become an important area of

ethnic conflict until from 1975 onwards. Nevertheless, since
independence, the Government had consistently channelled more
funding towards building mosques and promotion of Malay

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perception was that the Alliance Government was not doing

enough to promote and to advance Malay language and culture in

the society. In particular, for the Malay language nationa­

lists the continued usage of languages other than Malay in

public institutions was viewed as an indication of the UMNO

leaders' lack of resoluteness to advance the Malay language.

And the fact that Chinese schools were preserved was deemed as

giving in to the Chinese political pressure in general, and to

the MCA in particular. Among the groups that were actively

involved in the promotion of Malay language and culture in the

society was the Federation of Malay School Teachers' Associa­

tion (FMSTA). A powerful group operating in and out of UMNO

politics, it became deeply involved in the promotion of Malay

education. Moreover, throughout the 1960s, the FMSTA was

probably the most powerful Malay grouping in the UMNO, both in

numbers and in its capacities, as the intermediary group, to

mobilize the grassroots.

Consequently, there was much support among the second-

echelon leaders and grassroots for the Talib Report as they

generally saw it as an improvement over the Razak Report. Thus

in deference to the popular Malay pressure, immediately after

the Talib Report was announced, in a temporary upsurge of

nationalist sentiments,18 a few extravagant promises were

18 Two organizatiations which played important roles in

pressuring the UMNO to promote Malay as the sole national
language were, namely, the semi-governmental institution Dewan

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made; the Minister of Education declared that the government,

for the sake of national integration, might convert all

government primary schools to using Malay as the medium of

instruction; and the Prime Minister promised that the

Government would beat the target date of 1967 to make Malay

the sole national and official language of the country.

Ne\ertheless, they remained promises as the national

leadership pragmatically worked out a compromise with the MCA

English-educated leaders. But, in 1966, when it appeared that

the Tunku was prepared to concede some grounds to the Chinese

educationists on the Chinese education issue, and to continue

the official status of English beyond 1967, the opponents, led

by the DBDP and NLAF, held a number of demonstrations against

the Tunku Government. Within the UMNO, a few Malay-educated

leaders like Syed Nasir, Abdul Rahman Talib, and Syed Albar

also protested against the Tunku. Subsequently, a half-way

solution was found to the problem19, and Syed Nasir and Abdul

Rahman Talib were demoted — but the UMNO managed to keep the

Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), led by Syed Nasir Ismail, and the
National Language Action Front (NLAF) formed in 1964 by a
loose alliance of Malay intellectuals in reaction to the
Chinese educationalist campaigns against the Talib Report and
the Education Act of 1961. Also it has to be stressed that
support for Malay as the official language was not merely an
expression of cultural nationalism but also a question of
bettering Malay employment opportunities, especially in the
public sector.

19 For a discussion of the language and education

issues in the late 1960s see Tan (1992)

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warring factions within the party.

In the end, the Tunku Government's non-interventionist

economic policies, and its moderate gradualist approach to the

Chinese education and language issues resulted in an observa­

ble decline in Malay popular support for the UMNO throughout

the sixties. More importantly, within UMNO, the movement

against Tunku Abdul Rahman and his group became more and more

vociferous during the same period. Broadly speaking, the

internal opposition could be divided into three factions, in

various levels of disagreements with the Tunku (von Vorys

1975; Funston 1980). First, there was the moderate English-

educated critics, such as Tun Razak and Dr. Ismail, who wanted

the state to play a more active role in advancing Malay econo­

mic welfare and in promoting Malay education and language.

Second, there was the Malay-educated critics, such as Syed

Albar, Syed Nasir and Ghafar Baba, who wanted to do away with

the Chinese schools and to make Malay the sole national and

official language immediately. Third, there was the emerging

faction of young English-educated professionals, such as Musa

Hitam, Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, and Tengku Razaleigh, who to

some extent identify with Tun Razak's ideas, but wanted UMNO

to take a more aggressive stance towards the Chinese, and the

MCA, on both the economic and education and language fronts.

Despite their disagreements, all the factions remained in UMNO

because of their common fear of the Chinese seizing political

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power if the Malays were to become disunited. Nevertheless,

the 1969 electoral setbacks broke the camel's back and pushed

their differences into the public arena, and precipated a

power struggle in the party.

N o n - M a l a y O p p o s i t i o n to the A l l i a n c e G o v e r n m e n t

Without any doubt, among the non-Malays, opposition to

the terms of the M e r d e k a Constitution was widespread, but

initially fragmented. Broadly speaking, non-Malay opposition

could be divided into two groupings, excluding the communists.

On the one side, there was the non-communal moderate English-

educated grouping that was comprised of individuals from all

ethnic groups, and, on the other, the radical Chinese-

educated20 grouping. During the 1950s, both these groups did

not get to voice their opinions as they were excluded from the

preindependence constitution negotiation process. Not surpri­

sing then, both groups were critical, but in different ways,

of the UMNO-MCA political domination as well as feared that

the terms of the constitution would relegate the non-Malays to

a "second-class" citizenship status.

In a general sense, the moderate English-educated group

20 Most of them were from the lower-middle and working

classes. This group comprised two major subgroups; one closely
affiliated with the MCP and usually had labor union activities
background (Tan Kai Hee, Tan Tuan Boon and Gan Yong Beng) and
the other mostly moderate socialists (Lim Kit Siang, Goh Hock

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subscribed to a liberal multicultural citizenship, or cultural

pluralism (Vasil 1970). Since for them a common culture would

evolve naturally from the societal and market integrative

forces, they were opposed to most state interventions in the

cultural sphere. Rather, given their evolutionary conception

of culture, the group recommended that non-Malay citizens

should have equal rights to their cultural conduct of life in

private and in public spaces. Optimistically, they believed

that in the long run the ethnic cultural differences would

remain, but diminished, when a common Malaysian culture would

evolve naturally from the different ethnic cultures. On the

language issue, this group assumed a pragmatic position in

that they supported the idea of Malay as the sole official

language as a necessary means to integrate the multiethnic

society. In fact, by and large, they supported the Reid

Commission stance on the language issue: that is, the gradual

implementation of Malay as the official language coupled with

the use of English, K u o Yu, and Tamil as official languages

for a period of ten years after independence. In this sense,

they accepted some of the recommendations proposed by the

Razak Education Report.21

21 Most of the non-communal opposition parties

leadership were initially dominated by this group. For an
example of this group's position on culture, education, and
language see the Progressive People's Party (PPP) 1955
Manifesto and the GERAKAN 1965 Policy Statement.

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The notion of a "Malaysian Malaysia"22 potently captured

the moderate English-educated non-Malays citizenship demands:

Malaysia should be a democratic society where

legitimate differences of views ... should be
permitted and where individuals and political
parties should have full freedom to persuade
its citizens, by constitutional means, to their
particular point of view. Malaysia being a
multi-racial and multi-cultural society must
show respect and tolerance for legitimate
diversity... . Malaysia was conceived as
belonging to Malaysians as a whole and not to
any particular community or race (Lee 1965: 64).

Thus their position was that if non-Malay citizens were to

shoulder the same duties and responsibilities to the country

as the Malays, then they should have the same political

rights. For example, the Labor Party 1956 memorandum clearly

argued, among other things, that all fully recognized Malay­

sian citizens should enjoy equal rights as well as shared

equal responsibilities. Nevertheless, cognizance of the

reality of economic and educational disparities between the

ethnic groups, the English-educated group advocated a

"reformist state" approach to address this problem. Lee Kuan

Yew, then Prime Minister of Singapore, puts it this way

Quite clearly there is a distinction between our

political equality and our duty as part of that
political equality, to give special attention to

22 The meaning of "Malaysian Malaysia" later became a

much disputed — and contested — concept. Originally, it was
effectively used by Lee Kuan Yew to mean the equality of
rights for all fully recognized citizens irrespective of
ethnic background. In the late sixties it was "used" by UMNO
to equate it with Chinese attempts to "dominate" the Malays.
See Lee (1965) The Battle For a Malaysian Malaysia.

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the economic and social uplift of the Malays ...

(1965: 20).a

In other words, while they upheld the idea of equality as a

right, recognizing the ethnic socioeconomic disparities, they

supported the idea of equality as a policy. It follows that

this group had no objection with Malay "special position" if

it were taken to merely indicate their "indigenous" status, or

if it meant some sorts of temporary affirmative action to

alleviate the Malays' dire socioeconomic conditions. In fact,

as moderate "socialists" they supported the application of the

affirmative action not only to the Malay poor — but to all

the Malaysian poor. In this way, they were critical of the

Alliance Government pro-capitalist l a i s s e z f a i r e policies that

protected the rich and neglected the poor. Rejecting the

Alliance Government l a i s s e z - f a i r e policies, they argued for

the state to play an active role in the economic development

of and the distribution of wealth in the country. However,

unlike the Chinese-dominated MCP, they did not support the

idea of total state ownership of business and property.

But, if "special position" was equated to "Malay rule,"

then the moderate English-educated group were against it as it

would deny the non-Malays of their political equality in the

country. Instead, it would make non-Malays, politically, into

23 A good idea of Lee Kuan Yew's "democratic" socialism

see the PAP pamphlet T h e F i x e d P o l i t i c a l O b j e c t i v e s o f O u r
P a r t y (1965). Of course, since the 1960s, Lee has become a
strong advocate of authoritarianism.

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second-class citizens in a "Malay Malaysia." In this sense,

the English-educated group were aware of how the terms of the

Merdeka Constitution could be used by the Alliance, on the one

hand, to justify UMNO's political dominance and, on the other,

to advance MCA's business interests. In short then, while they

rejected the Alliance pro-business policies and ethnic-based

politics, the progressive English-educated group argued for

the establishment of a democratic socialist state with

political and cultural equality for all citizens, and special

programs to help all poor Malaysians, irrespective of


Despite the fact the radical Chinese-educated group would

use the language of Marxism to represent their analyses and

objectives, there was no question that many of its members

d i n g e d to a narrow Chinese communal nationalism (Vasil 1970:

chpt 3). In this way, the group equated the equal citizenship

rights to mean equality of status; that is, they demanded that

the Chinese political and cultural rights to be put on an

equal footing with that of the Malays. Thus they rejected the

24 On the question of the Malay Rulers, the group

alleged that the Malay masses had been falsely led by the UMNO
to believe that their interests were identical with those of
the Malay Rulers. Nevertheless, recognizing the existing popu­
lar Malay sentiments they supported the idea of transforming
the Malay Rulers into Constitutional Heads with restricted
powers and privileges, and as well as suggested that the
question of a successor to any of the present Rulers be
decided by a popular referendum.

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idea of Malay "special position" because it implied that

Malaysia is a Malay polity. It follows that they were against

the position of Malay as the sole official language and

advocated the idea of multilingualism. More broadly, they

supported the idea of cultural pluralism, in particular the

equal treatment of Kuo Yu as an official language, and of

Chinese culture and education. Because a significant segment

of the Chinese public strongly supported the idea of cultural

equality, the issue of cultural rights became a central

organizing issue of the radical Chinese-educated group. Not

surprisingly, their emotional support of Chinese language and

education led them to strongly object to the Alliance Govern­

ment policies to impose common syllabuses for all schools and

the restriction of non-Malay language instruction to just the

primary school level. In the end, their uncompromising support

for the complete Chinese cultural equality with the Malays

dramatically raised the ethnic tensions in the society.

Above all, for the most part throughout the 1960s, the

radical Chinese-educated group pursued a decidedly confronta­

tional strategy. Their uncompromising attitudes were in part

due to the strong latent communist influence in Chinese

radical politics that continued to uphold the revolutionary

tradition. For example, when asked what they meant by

"socialism" the reply was

We want to destroy this Government and this system.

We want to demolish imperialism, colonialism and

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capitalism and set up a new society where the

the State would control the entire economic
life of the society (Vasil 1971: 142).

In this vein the radical Chinese-educated group portrayed the

Merdeka Constitution as a "feudalist-capitalist-imperialist"

invention that would perpetuate the three classes' interests

at the expense of the Malay peasants and the working-classes.

While they were willing to work with other groups which they

regarded as "progressive," it was also clear that their

ultimate aim was to overthrow the Government and established

a "worker" state, whatever that means. Theoretically, on the

issue of ethnic cultural and language rights, they adopted

the standard class position which, instead of acknowledging

ethnicity as an independent agency, held the view that

"racism" was part and parcel of the superstructure which

would "melt into air" once the communist society is realized.

Ironically, while they believed that the success of the class

struggle would automatically resolve the ethnic contradic­

tions, given the existing objective conditions, they frequent­

ly adopted the most strident communalist positions. And by

playing up the ethnic fears and sentiments in order to gain

political support among the Chinese masses, they inevitably

accentuated the ethnic differences and competitions.25 In

25 To the working-class Chinese the demands for Kuo Yu

as an official language was not solely a question of ethnic
pride but of accessibility to jobs in the public service as

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short, the radical Chinese-educated group became a prisoner of

their strident communalism in that their communal demands

overshadowed the class aspects of their political agenda. In

other words, the radical Chinese-educated group became vulne­

rable to the allegation that they were "communal


Malay Opposition to the Alliance Government

There were two main Malay oppositions to the Alliance

Party negotiated Merdeka Constitution and to their elitist

power-sharing formula. On the one side, was the conservative

religious Malay-educated group,27 and, on the other side, was

the radical secular Malay-educated group.28 Given the

predominance of religious teachers and u l a m a s membership, the

former tended to protect and advance Malay interests couched

in Islamic and communal constructs; indeed, they were much

more willing to make direct communal appeals in order to gain

support from the Malay masses. The radical group, influenced

26 The Chinese radicals manipulation of the ethnic

issues is reminiscence of Lenin's prescient warning to the
Russian communists who tried to use nationalism as a
revolutionary means — "Do not paint nationalism red."

27 The most important leaders of the conservative group

were Dr. Burhanuddin el-Helmy, Ustaz Zulkiflee Mohammad, Ustaz
Othman Abdullah and Mohammad Asri.

28 Many of its top leaders naturally came from the

preindependence Malay left. The better known ones were
Muhammad Ishak, Ahmad Boestaman, and Abdul Wahab bin Majid.

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by socialist ideas of "sorts," however, tended to use more or

less the terminology of class conflicts. Yet, nevertheless,

both groups were ardent Malay nationalists in that they both

assumed that because of their "special position" the Malays

must have privileged access to the economic, political, and

cultural positions in the country.

While the most extreme elements advocated completely

denying the Chinese citizenship, most of the leaders of the

conservative group supported granting the Chinese a limited

citizenship status, as well as making it harder for them to

acquire citizenship (Ratnam 1967). Some their more important

views can be found in the conservative-dominated PMIP29 party

manifesto; for example,

(1) Restore Malay sovereign rights and give

priority to Malays in the areas of govern-

29 The PMIP became the political vehicle of three Malay

groups opposed to UMNO and to the Chinese. The first group
came from the religious wing of UMNO and UMNO members who felt
that UMNO had given in too much to the MCA. The second group
were leaders of the defunct Hizbul Muslimin such as Khadir
Khatib, Othman Hamzah and Baharuddin. Hizbul Muslimin was
established in 1948 as a reformist Islamic party with three
basic goals, namely, to achieve independence, build an
Islamic-based society and making Malaya into an Islamic state
(Darul Islam). In fact, Hizbul Muslimin itself was derived
from MATA, Majlis Agama Tertinggi Sa-Malaya (Pan-Malayan
Supreme Islamic Council), established in 1947. The third group
were the religious-minded leaders of the defunct MNP such as
Abdullah Zawawi Hamzah and Taha Kalu. By independence the PMIP
had evolved into a clearly anti-UMNO party that presented
itself as championing Malay rights, especially Malay peasants,
and Islam. A combination of factors made PMIP the strongest
political force in Kelantan and Trengganu where it won the
majority of the state and parliament seats in the 1959 general
election (Kessler 1978).

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ment and administration.

(2) Take steps to amend the Constitution to ensure
the implmentation of the laws of Allah and re­
store Malay sovereignty in this state
(3) Establish a Melayu nationality and allow Melayu
citizenship to non-Malays in accordance with
clearly defined provisions that do not conflict
with the interests of the Malay race.
(4) Practise healthy democracy and justice in con­
trolling political affairs, and protect the
rights of all citizens to freedom of religion,
politics, thought and speech so long as these
do not oppose the constitution or laws of this
(5) Ensure that the positions of Prime Minister,
Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Governors and
Head of the Armed Forces must be held by a Malay.

The manifesto, more or less, reflected this group twin

political aims: (1) Malay rule is sacrosanct, and (2)

Establishment of an Islamic state. Given their clearly narrow

Melayu nationalism, the conservative group criticized the

Merdeka Constitution for not sufficiently guaranteeing the

permanence of Malay rule. For them Malaya belonged to the

Malay people (Bangsa Melayu) and as such the constitutional

Special Position of Malays would not just be special measures

to uplift their socioeconomic conditions but, instead, it is

their birth right. Hence, for them, Malay political dominance

would be a permament fact of political life in the country.

Given their unabashed communalist conception of culture,

it was only logical that they rejected the idea of a national

culture composed of elements of the different ethnic cultures.

Rather, for them, the Melayu culture is the national culture

and thus for non-Malays to be authentic Melayu citizens they

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would have to m a s u k M e l a y u (to become Malay), that is, the

non-Malays would have to assimilate. Thus, given their inten­

tions of maintaining a ' M e l a y u Malaysia', one wonders how they

were going to safeguard the cultural rights of the non-Malays

if practicing those rights would necessarily contradict their

version of national culture. In this way, it made their call

for a "healthy democracy" and the protection of the civil

liberties of the non-Malay citizens sound rather hollow, if

not hypocritical. Finally, their advocating the implementation

of Islamic laws as the laws of the land would mean that the

ideas and practices of citizenship would be at the mercy of an

"Islamic" state.30

With regards to the problem of economic development and

inequality, their programs remained at best rather inchoate.

In other words, their economic ideas consisted of a haphazard

melange of Islamic, nationalist, and populist ifluences

(Funston 1980; Firdaus 1985). Since their primary political

base was the Malay poor, particularly the Malay peasants, they

were very critical of the Alliance Government pro-capitalist

policies; they insisted that the state should implement more

programs to further assist the Malay poor. It follows that

30 Two points need to be clarified. One, the concept of

an Islamic state remained vague at that point'in time but,
nevertheless, they rejected the Pakistani version of an
Islamic state. Two, throughout the 1960s Islam continued to
play second fiddle to Malay nationalism — even for this group
as well.

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they supported the idea of a state with extensive powers to

intervene in the development and functioning of the economy.

And based on Islamic economic principles, they proposed

building an economic system that would be somewhere between

the free market driven capitalism and full state-control

socialism, whatever that means. Finally, one of their central

communal demands was that they emphasized the need to increase

Malay participation in the modern economic sector; given their

population size, they claimed that "Malays should make up 51

percent of the workforce in all the country's industries"

(Funston 1980: 154).

In many ways, the radical Malay-educated group was the

counterpart of the radical Chinese-educated group. For exam­

ple, in terms of economic strategy they also sought a much

larger role for the State, as well as supported the idea of

nationalizing the means of production and distribution on a

large scale. But, unlike the radical Chinese group that

emphasized helping "the workers," the Malay left main concern

was the Malay peasants. The economic program of the Malay left

was more or less clearly outlined by the Parti Rakyat31

(People's Party) party constitution;

31 The origins of the PR of course came from the radical

Malay nationalist group, led by Ahmad Boestaman, the veteran
of many radical Malay movements.Boestaman was jailed for seven
years, from June 1948 to June 1955. After his release, he
more or less singlehandedly brought together the dispersed
radical Malay elements to form the kernel of PR.

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(1) To promote among the people business and

agriculture run on the basis of coopera­
tives and mutual help.
(2) To demand that all sectors of production,
which are important and which affect the
livelihood of the masses, especially rubber
and minerals, be owned by the State.
(3) To demand that the distribution of goods
which are important for the people, is ma­
naged and controlled by the State.
(4) To demand that the wealth of the country
is used only for the happiness of the people.
(A n g g a r a n D a s a r P a r t y R akyat)

Without any doubt then, the Malay left was against the

Alliance Government's l a i s s e z f a i r e policy and instead wanted

the State to play an interventionist role in helping the less


Perhaps, most importantly, the Malay radicals' positions

on the political and cultural relationships between Malays and

Chinese were decidedly colored by ethnic sentiments (Vasil

1970: chpt 4). Not surprisingly, the Malay left, which was

influenced strongly by Indonesian nationalism, also espoused

the same pan-Malay nationalism that the K M M did in the 1930s.

That is, they also envisioned the creation of a T a n a h M e l a y u

(Malay Homeland) comprising of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak,

Sabah, and Brunei with strong links to Indonesia. And in this

Tanah M e l a y u the Malays would be the politically dominant

community. It follows that in terms of culture, the radical

Malays too saw Malay culture as the foundation of a national

culture. In all probability, their solution to the Chinese

problem would be no different from the Indonesian solution,

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and in this sense in some respects similar to the conservative

group's approach. That is to say, their solution would entail

a large degree of assimilation on the part of the Chinese.32

Hence, on the Chinese education and language issues, the Malay

left positions by all accounts were not that different from

that of the conservative group. Both supported the immediate

implementation of Malay as the sole official language, and the

conversion of all primary and secondary schools to Malay

medium. However, as a secular group, the Malay left rejected

the idea of creating an Islamic state, and proposed the esta­

blishment of a Malay-dominated "national socialist" state.

Clearly then, on the non-economic issues the Malay

radicals had much in common with the religious group; both

believed that the Malay is the definitive community and thus

have privileged access to the political and cultural posi­

tions. Even more importantly, it ass precisely their different

understandings and views on the political and culture issues

that soured the relationships between the Malay and Chinese

left; hence, making it extremely difficult for the left to

work together.

32 Especially after the 1965 military "counter-coup"

led by General Suharto, the Indonesian Chinese cultural rights
were greatly curtailed; for instance, public display of
Chinese symbols was severely restricted, and all Chinese
language publications were banned, except the State-controlled
Chinese newspaper.

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The D i l e m m a s a n d D e m i s e o f N o n - C o m m u n a l P o l i t i c s

Paradoxically, in the wake of political independence the

elites were faced with rising communal contradictions, instead

of increasing communal cooperation, in the society. With the

departure of the British, the Malay fears and suspicions of

the Chinese became more real and immediate. The Malays'

vulnerability was further magnified by the increasing Chinese

political presence and participation in the postcolonial

society. Subsequently, this resulted in mounting pressures

from Malays, particularly from the extreme communalist PMIP as

well as various segments of the UMNO second-echelon leaders

and grassroots, to consolidate Malay political paramountcy. As

the Talib Report (1960) suggested, Malay popular opinion was

also clamoring for the immediate implementation of Malay as

the sole official language and medium of instruction. This was

more or less reciprocated by the Chinese-educated segment of

the Chinese community in assuming a more defensive posture to

protect their language and education. In general then, the

spiralling politics of communalism gradually displaced the

emerging politics of citizenship, such that it led, among

other things, to the decline and/or demise of non-communal


The main "non-communal" opposition parties during the

1950s and 1960s were represented by the People's Progressive

Party (PPP), the Labor Party of Malaya (LPM), the Democratic

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Action Party (DAP)33, and Gerakan.34 Initially, the PPP, DAP,

and Gerakan were led by a varying coalitions of the moderate

English-educated middle-class Malaysians, and the LPM by the

progressive English-educated trade unionists and professionals

(Vasil 1970). Because of the mostly moderate or progressive

English-educated leaderships, the parties initially were more

or less non-communal parties in that they adopted citizenship-

based political platforms and tried to appeal and to reach out

to all the ethnic communities.

Nonetheless, the parties citizenship-based politics faced

three major obstacles; (1) an electorate that was traditional

and communal-minded, particularly the Malay component, (2) the

Alliance Party's, and thus the Government's, brand of communal

politics that insisted on the preservation of "a racial

balance and communal peace through a sort of separation of

powers," rather than to achieve a sociopolitical integration

of the different racial groups based on the principle of

33 The DAP was the offshoot of the People's Action

Party (PAP) after Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in
1965. The DAP was initially led by the famous trade unionist
C.V. Devan Nair. later to be the President of Singapore.
Following the PAP, the DAP also championed the concept of
Malaysian Malaysia. See the party's 1967 Setapak Declaration.

34 Its full name is Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia or Malay­

sian Peoples' Movement and was founded in 1968 by a group of
English educated reformers. The main sponsors were Professor
Syed Hussein Alatas, Professor Wang Gungwu, Dr. J.B.A.
Petersen, Dr. Lim Chong Eu, Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, and V.
Veerapan. For an overview of the Party's ideas see its 1968
Policy Statement.

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citizenship equality, (Vasil 1970: 290), and (3) the rising

Malay and Chinese communal nationalism. Faced with these three

entrenched political realities, the non-communal parties even­

tually ended up employing the rhetoric of communalism, rather

than citizenship or class, in order to appeal to the public.

For example, initially, the PPP was founded as a moderate

multiethnic party by two Sri Lankan Tamil brothers, the Ipoh

lawyers D.R. and S.P. Seenivasagam (Vasil 1970: chpt. 6). The

the PPP's political ideas were more or less identical with

the moderate English-educated group.35 However, failures in

successive elections led the PPP to reinvent its non-communal

strategy. As a Perak-based party, the PPP leaders quickly

realized that they would have to gain the support of the Chi­

nese community in order to remain a viable party, especially

when the party by then had already given up on winning Malay

support. The first unexpected opportunity for the PPP to gain

the Chinese support came with the annoucement of the Razak

Report (1956) on education.

Many leaders of the powerful Perak Chinese Associations

and Guilds became disenchanted with, and felt betrayed by,

the MCA which supported the Razak Report. In protest, they

channelled their support to the PPP, which thus led to a

35 For example its 195 5 M a n i f e s t o , among other things,

states: (a) equality before the law, (b) prohibition of racial
discrimination, (c) equality of opportunity, (d) freedom of
speech, conscience, and religion, and (e) protection of

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substantial increase in the PPP's membership. With this new

support base, in December 1958, the PPP successfully defeated

the Alliance and captured the Ipoh Town Council which it con­

trolled until 1966.36 By the time of the first general

election in 1959, the PPP was a already a considerable

political force in Perak where it captured a fifth of the

popular votes.37 But because the PPP, in order to become a

viable political party had to depend on the conservative

Chinese-educated group support, it was forced to adopt

positions that were espoused by that group, such as language

and political equality. In other words, though the leadership

continued to be controlled by the English-educated, the PPP as

a party became imprisoned by the demands of the particular

ethnic demands of the conservative Chinese-educated group.

Consequently, the party failed to build up a multiethnic

electoral base as the Malay community became alienated by the

party's increasingly "pro-Chinese" policies. Indeed, by the

1969 election, the PPP had also adopted the Malaysian Malaysia

36 In keeping with its cultural pluralism policy the PPP

introduced multilingualism in the Ipoh council meetings. More
generally, nearly all city councils came under the control of
opposition political parties as the non-Malays were the
majority in the urban areas. Partly to exert their political
control over the city councils and partly to rationalize the
state system, the Government gradually displaced the elected
bodies with appointed ones in the 1960s and early 1970s
(Norris 1980).

37 Translated into state and parliamentary seats it had

8 out of 40 and 4 out of 20 respectively. In terms of total
votes it had more than the MCA.

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Perhaps, a more interesting example was how the politics

of communalism affected the LPM and the Malay socialist P a r t y

Rakyat (PR) efforts to build a non-communal coalition, the

Socialist Front (SF) (est. July 1957). Until 1956 the LPM

leadership was dominated by English-educated trade-unionists

and professionals38, with its mass support concentrated mainly

in Penang, Selangor and Perak. The bulk of its supporters,

then, were Indians and English-educated Chinese white collar

workers in the urban areas. From 1956 onwards when the LPM

political orientations became more progressive,39 the party

saw a huge influx of new members/ mostly young Chinese-

educated workers. Initially, despite this huge influx of

Chinese-educated members, the party remained under the control

of the English-educated leaders.

It was the Penang-based "Fabian" group that approached

the PR with the idea of forming a coalition in order to pro­

vide a non-communal alternative to the Alliance. Also, the LPM

and PR leaders hoped that by pooling together their respective

38 A few of the important leaders of the party were

Osman Siru, Yeoh Cheng Rung, C.Y. Choy, Mohammad Sopiee, Lee
Moke Sang, D.S. Ramanathan, V.Veerapan, Lee Kok Liang, and Tan
Phock Kin. As a whole the leaders were influenced by the
British Labor Party. See the Party's 1952 statement Towards a
N e w Malaya.

39 This swing was initiated by the emergence of a group

of English-educated professionals who were Fabian socialists;
Lee Kok Liang, Tan Phock Kin, Lim Kean Siew, D.S. Ramanathan,
and V. Veerapan, all from Penang.

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areas of support, it would strengthen the constituent parties.

Hence, the SF was formed on July 1957.

In its first Policy Statement, the SF proclaimed its twin

aims of creating a "democratic socialist state" and a "planned

socialist economy." And as a means to enhance the integration

of the different ethnic groups, the SF Policy Statement recom­

mended the gradual implementation of Malay as the national

language. With regards to the LPM demand for multilingualism,

the SF decided to accept the Reid Commission's proposal that

English, Kuo Yu, and Tamil be maintained as temporary official

languages. In the long run, however, the SF adopted the PR

position that Malay be the sole official language. Finally,

the SF promised to support Malay national schools along with

Chinese and Tamil independent schools. Generally then, the SF

tried to play down the ethnic issues and accused the Alliance

of stirring up the communal issues as a means to prevent the

masses from realizing the real conflict of class interests.

Nevertheless, the SF position on language and education

soon came under attack from the LPM, especially after two

events led to a massive infusion of Chinese-educated members

into the LPM in 1958 and 1959. First, was the Registrar of

Trade Unions deregistration on 30 April 1958 of the Chinese-

controlled trade unions, such as National Union of Factory and

General Workers, forced many of their working class Chinese

members to join the LPM. Importantly, the deregistration of

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the trade unions coincided with the MCP decision to pursue a

policy of "bringing about the downfall of the Alliance in the

general elections." The MCP thus directed its operatives and

encouraged pro-MCP workers to join the LPM. Secondly, as

mentioned earlier, many MCA members left the party in 1959,

and perceiving the LPM as a better alternative, ci significant

of those who left the MCA joined the LPM.

It was these successive infusions of Chinese-educated

Chinese into the LMP that tipped the balance against the

English-educated control of the party. Thus by 1960, if the

massive infusions of Chinese-educated members into the LPM

dramatically strengthened the party,40 it also transformed the

party's membership and political character. Hence by 1961, the

leadership was taken over by either by leaders of the Chinese-

educated or by English-educated leaders who were supported by

them. Subsequently, the LPM's progressive citizenship and

class politics became usurped by the Chinese-educated group's

communalistic. politics.

Predictably, with the radical Chinese-educated Chinese

increasing control over the party, the LPM positions on

language and education issues came into direct conflict with

the PR's. In this way, the Talib Report precipated a serious

40 The membership in Johore, Selangor, Penang and Perak

increased significantly. For example, the branches in Johore
went from 15 in 1958 to 34 in 1959 to 57 in 1960, in Selangor
it went from 18 to 27 to 54, in Penang it went from 18 to 14
to 32, and in Perak it went from 9 to 3 to 21.

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rift between the LPM and PR. Precisely, while the PR was

fundamentally in agreement with the Talib Report's positions

on the language and education issues, the LPM, especially the

Chinese-educated group, was strongly opposed to it. More

broadly, other communal issues, such as Malay special rights,

also began to generate internal differences, divisions and

inconsistencies in the SF coalition. In short, the influx of

Chinese-educated Chinese into the LPM resulted in irreparably

accentuating the tensions between the PR and LPM.

Finally, the PR attempt to employ a non-communal strategy

failed miserably as it could not win significant support from

the Malays who continued to vote for the explicitly communal

UMNO and PMIP. Moreover, the PR association with the LPM

probably caused the PR considerable damage as the Malay public

by and large regarded the LPM as a Chinese party. Also, the

UMNO and PMIP successfully labelled the LMP as a "chauvinist"

Chinese and "anti-Malay" party, and the PR leaders as Chinese

"stooges." The LPM, in contrast, managed to win considerable

support from the Chinese as it was perceived as championing

their rights. In the end, then, given their fundamentally

opposing positions on the political and cultural rights of the

different ethnic groups and a fundamentally conservative and

communal-minded electoral public, the PR and LPM attempt to

form an alternative to the Alliance collapsed in 1965.

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The Increasing Communalization of Malaysian Politics

Generally speaking, in the first two federal elections

(1959, 1964) the opposition parties were fragmented and poorly

organized; thus they could not seriously challenge the

Alliance's political supremacy (Means 1976). In addition, in

the early sixties, just as the opposition parties were recove­

ring from the repressive Emergency rule period and gaining

political momentum, the ruling elites41 completely altered the

political landscape when they merged Malaya with Singapore,

Sarawak, and Sabah to form the Federation of Malaysia in Au­

gust 1963. Initially, the merger was a bonus for the Alliance

for a number of reasons; it effectively split the opposition

as the different parties assumed different positions on the

merger, it provided the Tunku Government with the pretext to

detain a number of the opposition parties leaders under the

guise of national security42, and the Indonesian reaction to

the merger raised the patriotic sentiments in the fragmented

society. Yet, since the inclusion of Singapore also brought

41 However, it should be noted that within UMNO there

was a significant segment — led by Syed Albar, Syed Nasir,
Ghafar Baba — that was against the merger because they were
suspicious of Lee Kuan Yew, hence PAP, motives such as
challenging Malay dominance.

42 That is, the 1963 Operation Cold Store which

resulted in the detention of most of the radical opposition
leaders both in Malaya and Singapore.

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along with it the huge Singaporean Chinese population43, it

naturally exacerbated the Malaysi anxieties, especially

concerning their political dominance. In short, the merger

further contributed to the communalization of politics in the


Regionally, the creation of Malaysia received hostile

reactions from not just Sukarno's Indonesia, the regional

power, but also from the Philippines.44 Locally, most Chinese

welcomed the formation of Malaysia for they saw Singapore's

huge Chinese population as helping to strengthen their numbers

— hence their bargaining power. In addition to that, the

Chinese generally were suspicious of Indonesia's territorial

ambitions, especially since they were aware of the treatment

of Chinese in Indonesia. Yet, however, the non-Malay opposi­

tion parties' positions on the merger ranged from wholehearted

acceptance to complete rejection. For instance, the LPM party

leadership's position on the merger was split between the

English- and Chinese-educated components; the former supported

the merger whereas the latter was strongly opposed to it. The

43 With the inclusion of Singapore, Malay comprised 39%

while the non-Malay increased to 61% of the total population.
In other words, the Chinese would become the largest group.

44 This is because Philippines claims Sabah as part of

its territory. The claim is based on the historical fact that
Sabah used to be part of the Sulu Sultanate's empire. Since
the Sulu island became part of Philippines, the Filipino state
argued that the British should return Sabah to the

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political reason behind the Chinese-educated's position was

not that they supported the Indonesian territorial ambitions

but, rather, because their counterparts in Singapore, the

B a r i s a n Socialis, which was fighting the PAP, was against the

merger45; the PAP was one of the prime mover of the merger.

The PPP and United Democratic Party (UDP)46 at first objected

but eventually came out in support of the merger. Because of

their disagreements over the merger issue, the non-Malay

opposition parties could not come up with a common strategy to

challenge the Alliance in the 1964 general elections. Hence,

in the 1964 elections, the non-Malay votes for the opposition

were split among the different opposition candidates competing

against one another (Vasil 1970).

Nonetheless, while Lee Kuan Yew's concept of a "Malaysian

Malaysia" received enthusiastic support from the non-Malays,

it also received hostile reactions from the Malays. In

particular, the UMNO accused him, and the PAP, of questioning

45 In taking an anti-merger position, the LPM became

vulnerable to the allegation, by the ruling elites, that it
was unpatriotic. Worst still, the merger created an unbridge­
able rift between the English- and Chinese-educated left.
Hence, not long after their 1964 elections debacle, the bulk
of the English-educated leaders such as Tan Phock Kin, V.
Veerapan and Ooi Thiam Siew resigned from the party (Vasil
1971: 154-155).

46 The United Democratic Party was established on April

1962 by a breakaway faction of the MCA. It was led by Dr. Lim
Chong Eu, the former president of MCA, and its strength came
mainly from Penang, his hometown.

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the special position and privileges of the Malays.47 In fact,

feeling threatened by the PAP's attempt to usurp Malays' poli­

tical dominance, militant Malays in Singapore, encouraged by

elements (Syed Albar, Syed Nasir) in the UMNO, staged a number

of mass rallies against the PAP. Tragically, the rallies

resulted in the 1964 racial riots48 (Soipee 1974; chpt 7).

Above all, after the 1964 election, recognizing the non-Malays

disunity, Lee Kuan Yew in June 1965 got together the PAP, PPP,

UDP and other moderate elements, to form a new organization,

the Malaysian Solidarity National Conference. This bold united

move by the non-Malays' to challenge the Alliance was aborted

when the Tunku Government decided, in the "interests of racial

harmony and stability," to expel Singapore from the Federation

later in that year.

On the other hand, the Konfrontasi (1963-1965) with

47 The two groups in UMNO most hostile to the PAP were

theMalay-educated group (Syed Albar, Ghafar Baba) and the
"Young Turks" (Dr. Mahathir, Musa Hitam) . Syed Albar, in fact,
demanded that the Tunku Government to arrest Lee Kuan Yew.

48 Days before the riots, Syed Albar exhorted a large

gathering of Malays with a rather fiery speech:
We have our last strength to rely upon. Wa are
weak in all fields. We are economically weak. We
are weak in the educational sphere. But we still
have one last weapon of strength which we could
use an insistence upon others to recognize our
existence and our presence, in this island of
Singapura. This weapon is none other than our
unity. ... With this unity we will save our
people, we will better our lot. ... If this unity
persists, by the will of God, I tell you, no
power .. on earth ... can trample on u s , no
power can look down upon us and belittle us.

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Indonesia affected negatively the Malay opposition parties.

This was because many of their leaders had historically shown,

and still harbored, pro-Indonesian sentiments. In particular,

during the Konfrontasi, the PR, with its Indonesian influenced

marhaenism49 ideology, was completely discredited. The PMIP

president, Dr. Burhanuddin, given his past track record, was

also vulnerable to the allegation that ha harbored pro-

Indonesian sentiments (Noordin Soipee 1974). Finally, using

the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Alliance Government

arrested many of the Malay opposition parties' key leaders.

In general then, though the Malay opposition parties

received a boost from the defection of a segment of UMNO led

by Ishak Aziz, defections from the opposition to UMNO, partly

as a result of serious disagreements over the Indonesian

threat, exceeded the former. Moreover, in vying for the rural

Malay support, the PMIP attempt to use Islamic and communal

symbols were successfully adopted by UMNO which began to pay

more attention to these symbols. Furthermore, the UMNO effec­

tively used the mass media to manipulate the identification of

'Government' with 'Governing Party' and effectively played on

the Malay traditional loyalty to authority. Finally, .the UMNO

also successfully influenced the non-governmental rural elites

49 A term coin by Sukarno after a Sundanese peasant

named Marhaen. As an ideology it was usually promoted as some
kind of Indonesian socialism which was supposed to be an
alternative to capitalism and communism.

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(teachers and ulamas), as well as using the state apparatus

and funds, to win the Malay popular support. In short, an

opportune combination of factors partly helped the UMNO to

defeat the Malay opposition parties in the 1964 general

elections in all the states, with the exception the PMIP

traditional stronghold, Kelantan (Means 1970; 338).50

In the aftermath of the merger and Konfrontasi episodes,

the communalization of politics continued to exacerbate. Under

the banner of Lee Kuan Yew's "Malaysian Malaysia" the DAP, the

heir to the expelled PAP, again proposed that the Malay "spe­

cial rights" be retracted. The DAP demands for a "Malaysian

Malaysia," however, coincided with the approaching 1967

deadline to end English as an official language and the

promotion of Malay as the sole official language. Naturally,

the DAP seized the opportunity to raise again the Chinese-

educated Chinese demands for Kuo Yu as an official language

and for the equal recognition of Chinese schools. The PPP

too followed the DAP and took up the idea of a "Malaysian

Malaysia" and the promotion of Chinese education and of Kuo Yu

to official status. Also, the DAP and PPP benefitted

substantially from the political breakup between the English-

and Chinese-educated elements of the MCA in the early sixties

and of LPM in 19 67. The English-educated faction of the LPM,

50 The Kelantan exception has been much studied. For an

excellent account see Kessler (1978).

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except for a few who decided to quit politics altogether,

joined up with Dr. Lira Chong Eu (representing UDP) , a group of

intellectuals and trade unionists to form the reformist

multiethnic Gerakan party in 1968.

When the 1967 National Language Bill was passed by

parliament, many more Chinese became disenchanted with the

MCA. It reinforced their view that the MCA was politically

impotent and incapable of protecting and looking after the

Chinese community's interests. In fact, when the Chinese

Associations and educationists proposed the establishment of

a Chinese-medium tertiary institution, the M e r d e k a University

in 1968, the MCA was against the idea. Consequently, the

Chinese support for the MCA eroded dramatically towards the

late sixties, and ultimately led to the disastrous MCA showing

in the 1969 general election.51 Of course, the surprising

results of the 1969 election was also due to the electoral

pact between the non-Malay opposition parties the DAP, PPP,

and Gerakan: that is, they divided the seats between them so

as to avoid splitting the non-Malay votes. Hence, all three

parties made spectacular gains in the 1969 election and showed

what would, and could happen, if the Chinesewere to unite.

On the Malay side, just before the Language Act deadline,

1 September 1967, a number of Malay leaders formed the Natio­

51 For a more detail discussion of the 1969 general

election see Chapter 6.

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nal Language Front (NLF) to mobilize the Malays to pressure

the Alliance Government to implement Malay as the sole offi­

cial language. Since the 1967 National Language Bill deferred

the implementation of Malay as the sole official language to

a later date, and planned to retain English as an official for

a much longer time, there were considerable objections from

the Malay community, especially from the Malay teachers and

intelligentsia. With the end of Confrontation, and thus the

end of the politics of patriotism, the return to the politics

of ethnic rights provided the PMIP with new opportunities to

regain its political losses. With its aggressive rhetoric on

Islam and Malay nationalism, the recurrent citizenship and

language controversies during the late sixties provided the

PMIP with excellent opportunities to gain more Malay support.

Disappointed with the UMNO's failure to implement Malay as the

sole official language in 1967 and to improve the Malay commu­

nity's economic conditions, some segments of the Malay public

charged the UMNO leaders with conceding too much, if not of

selling out, to the MCA, that is, the Chinese. A significant

number of Malay intellectuals, especially those involved in

the NLF (and D e w a n P u s t a k a dan B a h a s a ) , and a substantial

number of Malay students and teachers switched their support

to the PMIP. Hence, in the 1969 elections the PMIP managed to

attract a signifificant Malay protest votes against the UMNO.

In a sense then, the K o n f r o n t a s i period was a "pleasant"

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diversion for Malaysian society as it rekindled the people's

patriotic juices which thereby put a lid on the unresolved

tensions between citizenship and communalism in the society.

The aftermath of K o n f r o n t a s i returned the society to those

tensions, but now under a different convergence of political

conditions. On the Chinese side, the status of MCA continued

to decline and the non-Malay opposition parties continued to

gain support among the Chinese electorate. On the Malay side,

the popularity of UMNO too declined, because after more than

ten years of independence an increasing percentage of Malays

became frustrated with the Tunku Government's "half-hearted"

efforts, they alleged, to raise the Malays economic well-being

and to promote their group cultural symbols, specifically the

official status of the Malay language. Subsequently, the non-

Malay opposition electoral gains in the 1969 elections inten­

sified the Malay fears and anxieties of being overwhelmed by

the Chinese. Finally,in the ensuing postelection ethnic vio­

lence, a new group of UMNO leaders seized the opportunity to

redefine and to redraw the terms of inter-ethnic accommodation

in the society.


In summary, from 1957 to 1968, the opposing demands by

the Malay and Chinese communities resulted in widening the

gaps between the two communities. On the one hand, increasing

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numbers of Malays were growing frustrated with the Tunku's

Government failures to alleviate their economic and educatio­

nal opportunities, to promote Malay as the official language,

and to advance Malay culture. Moreover, Malay popular opinion,

and the PMIP, was critical of the Chinese growing demands for

political and cultural equality. On the other hand, increasing

Chinese popular opinion, and the non-Malay opposition parties,

strongly criticized the constitutional position of the Malay

community and demanded the reinstatement of equality of rights

for every citizen irrespective of ethnic background.

The declining support for the Alliance Party culminated

in the party's rather lackluster performance in the 1969

general election. In particular, through a shrewd electoral

pact, and appealing to the non-Malays desire for equal rights,

especially political and cultural rights, the DAP, PPP, and

Gerakan soundly defeated the MCA at the polls. In this way,

the British fostered voluntary consociation arrangement had

essentially failed. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the May 13,

1969 tragedy was a blessing in disguise for the UMNO because

it galvanized the Malay community behind the party and because

it provided UMNO with the opportunity to seize control of the

government. The next chapter examines the political crisis

generated by the Alliance's electoral setback and it was used

by UMNO to entrench the UMNO-Malay political dominance.

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AFTERMATH, 1969-1974

As discussed in the previous chapter, throughout the

1960s, internal and external opposition to the Alliance

English-educated leaders' citizenship compromises and

"communal power sharing" became more and more acute. In

particular, many Chinese began to use their newly acquired

citizenship rights to struggle for the complete equality of

status, such as political and language equality. This Chinese

challenge was potently captured by the "Malaysian Malaysia"

concept. The reinvigorated Chinese demands for complete

equality inevitably exacerbated Malay anxieties about their

"special position" in the country, especially their political

dominance. Increasingly, Malays — across class lines — began

to blame the UMNO "give-and-take" relationship with the MCA,

thus the Chinese, for the lack of state actions to improve

their economic and educational opportunities, and to rigorous­

ly promote Malay as the sole official language. Consequently,

the ethnic tensions surrounding the May 1969 general elections

and the ensuing ethnic violence shattered the English-educated

ethnic elites' citizenship compromises.

Since independence, no other single event has more impact

on the development of democratic citizenship in Malaysia than

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the May 1969 political crisis. Precisely, if the May 1969

state of crisis threatened the stability of the society, since

a crisis implicitly carried with it a "threat of change,"

whether desirable or not, it also could be a form of and means

to empowerment. This is because a crisis situation can be

manipulated by an opportunist group to enhance their political

power and control. This chapter examines the circumstances

surrounding and causes of the May 1969 political crisis, and

how the crisis became a means for the UMNO leaders to entrench

their power and the special position of Malays in general.

The M a y 196 9 P o l i t i c a l C r i s i s

In Malaysia, by the end of the 1960s, ethnic tensions

were already heightened by a number of political developments

between 1963-1968; the short period, 1963-1965, when Singapore

was part of Malaysia, the controversy during late 1966 and

early 1967 in connection with the National Language Bill, and,

above all, the growing strength of the opposition political

parties. In 1969, the ethnic relations were further aggravated

in a general election campaign which was marred and dominated

by "mutual allegations of communalism" (Drummond 1970; Snider

1970) In the closely fought 1969 election campaign, social

problems and issues, leaders and enemies, and threats and

reassuarances were constructed and reconstructed in the lan­

guage and rhetoric of ethnicity. Indeed, according to Drummond

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(1969: 325), "no party escaped these charges: no party failed

to employ this form of [communal] vilification against other

parties."1 In this context of deteriorating ethnic relations,

the surprising results of the 1969 general election became

unpredictable and politically unstable.

Broadly speaking, though the results of the 1969 general

election showed that the Alliance party has won a handsome

working majority,2 the party was traumatized by its failure to

win the two thirds majority which it legally needs to amend

the constitution in Parliament (Amendment Act, Constitution

Article 159). Moreover, the MCA was rudely shocked by the

"massive desertion" of Chinese voters to the non-Malay oppo­

sition parties, and the UMNO was surprised by the PMIP good

1 For example, the Alliance accused the DAP of being

"anti-Malay" and of being controlled by Singapore. The DAP, in
turn, accused the MCA of selling out the Chinese and the UMNO
of denying the Chinese their equal rights. On the other side,
the PMIP was accused by the Alliance of being "anti-Chinese"
and of being supported by the communists. On its part, the
PMIP accused the UMNO of selling out the Malays to the
Chinese. See T h e S t r a i t s T i m e s , and the U t u s a n M e l a y u from
February to May coverage of the election.

2 In terms of parliament seats, the spread was

Alliance 66, PMIP 12, DAP 13, GERAKAN 8, and PPP 4. In terms
of percentage of popular votes, however, the Alliance won
47.9% to a combined 52.1% for the opposition. In the past 1959
and 1964 elections the Alliance won 55.5% and 57.6% of the
popular votes. The discrepancy between the percentage of
popular votes and the number of seats won is largely due to
the malapportioned representation which favored the rural
Malay constituencies (Rachagan in Zakaria 1987).

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showing among the Malay voters.3 In fact, the PMIP outpolled

the UMNO in many of the Malay-dominated seats, and the UMNO

only managed to win a majority of them because of the non-

Malay votes (Ratnam 1970; Rudner 1970). This outcome is not

surprising as the PMIP's "extremist” rhetoric found growing

support among an increasingly frustrated Malay population, but

which the Chinese voters generally found even less acceptable

than the UMNO's.4 Subsequent events, however, were to not just

eclipse the fact that the UMNO suffered a discernible loss of

popularity and legitimacy among the Malays, but also provided

the party with the unexpected opportunity to rebuild its Malay

3 The MCA only managed to win 13 out of the 33 federal

seats allocated to them, while the UMNO won 51 of the 67 seats
it contested. The MCA lost all the 20 seats it contested to
the non-Malay opposition party and UMNO lost the 16 seats to
PMIP. The PMIP won its traditional stronghold Kelantan, and
lost Trengganu by a slim margin. Also, the PMIP made
considerable gains in Kedah and Perlis. According to Vasil's
(1972) analysis of the 1969 election results, he estimated
that PMIP won 23.8% and the Alliance 29% of the Malay votes.

4 Nevertheless, the UMNO tend to blame the Chinese for

the Alliance's lackluster showing in the elections. For
example, when Dr. Mahathir was asked about his defeat by the
PMIP candidate, he alleged that the Chinese had betrayed him.
This was a disingenuous allegation since the Chinese comprised
only 13.5% of Kota Setar Selatan, Kedah, his constituency, it
meant that Dr. Mahathir could equally attribute his defeat to
his failure to win the majority of the Malay votes who made up
80.9% of the electorate. Moreover, even Tan Siew Sin, the pre­
sident of the MCA, publicly declared that he felt "betrayed"
by not so much that the Chinese had not voted for his party,
but, rather, that "they had pledged their word that they
would." (The Straits Times, May 12 1969) Subsequent events
were to further propagate the idea of Chinese "betrayal" as
the root cause of the Alliance, particularly the UMNO,
electoral setback gained considerable popular currency.

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political base.

Political Impasse in S t a t e G o v e r n m e n t s

In the 1969 election, in Kelantan the PMIP won the right

to form the State Government, and, for the first time, in

Penang a non-Malay opposition party, the Gerakan, defeated the

Alliance to form the next Government. For a number of reasons,

especially a demographic one5, the opposition victories in

Kelantan and Penang did not worsen the ethnic relations in

those states. Specifically, for UMNO, the loss of Penang to

the Chinese-dominated Gerakan party was regretable but more or

less tolerable since, given its unique historical and

demographical developments, Penang was not regarded as a

Malay state.6

The situation in Perak and Selangor, however, was an

entirely different matter. Because of the non-Malay opposition

parties electoral gains in Perak and Selangor, there arose the

possibility of the Chinese political control of both State

Governments; the results in the Perak and Selangor state elec­

tions were Alliance 19 (UMNO 18, MCA 1) and 14 seats (UMNO 12,

5 The population of Kelantan and Penang in 1970 was

93% and 31% Malay respectively.

6 In other words, Penang was, historically, a Crown

Colony ruled directly by the British, and, demographically, a
Chinese state. Thus, when it was under the Alliance, Penang
was regarded as a MCA sphere of influence. Hence, the Chief
Minister of Penang from 1957 to 1969 was Wong Poh Nee, the
Penang MCA leader, and the head of state, the Governor, was
also a Chinese.

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MCA 1, MIC 1) to the opposition 21 (PPP 12, DAP 6, Gerakan 2,

PMIP 1) and 14 seats (DAP 9, Gerakan 4, Independent 1) respec­

tively. Clearly, in these two states, where the non-Malays

comprised the majority voters, the non-Malay votes switch to

the Gerakan, DAP, and PPP was politically disastrous for the

Alliance, the MCA in particular. Subsequently, when the DAP in

Selangor and the PPP in Perak announced their intention to

form the State Goverments, in coalition with other opposition

parties, the uncertain future of "Malay rule" in the two State

Governments generated much anxieties and fears among the Malay

population in general, and the UMNO in particular.

The anxieties were compounded by the fact that the Malays

traditionally regarded Perak and Selangor as Malay states,

and, hence, their sovereignty in the states was taken-for-

granted, if not sacrosanct. In addition, not only political

convention but also the State Constitutions of Perak and

Selangor stipulate that the M e n t e r i B e a s r (Chief Minister)

must be "of Malay race and profess the Muslim religion." The

1969 electoral results for the first time put the Malay

traditional monopoly of political power in the two states to

test: would the Malays, specifically the UMNO, accept the

possibility of the Chinese taking over, or even just playing

a larger political role in, the State Governments. Subsequent

events were to show that the UMNO was opposed to the idea of

surrendering the states to the Chinese-led opposition parties.

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Realistically speaking, given the existing political and

constitutional realities, the PPP in Perak and the DAP in

Selangor actually had only a limited chance of taking over the

respective State Government. Despite the odds, Goh Hock Guan,

the assertive DAP leader of Selangor, pressed hard towards

forming an opposition-led State Government. In fact, Goh Hock

Guan went as far as to publicly announce his intention to

challenge the legality of the State Constitution provision for

a Malay Menteri Besar (The Straits Times, May 12 1969) , and to

form a coalition State Government with the Gerakan. None­

theless, the main reason why the PPP and DAP had only a slim

chance of forming the State Governments was that the Gerakan

party, which held the lynchpin in both states, was rather wary

of further accentuating the highly charged ethnic tensions

(Tan 1980). Given the Gerakan party's multiethnic image and

philosophy, it was reluctant to work with the DAP which was

construed, even if mistakenly, by the Malays as being "anti-

Malay." Hence, after an initial hesitation, the Gerakan

rejected the DAP invitation to form a coalition government in

Selangor. Tragically, the party arrived at its decision just

as Kuala Lumpur, the capital city, was erupting into violence

on the evening of Tuesday May 13, 1969.

The Kuala Lumpur Riots

In one sense, the May 13 ethnic rioting was a local event

in that it was a direct result of the political impasse in the

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Selangor State Legislative Government. Until the Gerakan party

finally made its decision not to join the DAP in forming an

opposition-led coalition State Government, the Alliance,

specifically the UMNO, was not certain as to whether it was

going to remain in power or not.7 However, to calm his suppor­

ters, Datuk Harun Hashim, the charismatic Selangor UMNO leader

and then Menteri Besar of the state, proclaimed that he would

form the State Government. Also, in his zeal to preserve his

political position, Datuk Harun exhorted the Malays to defend

their "special position" and special rights. In short then, in

Selangor, the political impasse generated much anxieties and

fears among the Malay populace, especially among the UMNO


Meanwhile in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, immediately

after the election results were announced, boisterous "victory

rallies" were being held by jubilant and excited supporters of

the Gerakan and DAP on May 11 and 12.8 The supporters,

7 The UMNO's anxieties were made worse by the MCA

leaders' surprising decision to refrain from participating in
the Government based on the argument that since the Chinese
rejected them they could no longer represent the community in
the Government (Straits Times, May 13 1969).

8 Essentially, there were two types of group

celebrations: namely, the organized and the spontaneous. While
the DAP and Gerakan leaders had some measure of control over
the former, the spontaneous groups, which were comprised of
mainly small "roving groups," were ill-disciplined, if not
provocative. Nevertheless, both groups openly insulted and
denigrated the Malays with racial slurs and epithets; indeed,
one "roving group" even invaded the grounds of the official
residence of the caretaker Menteri Besar Datuk Harun and

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emboldened by their unexpected electoral gains, celebrated as

if they have won the election. More importantly, a number of

opposition leaders7 behaviors did not help to ease the Malays7

anxieties. For instance, Lim Kit Siang, the Malacca-born

secretary-general of DAP, declared that "the overwhelming

victory of the DAP parliamentary and state candidates .. . [was

a] victory for the concept and ideals of a Malaysian Malaysia

(The Straits Times, May 12 1969).

The Chinese unrestrained audacity over the election

results and their over-exuberant public display of their

"victory" prompted an angry group of UMNO supporters to gather

at Datuk Harun7s official residence and to demand that the

UMNO organized their own counter-demonstrations (Reid 196; von

Vorys 1975: 308-338).9 Some UMNO supporters, greatly agitated

by the Chinese "victory rallies," wanted to hold a procession

for the purpose of "showing to the Opposition Parties that the

UMNO, too, had a good reason to celebrate, as they were not

defeated in the State elections" (NOC 1969; 37). Subsequently,

fueled by the lethal combination of rumours and paranoia, and

threatened to throw him out (Shaw 1976: 206-207) .

9 Interestingly, the majority of these supporters came

from the Datuk Keramat UMNO branch which also was the most
outspoken against the UMNO leadership7s position over the lan­
guage bill in 1967 (Roff, Margaret 1967). More importantly,
the group that was to organize the counter-demonstration was
a "specially trained division of the UMNO youth movement, the
Pemuda-Pemuda Tahan Lasak (Corps of Rugged Youth) ," a militant
faction that had repeatedly been accused of using strong-arm
tactics during the election (Shaw 1976: 206).

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inadequate police control, the racial tauntings and rebuttals

broke loose the mounting bottled-up ethnic fears and resent­

ments and interethnic rioting broke out.

The casualties and physical damage perpetrated in the

ethnic riotings remained a highly controversial and sensitive

subject in Malaysia. According to official figures, from May

13 to July 31 1969, there were: killed, 196; wounded, 439;

cases of arson to buildings, 753, and vehicles destroyed or

damaged, 211 (NOC 1969; Abdul Rahman 1969). Among the killed

25 were Malays, 13 Indians, 143 Chinese, and 15 others, and

among the wounded 127 were Malays, 26 Indians, 270 Chinese,

and 16 others.10 It is clear from the casualty and wounded

figures, and the number of Chinese made homeless, that the

Chinese community bore the brunt of the ethnic violence. In

addition to this, most of the buildings or vehicles destroyed

or damaged were overwhelmingly Chinese owned.

Among other things, the May 13 riots demonstrated how

small groups of emotionally charged individuals could easily

trigger, under a certain set of circumstances, a spiral of

ethnic violent reprisals. Fortunately, in Malaysia, the riots

10 In contrast, many foreign journalists and opposition

leaders put the number killed much higher. For example,
Slimming (1969: 52) estimated the number around 800, and Tan
Chee Khoon, the Selangor Gerakan leader, around 2,000. In
addition, the General Hospital of Kuala Lumpur's records
showed that of the number of dead brought to the hospital
during the riots, 18 were Malays (all men), 106 Chinese
(including 22 women and 4 children), and 5 Indians (1 woman)
(Vory 1975: 363).

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were confined essentially to the vicinity around Kuala Lumpur,

with only a few isolated incidents in Perak, Penang, and

Malacca (Reid 1969; Slimming 1970). Most impartial observers

by and large concluded that the main instigators of the May 13

ethnic riotings came from' the "extremist" segments of the

UMNO, DAP, and Gerakan parties (Reid 1969; von Vorys 1975;

Comber 1983).

However, this observation was not shared by the UMNO and

the Malay political elites, and, most probably, by the Malay

popular opinion as well (Abdul Rahman 1969; NOC 1969). The

UMNO leaders in particular, instead of viewing it as a tragic

but limited riot, interpreted it as if it were a national

political crisis of confidence and authority. The fact that

the UMNO leaders chose to interprete the rioting as such

obviously cannot be separated from the "crisis of legitimacy"

facing the party in the aftermath of the election. In a

nutshell, the UMNO leaders overreaction to the rioting must be

seen in the context of the party's less than convincing

performance in the 1969 election and its aims to preserve the

party's control over the government.

The Official Response to and Version of the May 1969 crisis

Nationally, two days after the rioting, a State of

Emergency (Constitution Article 150) was proclaimed by the

King to "secure public safety and the maintenance of good

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order." The constitution and parliament were suspended, and

freedoms of speech and press severely constrainted (The

Straits Times, May 16 1969). On May 17, under the Emergency

Powers Act, the King established the National Operations

Council (NOC) to cope with the Emergency and to return the

country to normalcy. Basically, its functions were to:

(a) restore law and order;

(b) ensure the smooth administration of the
country; and
(c) restore harmony and mutual trust among
the various races (NOC 1969: 77).

In a spirit of reconciliation, the non-Malay opposition

leaders, specifically Tan Chee Khoon, suggested the inclusion

of opposition members in the NOC to work out the political

crisis. This suggestion, however, was completely rejected by

the UMNO leaders who alleged that the non-Malay opposition

parties were largely responsible for all the troubles in the

first place. Consequently, the NOC membership was dominated by

the UMNO, with Tun Razak acting as director and Tunku Abdul

Rahman acting in an advisory capacity.11 And since under the

emergency regulations the power of the Director is derived di­

rectly from the King, it meant that authority was concentrated

The other members of the NOC were Tun Tan Siew Sin
(MCA), Tun Sambanthan (MIC), Tun (Dr.) Ismail (UMNO), Hamzah
bin Dato Abu Samah (UMNO), Tan Sri Ghazali bin Mohammed Shafie
(civil servant and later UMNO), General Tengku Osman bin
Tengku Mohamed Jewa (Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff), Tan Sri
Mohamed Salleh bin Ismael (Inspector General of Police), Tan
Sri Abdul Kadir bin Shamsuddin (Director of Public Services),
and Lieutenant-General Dato Ibrahim bin Ismail (Sunday Times
May 18 1969).

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in the NOC director's hands. In other words, Tun Abdul Razak,

the Director of the NOC, became the de facto ruler, and for

all intents and purposes the effective governing body of the

day was the NOC. The first item on the NOC's agenda was, of

course, the issue of maintaining and restoring law and order

in the society.

Within hours of the riotings, Tun Abdul Razak, the Deputy

Prime Minister, who also was the Minister of Defense and

Minister of Home Affairs (he later relinquished this post to

Tun Dr. Hussein), ordered immediate a 24-hour curfew for Kuala

Lumpur and the state of Selangor, and authorized troops to be

deployed. In addition, to prevent the rioting from spreading

to other parts of the country, the curfew and troops deploy­

ment were extended to other potentially explosive areas in

Penang, Perak, Malacca, and Negeri Sembilan. In part because

of the Government's swift and effective response, the ethnic

rioting was effectively confined to the Kuala Lumpur area.

The NOC Government handling of the ethnic rioting, never­

theless, was initially marred by the predominantly Malay armed

forces12 tendency to assume that "Malay violence was defensive

12 Partly because of the disproportionate ethnic

representation in the Armed Forces, the DAP subsequently has
proposed a number of times, since 1969, to the Government to
implement compulsory military service or otherwise to try to
recruit more non-Malays. However, the Government has
consistently rejected both measures. In fact, over the years,
the Armed Forces have become even more skewered in its ethnic
composition. For example, in 1981 some 75 percent of all
officers and 85 percent of other ranks were Malay; 16 percent

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and only Chinese gangs were the enemies of" law and order

(Reid 1969: 270). This was because the army, unlike the

police, was not trained to deal with civil disturbance, and

the bulk of its experience had been fighting the Chinese

communists. Hence, according to Reid,

[soldiers] were excessively terrorizing the

Chinese into staying indoors, but they [did
not] ... do the same to the Malays during the
first days of violence. In a few cases soldiers
even tolerated or joined the looting and bur­
ning of shops. [Hence] Chinese residents of
affected areas found that the presence of the
military was not always a guarantee that they
would not be victimized (1970: 270).13

Thus, during the first night violence, Malay and Chinese

casualties were about even in part because the Chinese secret

societies did an effective job defending their community. But,

after the army interventions, the casualties were almost all

on the Chinese side. However, to the NOC's credit, it respon­

ded quickly to public, and international, criticisms, and

wisely replaced the army with the more multiethnic police

force to patrol the non-Malay areas. Indeed, to further

express their determination to be "fair," the NOC replaced the

units of Malay Regiments stationed in the Malay neighborhoods

of officers and 6 percent of other ranks were Chinese.

Moreover, most of the Chinese were found in technical
specialities and in the navy and air force (Cooke 1984).

13 Most foreign journalists reports confirmed and

criticized the armed forces biased actions (The Economist May
31, 1969; Far Eastern Economic Review May 29, 1969; New York
Times, May 14-19, 1969; Newsweek May 26, 1969).

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with the Sarawak Rangers which were composed mostly of Ibans,

the majority ethnic group in Sarawak.

Nonetheless, the NOC sense of !,fairness" was not suppor­

ted by its less than evenhanded punishment it meted out to the

Chinese community. This was because the government chose to

accept the explanation that many Malays went amuk due to the

intolerable provocations by the Chinese. Thus the government

tended to view the Malays as "victims" and the Chinese as the

"main culprits." In line with this rationale, the security

forces conducted raids on various Chinese working-class

neighborhoods, ostensibily to weed out secret societies'

members and "subversive" elements. No comparable raids,

however, were targeted at Malay neighborhoods; instead, troops

were deployed to "defend" them from the Chinese "aggressors."

Hence, the irony was that even though the Chinese community

bore the brunt of the ethnic violence, most of the people who

were arrested during the rioting were Chinese;• out of the

total of 9,143 arrested 2,077 were Malays, 5,126 Chinese,

1,874 Indians, and 66 others (NOC 1969: 91). In addition to

this, the government arrested a number of non-Malay opposition

leaders,but not a single UMNO leader was arrested. Also, as a

punishment, close to 250,000 Chinese who obtained their

citizenship status via naturalization were asked to surrender

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their certificates for "review by the Government."14 To make

sense of the NOC less than judicious handling of the 1969

political crisis, one needs to understand how it explained,

or, rather, rationalized, the crisis.

The Crisis Explained

In his 1969 book May 13: Before & After, Tunku Abdul

Rahman, then Prime Minister of Malaysia, tried to give his own

account of the events surrounding May 13. The Tunku alleged

that during and immediately after the elections, the opposi­

tion parties set out to destroy the fundamental component of

the Constitution: that is, the terms of the inter-communal

"bargain." He claimed,

From the very beginning of the campaign the PMIP

played up racial and religious sentiments to win
the support of the Malays .... On the other hand,
also in full swing, the DAP, the Gerakan and the
PPP stirred up Chinese emotions and sentiments,
declaring that they intended to deprive the Malays
of the [special] rights provided for them in the
Constitution and asserting that they would intro­
duce multi-lingualism in Malaysia if they were
successful in the elections (1969: 18).

Of course, what the Tunku left out was the fact that many

Alliance leaders, especially the more "extremist" UMNO and MCA

leaders, also played up the racial emotions and sentiments.

Nevertheless, for the Tunku, the real instigators were

the communists. He alleged that the reason why the "anti-

14 Interestingly, by October 1970, the deadline for

surrending their certificates, less than 25,000 out of the
250,000 Chinese obliged.

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Chinese" PMIP was helping the "anti-Malay" .opposition parties

was because the PMIP was receiving financial backing from the

communists (ibid: 36). In turn, the communists "through their

supporters were egging on all opposition elements either

openly or behind the scenes" (ibid: 64). Above all, the Tunku

strongly alleged that it was the communist agents who urged

supporters of the DAP and Gerakan to organize the "victory"

processions that ultimately provoked the Malays and led to the

ethnic violence (ibid: 76). The Prime Minsiter thus was quick

to see the hidden hand of communism behind the disturbances of

May 13. In his broadcast of Thursday evening May 15, the Tunku

elaborated his theory

The terrorist Communists have worked out their

plan to take over power. They have managed to
persuade voters by threat, by intimidation,
and by persuasion to overthrow the Alliance
through the process of democracy ... .
(Sunday Times, 18 May 1969)

In short then, the Tunku strongly believed that the communists

deliberately engineered the ethnic violence as a means to

destabilize the government.

However, the Tunku communists-engineered ethnic violence

theory was not held by other UMNO leaders, especially Tun

Razak and Tun (Dr.) Ismail, the new Minister of Home Affairs.

In fact, according to Tun Ismail, "later we found that they

(the communists) were as much surprised as we were" by the May

13 ethnic violence (The Straits Times, 21 June 1969) . But, the

NOC did allege that the communists through "the activities of

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their agents in the Labor Party of Malaya ... generated racial

tensions to a dangerous pitch" (NOC 1969: 27).

Hence, the NOC Government endorsed the view that "racial

politics" was the primary cause for the violence. Published

two weeks after the Tunku's book, the NOC Report squarely

placed the blame on the non-Malay opposition politicians:

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 (italics in original)
(NOC Report 1969: 24).

Furthermore, the Report claimed that some of the Chinese

secret societies were "dedicated to creating racial tension

for the purpose of weaking the country" (ibid: 25) . But,

unlike the Tunku, the NOC maintained that "it would not be

correct to say that the" communists "had started the May 13

disturbances in order to seize power immediately" (ibid: 27) .

The Report then proceeded to .claim that the DAP and

Gerakan leaders neither "restrained nor denounced the behavior

of their party workers" (ibid: 36). The Report characterized

the "victory" processions as "racially provocating and intimi­

dating." Conversely, the NOC claimed that despite the Chinese

"extreme provocations," the Malays in "the areas most affected

by these insults showed patience and restraint" (ibid: 3 6). In

the end, for the NOC, it was the taunts and insults heaped on

the Malays that "finally served to generate the explosive

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atmosphere" (ibid: 49).

The point in describing in detail the Tunku and the NOC

explanations of the ethnic violence is to show that both were

reluctant to assign any blame for the ethnic violence to

Malays.15 The official/Malay version basically blamed either

the Chinese opposition parties, the Chinese secret societies,

or the invisible hand of the Communists: in a word, the

Chinese community. On the other hand, the Malays generally

were portrayed by the Tunku and the NOC as "victims" in the

sense that they were provoked by Chinese "extremists."

Unsurprisingly, the Malay popular opinion too viewed the

Chinese as the "culprits." Even more significantly, instead of

just identifying and eliminating the sources of the ethnic

violence, and treating it as a strictly law and order problem,

the NOC Government interpreted the disturbances as the

result of an inter-play of forces that comprise

the country's recent history. These include a
generation gap and differences in interpretation

15 In contrast, a significant proportion of the

Chinese population held that the primary cause of the riots
was the responsibility of certain leaders within UMNO-
Selangor. Slimming (1969: 25), a former British officer of the
Malayan Police Service, wrote what many Chinese believed,
Dato Harun bin Haji Idris, the Mentri Besar
of Selangor together with other local UMNO
officials, must be held responsible for
encouraging and organizing the UMNO demon­
strations which started the race riots.
Also, the NOC was generally very upset with the foreign
media's reporting (Von Vorys 1976). Nonetheless, because UMNO
gained predominance from this tragic outcome, the official
version had achieved currency — among the Malays. The
majority of Chinese continue to hold the other version.

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of the constitutional structure by the different

races in the country, and consequently the
growing political encroachment of the immigrant
races against certain important provisions of the
Constitution ... (ibid: ix).

The NOC blamed-the-Chinese attitude coincided with the fact

that the UMNO had visibly gravitated towards a more uncom­

promising championing of Malay communal interest. Indeed, an

emerging group of UMNO leaders had arrived at the conclusion

that an indispensable requirement of a stable "democratic

system" in Malaysia is the successful mobilization of Malays

behind an UMNO-dominated government (Ghazali 1969; Mahathir

1969 and 1970).

Finally, the UMNO-dominated NOC Government, after having

the riotings under control, turned to the complex task of

political reconstruction. On the one side, it was clear that

the UMNO leaders had no intention of abandoning the citizen­

ship compromises and political accommodation they themselves

had designed. On the other side, the UMNO leaders used the

crisis to force its interpretation of the Constitution on the

MCA and MIC leaders, and on the non-Malays in general. UMNO

claimed that Malay indigenous status conferred on Malays a

"special position" vis-a-vis the "immigrant" communities,

including the right to establish a Malay-style polity and to

ensure the primacy of Malay culture and Malay institutions.

Hence, according to UMNO, the "immigrants" are entitled to

fair and generous treatment, but only within a framework that

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respects the special position of the Malays and accommodates

their political and cultural hegemony. Subsequently then, the

NOC Government proceeded to implement a number programs that

would entrench Malay political and cultural hegemony.15

Malay Special Rights And The Freedom of Speech

For democratic theorists, open political discussion in

society is one of the central bases and building blocks of

democratic citizenship. They argued that open discussions

among citizens would help to make other forms of participation

meaningful precisely because the discussions could help citi­

zens "to recognize their own political interest; to create and

reveal common interests; and to maintain peace and stability"

(ibid 1970: 86). Thus open political discussion would educate

the public about the issues and objectives for the society.

Historically, Malaysia has had a weak tradition of open

political discussions. In fact, the framers of the Malaysian

16 In terms of promoting Malay as the official

language, it put into effect the use of Malay as the medium of
instruction in all Standard One subjects (excepting English)
beginning 1970. Then one year at a time this condition would
be extended upward until by 19G2 all instruction up to Form VI
and by 1986 most instruction in the universities would be
conducted enitrely in Malay. In terms of Malay culture,
through the National Cultural Policy the state channelled
considerable funds to promote Malay cultural activities and
institutions, including the building of mosques. The Govern­
ment even invented a national ideology, the Rukunegara.
Perhaps the most important — and controversial — policy was
the New Economic Policy (NEP) which systematically attempt to
increase Malay participation in the economy (The New Economic
Policy 1970) .

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constitution did not create a strong constitutional protection

of the freedom of speech and expression in the society. Speci­

fically, Article 10(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech

and expression, but is followed by a number of provisos which

placed considerable restrictions on that citizen right. For

instance, Article 10(2) states that Parliament may by law

imposed restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression

in the interest of the security of the Federation

or any part thereof, friendly relations with'other
countries, public order or morality and restric­
tions designed to protect the privileges of Par­
liament or of any Legislative Assembly or to
provide aganist contempt of court, defamation,
or incitement to any offence.

Obviously, terms like "national security" and "public

order or morality" are highly subjective and riddened with

ambiguities.17 Consequently, in the wake of the May 13 ethnic

violence, Tun Razak and the NOC in the name of "national inte­

rests and security" made further changes to the constitution,

which resulted in further restricting the freedom of speech

and open public discussions in the society.

17 For example, "public morality" has been used by the

state to play the role of "Guardian of Morality." The
problematic of the state intervening in "public morality" has
been aggravated over the years by its over reliance on one
source — Islam — in face of the challenge by the PMIP
growing Islamic tendencies. Thus, if in the past materials
were censored or banned because they were considered "decadent
or indecent," nowadays it is frequently because they are
considered anti-Islamic. Moreover, the Government, reacting to
pressure of the Muslim community has restricted the circula­
tion of the Malay translation of the Bible, and as well as
forbidding non-Muslims from using certain "Islamic" words.

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After evaluating the circumstances and causes that led to

the May 13 ethnic disturbances, the NOC concluded that

Democracy is practised in many countries in the

world today. But each country must assess its own
political and social environment realistically and
evolve its own Constitution, rules, conventions
and practices. Malaysia possesses her own distinct
characteristics based on her history and present
racial composition. She must now find a solution
to her problems — a solution that will provide
a guarantee that in future racial sensitivities
will never be provoked by the operation of
normal democratic processes, e.g., election
campaigns (NOC 1969: 80).

Hence, in the NOC view, all efforts to promote racial harmony

and goodwill (muhibbah) could be wasted if the resumption of

democratic processes would expose the system once again to the

pitfalls of unchecked "politicking," of racial politics in

particular. The NOC alleged that the open political debates in

the 1960s, specifically during the 1969 campaigns, were abused

by the "communal extremist" opposition parties; the PMIP on

the Malay side and the DAP, PPP, and Gerakan on the Chinese

side. Thus claiming that the "extremist" rhetorics were

directly responsible for the ethnic riots, the NOC proposed to

"decommunalize" open political debates by restricting public

discussions on the so-called "sensitive issues."

The Code of Sensitive Issues

Since the UMNO presented itself as the champion of Malay

communal interests, it insisted that the root causes of the

rioting were due to the "orang pendatang" (immigrants) brazen

attempt to deprive the Malays of their "special position" in

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the country. For example, the NOC (1969; ix) blamed the

generation gap and differences in interpreta­

tion of the constitutional structure by the
different races in the country, and ... the
growing political encroachment of the immi­
grant races against certain important provi­
sions of the Constitution which relate to
the Malay language and the position of the
Malays, principally Articles 152 and 153 ... .

Even the usually moderate Tunku Abdul Rahman (1969), his

leadership under extreme pressure, was led to reassert, what

was probably the Malay popular opinion, that

... this country belongs only to the Malays and

to the Malays only. Nobody can deny that origi­
nally this was the country of the Malays, who are
unquestionably the indigenous people (1969: 144).

In general then, sensing that the Malay popular moods believed

that Malaysia "belongs to the Malays and to the Malays only,"

the UMNO declared that the "special position of the Malays,"

can neither, and must never, be challenged nor questioned.

Consequently, the NOC declared that

although a Constitution is a fundamental law of

a country, there are some provisions in the
Constitution which are more basic than others,
and therefore, are "entrenched" in it. ... If
these entrenched provisions are in any way eroded
or weakened, the entire constitutional structure
is endangered, and with it, the existence of the
nation itself. It was the failure [of the non-
Malays] to understand and the irresponsible and
cavalier treament of these entrenched provisions
that constituted one of the primary causes of the
disturbances on May 13 1969. (NOC 1969: 85)

Not surprisingly, for the' UMNO leaders, the "entrenched"

provisions pertained to the special position and privileges of

the Malays, the place of Malay as the sole official language,

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and the sovereignty of the Rulers (Articles 152, 153, and

166) .

Moreover, the UMNO leaders asserted that the "entrenched"

provisions are the result of agreement between all the ethnic

communities and that if these provisions are in any way eroded

or weakened, the entire constitutional structure is endangered

(ibid: 85). The "entrenched" provisions thus became the "code

of sensitive issues"18 which society was, and is, prohibited

from questioning and discussing in public. But, in order to

make discussing these "sensitive issues" a criminal offence,

the NOC would have to introduce some special provisions into

the legal system which, in turn, required amending the


Hence, on February 17, 1971, when Parliament reconvened

by the NOC, Tun Razak proceeded to move a bill to amend the

Constitution.19 By the time Tun Razak tabled the proposed

constitutional amendment bill in Parliament, he had already

managed to get the two-thirds majority he needed to pass the

proposal.20 In addition, a few days earlier Tun Razak had

18 The only consolation for the Chinese was that the

NOC also made it a criminal offence to question their
citizenship status and their "legitimate" interests.

19 Naturally, the bill was hotly debated in the

Parliament. For an excellent coverage see the Straits Times,
Berita Harian, and Utusan Melayu from February 18 to March 4) .

20 Tun Razak successfuly convinced the major Sabah and

Sarawak political parties to join him. Hence, when Parliament
reconvened he had exactly 96 seats or the two-thirds majority.

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26 5

issued Parliament an ultimatum — if the amendment bill was

not passed he would not lift the Emergency Rule ( The Straits

Times, February 4, 1971). Thus, on March 3, 1971, the bill was

passed by a convincing margin: 125 to 17. Among the opposition

parties, the PMIP and the Gerakan supported the amendment, and

the DAP and PPP voted against it.

The Constitution (Amendment) Act, 1971, which came into

force on March 9 1971, severely restricted both freedom of

expression and speech and parliament privilege. Under the Act,

Article 10 of the Constitution was amended such that

Parliament may in the interest of security or

public order in the Federation or any part
thereof pass law prohibiting the questioning
of the same "sensitive issues" questioning of
which would constitute the new offence under
the Sedition Act, 1948, as amended ...
(Constitution Act 1971).

Generally speaking, the Sedition Act introduced by the British

in 194821, has always been a dracion obstacle to the freedom

of speech and expression in Malaysia (See Appendix A ) . In late

1970, the NOC Government amended the Sedition Act, 1948 as


A "seditious tendency" is a tendency... 3(1)(f)

to question any matter, right, status, position,
privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established
or protected by the provisions of Part III of the
Federal Constitution or Article 152, 153 or 181 of
the Federal Constitution.

21 It was of course by the British colonial state as a

means to control the Chinese radicals, and the communists in
particular. Up to 1970, the Act has already been amended seve­
ral times — and the 1971 amendment was by no means the last.

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In other words, it became a "seditious act" to discuss in

public the "sensitive issues;" the special position and

privileges of the Malays, the place of Malay as the sole

official language, and the sovereignty of the Rulers.

Even more importantly, the same restraints were imposed

on Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of the States as

well. This was done by amending Articles 63 and 72 of the

Constitution which traditionally protects the "sovereignty" of

Parliament and State Assembles. Thus the amended Articles 63

and 72 deprived members of the two bodies "the protection of

they enjoyed under these Articles if they were charged under

any law passed by virtue of the amended Article 10" (Von Vorys

1975: 418). In short, the "sensitive issues" were completely

removed from all public discussions and forums.

While Malays were generally satisfied with the code of

"sensitive issues," most Chinese were obviously very disap­

pointed with the fact that all rational discussions on the

injustice of conferring special rights on the Malays could

no longer be carried out in public. Indeed, the "sensitive

issues" code affected the non-Malay intellectuals and opposi-

ition politicians the most as they now have to be extremely

careful each time when they bring out the issue of the non-

Malay "second-class" citizenship status. In fact, since 1970,

a number of non-Malays, especially Chinese politicians from

the DAP, had been tried and/or convicted under the Sedition

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Act.22 To put it in a nutshell, the code of "sensitive issues"

clearly did not favor political dissent.

If the code of "sensitive issues" served to restrict the

Chinese freedom of speech and expression, it also, political­

ly, helped the UMNO to protray itself as the "protector" of

the Malay community. When he was asked whether the parliament

should enact, after a specified duration, to remove the Malay

"special rights" provisions from the Constitution, Tun (Dr.)

Ismail, then Minister of Home Affairs, replied

The non-Malays cannot grab Malay special privi­

leges, nor can they question them. Only Malays
would have the right to determine whether Malay
special privileges should continue or not (The
Straits Times, July 18, 1969).

Indeed, even Tunku Abdul Rahman had strongly reiterated that

"the Constitution preserves and enshrines the rights of the

Malays for all time" (1969: 145). Thus, moving along with the

popular Malay moods, and pressured by the extremist politic­

king of the PMIP, the UMNO has moved towards a decidedly Malay

communal position. Above all, the "sensitive issues" code not

only made it illegal to question the special position and

privileges of the Malays, it also indirectly legalized the

22 Obviously, there is a double standard being

practised here in that the UMNO-controlled Government has
never charged any UMNO politicians under the Sedition Act even
though there were a number of times where UMNO politicians
made very incendiary public speeches. More recently, just
prior to the October 27 1987 massive swoop' of opposition
politicians and dissidents,, three prominent UMNO politicians
made clearly inflammatory speeches but were not charged under
the Sedition Act.

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bumiputra doctrine. Thus, ironically, the "sensitive issues"

code, instead of decommunalizing politics Malaysia, in fact

institutionalized communal politics and perceptions in the


Subsequently, the UMNO leaders have began to interprete

the "entrenched provisions" to mean the permanence of Malay

political dominance as a social fact in Malaysia. For example,

Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, a key member of the NOC, reiterated


... the politics of this country has been, and

must remain for the forseeable future, native
based: that was the secret of our stability and
our prosperity and that is a fact of political
life which no one can simply wish away. It must
be a native base which believes not in false com­
promises or in compulsion but in co-operation
with all the other races in the country" (1969: 5).

More recently, just prior to the Mahathir Government's

crackdown on political dissent in Malaysia on October 27,

1987,23 Datuk Abdullah Ahmad, a senior UMNO minister, again

sounded a warning to the Chinese:

Let us make no mistake — the political system

in Malaysia is founded on Malay dominance. That
is the premise we should start. The Malays must
be politically dominant in Malaysia as the
Chinese are politically dominant in Singapore
(Das 1987: 3) .

In political terms, then, the "sensitive issues" code would

23 This was the infamous Operation Lallang, launched in

the early hours on October 27. Over a period of a week, the
Government detained more than 150 political opponents under
the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) . For a good overview
of the events leading to the operation see Sundaram (1988).

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further perpetuate the "native" versus "immigrant" distinction

in the society. Hence, the code would entrench the UMNO's

Malay-centric views on race and rights. On the one side, the

code legitimized UMNO's claim that Malays have privileged

access to political power, the economy, and culture. On the

other, the code represented the triumph of UMNO's claim that

the indigenous status of the Malays conferred upon them the

right to establish and to maintain a Malay-style polity, and

thus the primacy of Malay culture and institutions.

The Rise of UMNO-Malay Hegemony

This section will show how, in the aftermath of the May

13, 1969 ethnic disturbances, the UMNO has embarked on a path

of reconstructing the political system that reinforced the

UMNO-Malay hegemony. More generally, the reconstruction of the

political system was more or less dictated by an emergent

clique of UMNO leaders, led by Tun Razak, who strongly viewed

the preservation of Malay political dominance as fundamental

to ethnic harmony and political stability in the society. In

lieu of this view, the emerging UMNO clique used the crisis

period to consolidate its power through three processes: (1)

regaining the support of its Malay political base, (2) sett­

ling the power struggle within UMNO, and (3) entering into a

new alliance with some of the non-Malay parties which accept

that the UMNO-Malay would be the dominant partner.

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UMNO and the Malay Community

In the wake of the May 1969 political crisis, the UMNO

has come to the conclusion that for the party to remain in

power the Malays must unite behind the party (Mauzy 1983: 47)

This was because the Chinese support for the non-Malay oppo­

sition parties in the 1969 elections led the UMNO to conclude

it could not count on the Chinese. It follows that the UMNO

has moved to inextricably link its political fortunes to the

continual support from the Malay community.

UMNO attributed the breakdown of public order partly to

the Malays' fear that their special position, "guaranteed" by

the constitution, was being threatened by the agitation for a

Malaysian Malaysia. Surprisingly, UMNO was right in that Malay

popular opinion continued to subscribe to the notion of

Malaysia as a Malay polity. It was in part to win over the

Malays that Tun Razak proposed the constitutional amendment to

"entrench" the special position of the Malays and to make it

a seditious act to question publicly, even in Parliament, the

"sensitive issues;" the official status of the Malay Lan­

guage, the special position of the Malays, and the sovereignty

of the Malay Rulers. In addition, the UMNO publicly affirmed

the general Malay perception that Malays' political pre­

eminence was justified by their community's unique historic

associations to the land. UMNO thus reiterated that Malaysia

belonged to the Malays and that the non-Malays are "guests"

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who should know how to "behave" themselves. The ever blunt,

outspoken Dr. Mahathir (1970: 126)24 puts it this way:

... my argument is that the Malays are the

rightful owners of Malaya, and that if
citizenship is conferred on races other than
the Malays, it is because the Malays consent
to it. That consent is conditional.

Hence, UMNO gained considerable political support among the

Malays by its assertion that the Malay special position and

their control of the government are non-negotiable principles.

Subsequently, the government implemented a series of

programs which helped to consolidate UMNO relations with the

Malay community. In 1971 the government officially launched

its New Economic Policy (NEP), which was designed primarily to

"eliminate the identification of race with economic- func-tion"

and secondarily to eradicate poverty among all ethnic groups.

Thus, over a twenty-year period, from 1970-1990, the

Government would intervene to increase the Malay share of

ownership in the modern corporate sectors of the economy and

the Malay representation in all occupation, particularly

managerial and professional positions, to 30 percent.25

Ideally, this transformation would be realized not by

24 Dr. Mahathir's book T h e M a l a y D i l e m m a was banned by

the government. The ban was only lifted in 1981 when Dr.
Mahathir became the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

25 Malay, Chinese, and foreigner share of ownership in

1970 was 2 percent, 25 percent, and 66 percent. The 30 percent
figure, an arbitrary quota, was suggested by Tan Chee Khoon
during one of the parliamentary debates.

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denying economic opportunities to non-Malays or by outright

confiscation of assets, but by allocating to Malays a dispro­

portionate share of an expanding economic pie and of assets

purchased from foreigners.26 Under the aegis of the NEP then,

the UMNO-dominated government has intervened aggressively in

the economy through public corporations (PERNAS, MARA) , public

trusts (PNB, ASN) and financial institutions (Bank Bumiputra),

as well as dictating private corporations (of certain sizes)

to increase the size of Malay ownership and representation

(Mehmet 1986: Snodgrass 1980). Needless to say, the NEP has

received the overwhelming support of the Malay community as a

whole and has brought the UMNO significant Malay support.27

26 If implemented fairly, the NEP would radically change

the class structure of Malay society. In bringing the economic
goodies to the Malays, UMNO could claim to be championing
Malay interests and thus increased its Malay political
support. Indeed, since UMNO controlled the state apparatus, it
had consistently used its patronage system to "win" Malay
political support (Shamsul 1986). On the other hand, as a
political instrument, the NEP would clearly further alienate
the non-Malay public. Finally, since the NEP would generate
inequality among Malays, it could seriously weaken Malay
solidarity as intra-Malay class fractions and sentiments would
become more pronounced (Mehmet 1986).

27 Since 1990, although the NEP has technically ended,

and the Malays have achieved considerable gains in practically
all sectors, its logic has continued unabated. In fact, there
is a growing demand among the many Malays to increase their
share of the economy to reflect their population size, i.e.,
57 percent. In short, the argument for equalizing the
opportunities that formed the basis for the NEP has been
replaced one of equalizing the conditions. An important
note here is that the government sector has, since 1970,
consistently discriminated against employing non-Malays, such
that Malays by 1990 comprised more than 75 percent of the
civil service. For example, at the superscale posts Malays

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Also, as mentioned earlier, the government has moved

vigorously to enforce Malay language policy. Moreover, the New

Educational Policy was implemented with the aims of gradually

increasing the number of Malay tertiary students through fixed

admission quotas and generous scholarships. In the expanded

university system, by an openly preferential system of admiss­

ions that overrode the generally superior performance of the

non-Malay applicants on qualifying examinations, the govern­

ment rapidly increased the Malay enrollments from less than a

third to three-quarters of the total student population. In

addition, almost all federal- and state- funded scholarships

for study abroad were given to Malay students (Reid 1988: 78) .

Thus, middle- and working-class Chinese, the classes most

dependent on higher education as a means to upward mobility,

have, of course, bitterly resented this form of affirmative

action. The admission policy has subsequently forced many

middle-class Chinese families to send their children abroad at

high cost for a tertiary education.

Also, through the National Culture Policy, the UMNO-

dominated Government has implemented aggressively a number of

programs to promote Malay culture and symbols (Kua 1985).

Since 1970, the government has built numerous mosques and

other buildings all across the peninsula as means to expand

and to entrench the presence of Malay cultural symbols in the

comprised 78 percent of the total (MCA 1982).

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society. Several cultural institutions were established

specifically to promote Malay culture and tradition. The

government controlled television and radio stations have

become inundated with Malay and Islamic programs (Kahn1992).

At the same time, the government has cut off all funding to

the building of Chinese and Indian temples, and of churches28,

and to non-Malay cultural institutions. Indeed, the govern­

ment's attempts to "erase" the non-Malay cultural symbols'

presence in the society at times did reach preposterous

proportions. For example, Means writes

When the new master plan for the long-term urban

development of Kuala Lumpur and its urban
satellite areas was unveiled, there were plans
for mosques and Malay cemeteries, but practically
no provisions for temples, churches, and other
non-Muslim places of worship, and no provision
for non-Muslim cemeteries. It was as if the
planners expected all Malaysians to become
Muslim or, for planning purposes, to vanish
from the human geography of the country
(Means 1991: 133-134).

In short then, the UMNO-dominated government policies of

promoting actively Malay culture and religion have received

enthusiastic support from the Malay community, but have at the

same time alienated the Chinese and Indian communities.

Finally, the UMNO leadership rigorously exhorted the

Malays to unite as a means to prevent the Chinese from gaining

28 In fact, it is extremely difficult for non-Muslims

to obtain the license to build their places of worship. For
example, around Kuala Lumpur many Christian groups have resor­
ted to illegally converting shoplots into "mini-churches."

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political strength, if not dominance. Naturally, the idea was

for the Malays to unite behind the UMNO. In line with this

rationale, Tun Dr. Ismail, then the Home Minister, in a

conciliatory speech appealed to Malays of different political

persuasions to unite;

It is true that independence was achieved by

the moderate group, but history has also shown
that the radical nationalist group also made
its contribution towards the achievement of
independence (cited in Firdaus 1985: 6).

Dr. Ismail went on, in the same speech, to encourage the

Malays to put aside their political differences and to unite

for the sake of their race. Partly because of the overwhelming

sentiments towards unification generated by the ethnic riots,

the UMNO's conciliartory feelers toward the Malay community

strike a responsive chord. In fact, even UMNO's traditional

Malay political foe, the PMIP, was sufficiently moved to co­

operate with the UMNO; the PMIP joined the National Front (BN)

from January 1 1973 to December 16 1977.29

Broadly speaking then, the UMNO has consistently pursued

a strategy to unite the Malays behind the party in order to

meet the Chinese challenge. And since the UMNO is perceived

29 Of course, there other reasons why PMIP decided to

join BN (Mauzy 1983: 71-74). The PMIP leadership decision to
join UMNO, however, created deep divisions within the party
which gained momentum and finally forced a split in the party.
In 1077, those who were against the coalition took control of
the party and took the party out of the coalition. The
supporters of the coalition left the party to form two parties
which remained in the coalition.

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generally, more or less, as the real government, all the

benefits that the government reserved for and channelled to

the Malays were credited to UMNO. In short, UMNO has used the

state machinery to implement policies and programs which would

win the UMNO the support of the Malay community.

Resolving the Crisis in UMNO

Also in order to ensure Malay political supremacy, the

UMNO leadership has to resolve the power struggles in the par­

ty which had broke out in the wake of the May 1969 political

crisis. The power struggle pitted the old guard led by Tunku

Abdul Rahman30 against the young turks (ultras) led by Dr.

Mahathir Mohammed.31 And situated in-between these two

contending factions was the group led by Tun Razak32 which

acted the as mediator between them.

The young turks, with Dr. Mahathir as the apparent

spokesman, had as its main objectives an UMNO-controlled

30 Other important names associated with Tunku were Khir

Johari (UMNO exco and former Minister of Education), and Senu
Ahmad (Secretary general of UMNO and former Minister of

31 Nearly all the members of the young Turks were

English educated professionals of non-aristocratic background.
The other important members were Musa Hitam (Assistant Mini­
ster to Tun Razak from Johore), Tengku Razaleigh (leader of
UMNO-Kelantan) , and Abdullah Ahmad (political secretary to Tun
Razak). They had the support of two "anti-Tunku" veterans,
namely, Syed Nasir (of the Language Liberation Front) and Syed

32 The others were Tun (Dr.) Ismail, Ghazali Shafie,

and Hamzah Abu Samah.

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government and the resignation of the Prime Minister, Tunku

Abdul Rahman. Dr. Mahathir alleged that since the Chinese

voted for the opposition parties, which demanded the creation

of a Malaysian Malaysia, the Chinese have denigrated on the

1957 constitutional compromises and thus had "betrayed" the

Malays. Hence, he publicly called upon Tun Razak to exclude

the MCA from the Government and wanted the UMNO to form the

government by itself. And when Dr. Mahathir's ideas were

roundly criticized by the Tunku, his reply was a stinging

criticisms of the Tunku and his government's policies;

Your "give and take" policy gives the Chinese

everything they ask for. ... The Chinese [thus]
regarded you and the Alliance government as
cowards and weaklings who could be pushed around.
... That was why the Chinese and the Indians
behaved outrageously toward the Malays on 12th
May. If you had been spit in the face, called
dirty names and shown obscene gestures and
private parts, then you could understand how
the Malays felt. The Malays whom you thought
would never rebel went berserk, and they hate
you for giving too much face. ...
I regret writing this letter, but I have to
convey to you the feelings of the Malays. In
truth the Malays whether they are UMNO or PMIP
supporters really hate you ... because of your
"give and take" policy.
... I wish to convey what the people really
think, that is, it is high time you resign
as our Prime Minister and UMNO leader.33

On receiving this scathing letter, the Tunku, in a letter to

Dr. Mahathir, strongly defended himself and his government's

33 Letter by Dr. Mahathir to Tunku Abdul Rahman, June

17, 1969. Interestingly, this letter was "leaked" to the

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policies, as well as gave him this ultimatum — Dr. Mahathir

could resign or be expelled from the party.

Dr. Mahathir's letter, however, did capture the mood of

many Malays, — and a significant number of UMNO leaders and

rank and file members. Indeed, the young turks received strong

support from a majority of the Malay intellectuals, students,

and businessmen. For example, Malay intellectuals and students

organized a number of public rallies in Kuala Lumpur in

support of the young turks' demands, including the resignation

of the Prime Minister.34

Despite Tun (Dr.) Ismail, the Minister of Home Affairs,

warning that he would not hesitate to arrest those who

actively participate in "anti-Tunku" activities,35 Malay

intellectuals and students continued to protest against the

Tunku and his past policies. This was because neither Tun

Ismail nor Tun Razak, the "neutral" group in UMNO as a whole,

was reluctant to further alienate the UMNO's rank and file

members, and the Malay public in general. Thus they were

willing to tolerate student demonstrations "as long as they

did not incite communal conflict and as long as they remained

within the gates of the campus" (Von Vorys 1976: 381-382).

Nevertheless, initially the old guard led by Tunku Abdul

34 See the Straits Times August July 20 to September 23


35 Sunday Times, August 3, 1969.

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Rahman had the upper hand as demonstrated by the punishment

meted out to two key figures of the rebellious young turks;

Dr. Mahathir was expelled from UMNO on July 12 1969 and Musa

Hitam dismissed as Assistant Minister on August 28 1969. But,

it was a pyrrhic victory for the old guard. This was because

the popular pressure from within UMNO and from without against

the Tunku and his alleged "give and take" policies were deep

and widespread. Moreover, the "neutral" group led by Tun Razak

and Tun Ismail were inclined to support the move to remove

Tunku in order to maintain party unity and to preserve the

party's support among the Malay public. Faced with such stiff

opposition the Tunku citing various reasons offered to step

down as Prime Minister and as President of UMNO; hence he

announced his intention to "resign" as the Prime Minister in

favor of his deputy Tun Abdul Razak on September 21, 1970.

However, the young turks did not replace Tunku and his

old guards, but, rather, the "neutral" group led by Tun Razak

took over the reins of power. Nevertheless, this "neutral"

group later reinstated Dr. Mahathir and promoted him and seve­

ral other members of the young turks to important positions in

the UMNO and in the government. This was not surprising as the

"neutral" was in agreement with the young turks on several

issues: on the role of the government in alleviating the

Malays' economic and educational life-chances, on the central

place of Malay culture and language in the society, and on the

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Malay control of the government. But, though the neutral group

supported the notion of Malay political supremacy, they did

not believe that the Malays should govern alone. Rather, they

argued that some non-Malay participation in the government was

necessary in governing a multiracial society like Malaysia.

Consequently, they argued and concluded that the new ethnic

consociation constructed must clearly understand that the

special position of the Malays and the Malay political and

cultural hegemony are non-negotiable principles. Hence, with

the crisis in UMNO resolved, Tun Razak proceeded to the task

of rebuilding a new consociation.

Rebuilding a new consociation, the National Front

In the immediate aftermath of the ethnic riotings, the

prevalent Malay popular mood tend to see the ethnic politics

in a zero-sum terms. In particular, the young turks and their

supporters in the UMNO, the PMIP, and many Malay intellectuals

and students advocated aggressively for an all Malay govern­

ment, excluding entirely the non-Malays. Nevertheless, the new

UMNO leadership under Tun Razak pragmatically argued for the

inclusion of selected non-Malay parties to participate in the

government. Nevertheless, Tun Razak made clear to the non-

Malays that they would be included in the new coalition only

if they accept the new political parameters set by the UMNO.

In short, whether a new consociation would be formed or not

was up to UMNO, and if a new consociation was to be formed it

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would be constructed on UMNO's terms.

After having more or less settled the internal power

struggle within UMNO, Tun Razak and Tun Ismail turned to the

problems facing their traditional political partner, the MCA.

Because of its disastrous showing in the 1969 elections when

the bulk of the Chinese voted for the non-Malay opposition

parties, the MCA could no longer claim to represent the

Chinese community. Indeed, Tun Ismail poignantly characterized

the MCA as "neither dead nor alive" (Straits Times, January

18, 1971) ,36 Initially, the MCA, before the ethnic rioting

broke out, announced that it would not participate in the

government. But, after the rioting broke out and a state of

Emergency was declared, the party decided to rejoin the

government. Nevertheless, because of its limited appeal to the

Chinese community, as shown by the 1969 election results, the

MCA's role in the government was greatly diminished. It could

no longer negotiate with the UMNO as the representative of the

Chinese community. Indeed, its diminished role was further

accentuated by the Tun Razak's successful inclusion of the

Gerakan and PPP in the new coalition.

The first oppositional leader Tun Razak turned to was

36 Apparently, this remark triggered an outpouring of

sympathy and support for the MCA among certain segments of the
Chinese community. In fact, it gave rise to the Chinese Unity
Movement which tried to unite the Chinese through a series of
public rallies. See Loh Kok Wah's excellent study on this
movement (1982).

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Dr. Lim Chong Eu, the head of Penang Gerakan, who did have a

history of working with UMNO and who had already given signs

that he was willing to cooperate with the new UMNO leader­

ship.37 Indeed, Dr. Lim survived an attempt by certain leaders

of Gerakan, led by Dr. Tan Chee Khoon and Syed Hussien Alatas,

who wanted Gerakan to remain as an opposition party that would

provide an alternative national multiethnic political party.

With the defeat and departure of Dr. Lim's challengers, the

Gerakan agreed to join the proposed new coalition on February

13, 1972. And within a couple of months, the PPP also decided

to join the new coalition on April 15, 1972. Both the Gerakan

and PPP, of course, had to accept the new political parameters

set by the UMNO (Von Vorys 1976; Mauzy 1981). Hence, in the

in the new coalition, the National Front, the non-Malay

parties were clearly the junior partners and the UMNO the

senior partner.

In short, by including the Gerakan and PPP in the new

coalition, the UMNO leaders successfully managed to further

break up Chinese unity. In other words, the Chinese threat at

the ballot box was greatly reduced. Also, since 1969, at the

national level none of the non-opposition parties alone or

together could win enough seats, mathematically impossible, to

37 For a comprehensive study of the formation of the

National Front see the excellent work by Diane Mauzy (1981).

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take over the government.38 Only at the state and municipal

levels, where Chinese formed the majority or are in large

number, could the UMNO's political dominance be seriously

challenged. However, in anticipation of this problem the UMNO-

dominated government has systematically converted municipal

governments from elected to appointed bodies. For example, in

the state of Selangor, the Malays became the majority group in

the state when the government converted Kuala Lumpur into a

Federal Territory and, in turn, made the Kuala Lumpur

municipal government into an appointed body. Finally, in

Penang and Perak, through various gerrymandering moves over

the years, the number of Chinese-dominated seats have been

significantly reduced (Rachagan 198.4) . Consequently, through

the processes of rebuilding the multiethnic coalition and re­

designing the electoral structure, the UMNO has effectively

neutralized the Chinese at the ballot box.


Without any doubt, the May 1969 political crisis was a

watershed event in the development of the politics of ethni­

city and citizenship in postindependence Malaysia. It led to

the institutionalization of UMNO-Malay political supremacy on

38 The only possible way is for a non-Malay party to

ally with PMIP, which has become a more and more remote possi­
bility as the latter has increasingly taken on an Islamic

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the one hand and to the erosion of the Chinese political and

cultural rights on the other.

The May 1969 election results and its violent aftermath

were clearly a consequent of the escalating ethnic tensions in

the society since the achievement of political independence in

1957. The mounting ethnic anxieties and fears in the 1960s,

especially among the Malays, were considerably accentuated by

the intense 1969 election campaigns, by the failure of the

Alliance to win the two-thirds majority in parliament, and by

the fact that the bulk of the Chinese voted for the non-Malay

opposition parties. In Kuala Lumpur, the heightened ethnic

tensions, because of an explosive set of circumstances,

deteriorated into ethnic riotings.

Publicly, the state of emergency was declared to restore

law and order in the society, which the NOC, the de facto

governing body, did effectively. However, the twenty months of

emergency rule was also used by the UMNO to reformulate the

terms of communal and citizenship politics in the society.

The UMNO leadership, led by Tun Razak, agreed that it was

necessary to reduce "racial politicking" in order to ensure

ethnic harmony. To reduce the "racial politicking" in the

society, the UMNO claimed that the Western model of democracy,

in particular the unbridled open political discussions, must

be adapted to better suit the Malaysia's multiethnic environ­

ment. At the same time, the UMNO has decided upon a new set of

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political parameters; that Malay political and cultural

dominance must be accepted by all ethnic communities; that

Malay unity is necessary for ethnic harmony; that UMNO

dominance must be maintained; and that Malay economic and

educational grievances must be addressed.

Subsequently, the constitution was amended to make the

questioning of the special position and privilege of the

Malays, the status of the Malay Language, and the sovereignty

of the Malay Rulers, and the non-Malays citizenship status a

criminal offence. The New Economic Policy was implemented to

expand Malay ownership and participation in the economy, the

National Education Act to increase the Malay enrollment in the

universities, and the National Culture Act to promote Malay

culture and religion. Clearly, all these changes would

institutionalize Malay political and cultural dominance in

Malaysian society, and as well as to buttress Malay support

for the UMNO. Lastly, the UMNO included non-Malay parties,

which were prepared to accept the UMNO's new political

parameters, in a UMNO-dominated multiethnic coalition, the

National Front. In conclusion, in the wake of the May 1969

crisis, the consolidation of the UMNO-Malay political and

cultural dominance has been pursued at the expense of denying

the Chinese political and cultural equality.

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This study began by considering the Western experience

and model of citizenship. Marshall's analysis of European

citizenship emphasized its relationship to the class inequa­

lities generated by the capitalist market. Historically, since

class constituted one of the most powerful entrenched barriers

to membership and participation by the majority, he argued

that the politics of citizenship became absorbed into class

politics. The expansion of citizenship rights was an outcome

of the successful struggles of classes which were previously

excluded from its scope. Democratic citizenship, as a system

with political rights equally available to all citizens,

emerged when successful class struggles led to the expanding

number of political rights and number of people who have those

rights. Marshall concluded, it was the successive extension of

civil, political and social rights to the working classes

which established the Western democratic welfare state.

Nevertheless, Marshall's analysis is society-centered in

that his approach crucially left out the state factor in the

development of citizenship. Mann and Barbalet, in contrast,

regarded the state as an important factor in citizenship

formation. For them, the state is the political institution

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that secures, regulates, and safeguards the rights to which

all citizens are subjected. Thus citizenship outcome is partly

dependent on how the state responds to the excluded classes'

struggle for rights, in fact, since it is the state which

ultimately grants the citizenship rights, it may choose to do

so even in the absence of a struggle. Hence, Barbalet and Mann

viewed citizenship as a means for the institutionalization of

class conflict in which the state plays a major role.

Needless to say, we argued that the Western citizenship

model has failed to take root in Malaysia. Underlying the

Western model is the premise that the democratization of

society occurred in a context where the state has transformed

the population under its rule into a culturally homogeneous

nation before the advent of rapid capitalist development. Such

a view was inapplicable in Malaysia where ethnic cleavage

remained the overriding social division in the society and

where capitalist development remained rudimentary. In other

words, historically in Malaysia, ethnicity, and not class, has

constituted the major barrier to membership and participation.

In Malaysia, because the ethnic groups do not shared a

common tradition, culture, and language, the struggle over

citizenship rights has become linked to the problem of natio­

nal identity. In addition, the ethnic groups also contested

keenly over the matter of their rights to economic, social,

and political participation. In Malaysia thus we have a

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conflict between the universalistic principles of citizenship

on the one side and the particularistic claims of communalism

on the other. Nevertheless, the universalistic principles of

citizenship are realizable in multicultural societies, as the

examples of Switzerland and the United States have clearly

shown. Hence, we argued that in order to understand why the

project of creating an association of free and equal persons

did not materialize in Malaysia, we must examine how the state

and ethnic forces historically had shaped the development of

Malaysian citizenship.

My study argued that in the Malaysian tradition, citizen­

ship stands in a passive relationship to the state because it

was primarily an effect of state action. That is to say, the

state was the overdetermining agency in citizenship formation.

In the history of the peninsula, there were two main views of

passive citizenship: the first indigenous, or Malay, and the

second foreign, or British.

Traditional Malay political life depended on the link

between hereditary rank in society, control over land as the

cardinal economic resource, and the exercise of public autho­

rity. Privileges thus were extended to groups rather than

individual subjects, and only members of the ruling class had

privileged access to political participation. In this way, in

the pre-colonial Malay k e r a j a a n system, the prevailing view

is that the ruler was all powerful and the subject was the

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recipient of privileges, not rights. It follows that the

"citizen," or r a k y a t , was conceptualized as merely a subject

of an absolute authority. Consequently, in the kerajaan

political framework, no immediate rights to participation in

the political sphere were extended t o the subjects.

However, with the advent of British colonialism, a new,

and radical, view emerged in the peninsula. In this view, the

colonial state recognized its subjects as persons endowed and

protected by rights, albeit limited. This view made conside­

rable gains with the British reinvention of the foundation and

structure of the Malay k e r a j a a n state, and the expansion of

the roles and functions of the colonial administrative state

and British common law. Indeed, the imported view successfully

challenged the k e r a j a a n system of hereditary-based privileges,

which consequently led to the gradual recognition of subjects

as individuals with rights.

Nevertheless, until the decolonization period in the

1950s, though the citizens-as-subjects in Malaya were legally

constituted as individuals with rights, the rights did not

include political citizenship for the majority of the popula­

tion. In accordance with British common law tradition, the

colonial practices of individual rights supported an unequal

and rigid class structure. The colonial state was mainly

concerned with creating and maintaining conducive conditions

for economic development and commercial transactions. This

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meant that effective access to the state partly resided in

individual rights to property. Thus, members from the business

communities were appointed as unofficial representatives in

the state councils to deliberate on, but not necessarily

confined to, economic and business issues. For example, in the

case of the Chinese representatives they were also consulted

on social and cultural matters affecting the Chinese community

in general. But, while the business classes had access to the

state, the majority of the population, however, was excluded

from direct participation in public affairs.

Perhaps most importantly, the notion and institution of

rights in pre-World War Two Malaya reinforced the colonial

division of the non-British subjects into natives (Malay) and

immigrants (Chinese). The British indirect rule strategy

institutionalized the idea that Malays, as the indigenous

people, were the "rightful owners" of the land. The Malay

rulers, the core symbol of Malay identity, were preserved

as the heads of the Malay States which, legally speaking,

retained their sovereignty for they came under British

jurisdiction as Protected States. Moreover, the British

consistently maintained that they were merely acting as

"advisers" to and ruling on behalf of the Malays. In part

based on this rationale, around the turn of the twentieth

century, the British trained a Malay administrative elite,

the MAS, to partake in the business of colonial rule.

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In sharp contrast, since the colonial state regarded

the Chinese as immigrants, the Chinese community, with the

exception of its business segment, were denied access to

direct participation in the general business of ruling.

Instead, colonial state policies and practices toward the

Chinese reinforced their immigrant status. The British

continued to regard the Chinese as Chinese nationals, and

Chinese individuals convicted of certain "crimes" could be,

and were, deported back to China. In addition, since colonial

state policies were essentially drivened by short-term econo­

mic interests, there was an utter neglect of the long-term

social, cultural, and political integration of the Chinese

into the colonial society. The Chinese hence were left to fend

for themselves, and to take care of their own members in an

environment that continued to treat them as foreigners. Yet,

nevertheless, the majority of Chinese were not concern with

their being treated as foreigners precisely because they did

not regard themselves as Malayans, but as Chinese nationals.

Broadly speaking then, the British transformations of

Malay societies advanced the view of subjects as individuals

with rights. However, since the majority of the colonial

subjects were denied the rights to political participation,

the British indirect rule was clearly non-democratic. Only two

non-European groups had access to limited participation in

public affairs. Chinese businessmen were included because of

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the colonial state's pro-capitalist orientation, and Malay

traditional and administrative elites were included as the

indigenous component of the indirect rule state. Yet, however,

both were included as "junior partners," or subalterns,to the

British officers in the colonial bureaucracy.

Importantly, the British non-democratic rule in Malaya,

up to the Second World War, did not encounter any active,

credible opposition from civil society. There were more or

less no popular demands for political rights or participation

in colonial Malaya. On the other hand, the colony's growing

ethnic pluralism heightened the communal group consciousness

in the society. In the absence of other significant competing

group affiliations, ethnicity became the principle of associa­

tion and mobilization in the society. Subsequently, ethnic

individuals used the limited civil rights, such as freedoms of

associations and speech, to form communal groupings to arti­

culate and to advance mainly particularistic claims.

From the Malay community, there emerged three important

groupings, namely, the Islamic reformists, the Malay-educated

intelligentsia, and the English-educated adiministrative

elites. Although the Malay groupings disagreed on many issues,

held different opinions and interests, and were separated by

class differences, they all, however, were greatly concerned

with their community's disunity and "backwardness." In parti­

cular, the groupings were united in their common fear of the

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growing numbers of Chinese in the peninsula and their increa­

sing economic dominance. Not surprisingly, the Malay groupings

were vigorously critical of, if not antagonistic towards, the

Straits Chinese demands for equal rights because to them the

Chinese were outsiders and intruders and that the peninsula

belonged to the Malay people. The Malay groupings were also

critical of the British colonial state for not doing enough to

protect and to promote the special position of the Malays on

the one side and for bringing the Chinese to their land on the

other. Finally, with the exception of the pro-Indonesian

oriented KMK, all the Malay groupings, however, did not strug­

gle for any form of popular political rights.

Even though the British and Malays considered and treated

them as foreigners, most Chinese did not object because they

continued to view themselves as Chinese nationals. This view

was supported by the Kuomintang and communist movements, both

of which were China-oriented and primarily concerned with the

political developments in China. Nonetheless, in the late

193 0s, the communists did begin to organize the Chinese wor­

king classes to struggle for workers' rights, and for popular

rights in general. However, the communists did not extent

their mobilization to include the Malay peasants or the Indian

workers. Instead, the communists opportunistically turned to

the rising Malayan Chinese nationalism as a means to obtain

mass support. In contrast to the Kuomintang and communists

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pro-China outlook, the English-educated Straits Chinese

perceived themselves as Malayans and identified themselves

with their new homeland. As such, the Straits Chinese demanded

to have equal rights as the Malays and were highly critical

of the British "pro-Malay" policy, especially of the preferen­

tial appointments of Malays to the upper echelon of the civil

service. The Straits Chinese were also critical of the British

monopoly of political power, and demanded the extension of

political citizenship to the local populations. Among the

Chinese, then, it was only the Straits Chinese community that

was Malayan in outlook, demanded equality of rights for all

qualified Malayans, irrespective of ethnicity, and, influenced

by democratic ideas, struggled for the extension of political

rights to all adult Malayans and for the creation of an

elected government.

Without any doubt, the development of citizenship in

Malaysia suffered a tremenduous setback under the Japanese

Occupation. Given the Japanese militaristic government,

Malayans were essentially deprived of all civil liberties and

freedoms. The most important outcome of the Occupation, was

that the Japanese radical "pro-Malay" and "anti-Chinese"

policies aggravated the tensions between the Malay and Chinese

communities. Thus in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese

surrender, the Chinese community's persecution, led by the

communist-dominated MPAJA, of alleged Japanese collaborators,

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mostly Malays, resulted in the bloody skirmishes between

Malays and Chinese.

In the midst of the heightened ethnic tensions between

Malays and Chinese, the British unveiled their Malayan Union

plans which aimed to transform Malaya into a multiethnic

polity, with equal political rights and opportunities for all

its permanent residents, regardless of ethnic background. In

general, the Chinese accepted the Malayan Union plans as a

progressive step towards the formation of an independent

democratic state, but, however, were critical of the British

refusal to grant immediate political rights to the peoples of

Malaya. The Malays across all classes, in contrast, were

vehemently opposed to the plans because, if implemented, the

plans would undermine the foundations of the special position

of Malays. Faced with the radical political challenge posed by

the Chinese-led communists on the one side and the strident

Malay opposition to the Malayan Union on the other, the Bri­

tish ultimately decided against implementing the Malayan Union

plans. Subsequently, after a series of negotiations between

the British and a collusion of traditional and UMNO Malay

leaders, the special position of Malays was restored in the

Federation of Malaya Agreement. With regards to the Chinese,

the framers of the Agreement constitution extended citizenship

status, but not equal rights, only to the Straits Chinese —

the membership status of the majority of the Chinese remained

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ambiguous and unprotected.

Unsurprisingly, the Federation Agreement was strongly

opposed by practically all Chinese groupings. But, the Chinese

opposition to the Federation Agreement came to an abrupt end

in 1948 with the advent of the MCP armed revolution against

the British. The British imposed a State of Emergency and,

from 1948 to 1957, the freedoms of free speech and to organize

in society were severely curtailed. Consequently, the more

radical, anti-colonial social forces were either banned or

their activities repressed. More significantly, the communists

turn to armed revolution to wrestle power from the British

alienated the Chinese business and professional classes, which

forced them to look for other means to gain political rights

and national self-determination. And for most Malays, the

communists armed revolution was perceived as a grave threat to

their interests, if not as a brazen attempt by the Chinese to

dominate the Malays and transformed their homeland into a de

facto province of China. Thus, during the Emergency, the

moderate Chinese groupings, specifically the MCA, were pushed

to work with and to form an alliance with the UMNO, the pre­

eminent postwar Malay political party.

UMNO was founded by the Malay administratve elites with

the immediate goal of defeating the Malayn Union plans, which

the party did successfully. Though led by the administrative

elites, the UMNO was abled to garner the support of the Malay

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masses because of the deferential character of a poorly

educated peasant society, because of the participation of the

Malay school teachers who played a key role in grassroots

activities, and because of the pervasive postwar Malay fears

and anxieties of the Chinese real intentions. Thus, the UMNO

successfully built a political structure that penetrated every

state and every village and a political base that cut across

all Malay classes. Also, the UMNO articulated a kernel of

positions which appealed to the majority of Malays: to protect

the Malay special position and the Rulers' sovereignty, to

establish and preserve a Malay-based polity and to ensure the

primacy of Malay language, culture, and institutions, and to

raise the Malay educational and economic opportunities. With

regards to the Chinese, the UMNO gradually took the position

that qualified immigrants are entitled to fair treatment and

legitimate rights, but in a framework that would ensure Malay

special position and accommodate their political and cultural


During the decolonization period, the British colonial

state played a major role in bringing the UMNO and MCA leaders

together and to work out a political compromise between the

two parties. Given the social and political conditions of the

times, it was clear that while the UMNO had considerable mass

support, the MCA support among the Chinese was not that wide­

spread or deep. In this sense, the citizenship and political

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comprises reached between the UMNO and MCA leaders did not

have the complete support of the majority of the Chinese.

Generally speaking, in exchange for extension of citi­

zenship status to the majoi'ity of the Chinese in Malaya, the

MCA agreed to recognize the special position of the Malays.

Subsequently, the UMNO and MCA constructed an independence

constitution that ambiguously conferred fundamental rights

upon every fully recognized citizen, irrespective of race,

class or gender, on the one hand and recognized the special

position of the Malays, and the official status of Islam and

the Malay language on the other. Also, the UMNO claimed that

in their bargain the MCA, and thus the Chinese, agreed to the

cultural and political dominace of the Malays in Malaysia.

However, the terms of the constitutional bargain was clearly

an elitist product as the majority of Malays and Chinese were

excluded from the constitutional negotiations.

On the one side, the constitutional bargain was not

accepted by Malay "ultras" who opposed sharing power with the

Chinese and, more importantly, granting citizenship status to

the alien Chinese. In fact, in UMNO there were factions which

were critical of the terms of the constitutional bargain and

did not accept the bargain. On the other side, the bargain was

not accepted by most Chinese who were committed to complete

individual equality, regardless of ethnic origin. Precisely

because the Chinese groupings which demanded complete equality

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and the Malay "ultras" were excluded from the constitutional

negotiations, after political independence, the Alliance's

bargain immediately became the focus and source of conflict.

The nearest Malaysia came to the Western democratic model

was in the 1960s. Unfortunately, given a polity structured

along ethnic lines of cleavage, political discussions and

controversies in the relatively free and open public space

gradually was commandeered by the language and rhetoric of

ethnicity. Indeed, virtually every social issue and problem in

the society proved to have competitive ethnic implications.

Increasingly, Malays inside, and outside of, UMNO charged that

the UMNO leaders were not doing enough to promote the Malay

language, culture and religion (Islam), and to improve Malay

economic and educational opportunities. In particular, the

PMIP and many Malay intellectuals bitterly accused the UMNO of

betraying the interests of the ordinary Malays and of sel-ling

out to the MCA's Chinese towkays. In direct opposition, many

Chinese groupings pressured the MCA to renegotiate the

political and constitutional compromises, such that the

Chinese are assured equal cultural and political rights. The

Chinese struggle for cultural and political equality was

effectively captured by the "Malaysian Malaysia" concept.

The relatively open and free society in the 1960s,

however, was abandoned by the Malay-dominated state in the

aftermath of the bloody ethnic disturbances on May 13, 1969.

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Even though the direct cause of May 13 ethnic riots was the

Chinese political threat to the UMNO's control of the Selangor

State Legislature, the UMNO leadership also attributed the

breakdown of public order to Malay's fear that their special

position was being threatened by the Chinese and to Malay's

frustration over the government's failure to advance their

economic well-being. Largely to allay the Malays' fears and

anxieties, the UMNO-dominated state drafted a constitutional

amendment to "entrench" the special position of the Malays.

This move made it an offence to question publicly, even in

Parliament, the special position of the Malays, the official

status of the Malay language and religion, and the sovereignty

of the Malay Rulers, and the non-Malays citizenship status.

Thus, since 1970, public advocacy of the "Malaysian Malaysia"

idea has become a criminal offence. In addition, the UMNO-

dominated government has moved vigorously to promote Malay

culture and religion, to enforce the Malay language policy,

and to raise the Malay educational and economic opportunites.

Consequently, in the wake of the May 13 riots, the UMNO

leadership, which assumed control of the party, has proceeded

to redefine and to reconstruct the nature of multiethnic coa­

lition politics. Unlike the Alliance coalition where the

component parties were to an extent equal partners, the non-

Malay parties which joined UMNO to form the National Front had

to acknowledge and to accept one non-negotiable principle —

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UMNO's dominance in the coalition. Nevertheless, in view of

the May 13 tragedy, two reasons led a few non-Malay parties to

join; one, to preserve peace and stability in the society and,

two, many Chinese were fearful of being totally left out of

the government.

Hence, since 1970, the consociational democracy of the

sixties has been displaced by a "coercive consociationalism"

where the non-Malay parties are subordinate partners. In fact,

the non-Malay coalition parties are "nearly powerless," or as

Tun Hussein puts it "neither dead nor alive," but in the

government. Not surprisingly, the non-Malay parties support

among the Chinese public have eroded to the extent that it has

become safer for their candidates to stand for elections in

seats where Malays form the majority vote. It follows that the

UMNO-Malay control of the government and the special position

of the Malays have become non-negotiable principles. And by

"entrenching" the Malay special position, the UMNO leadership

has deprived the Chinese the rights to publicly question the

second-class citizenship status conferred upon them. Hence,

with the increasing and expanding Malay participation in the

economy, achieved via the New Economic Policy, the pressing

question is whether the UMNO, and Malays in general, will be

willing to extend political equality to the Chinese.

In conclusion, since the 1969 crisis, passive citizenship

has largely prevailed in Malaysia. While there is a tradition

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of struggles for citizenship rights in Malaysia, the problem

is that the groups which participated in the struggles were

predominantly the non-Malay ones. The non-Malay groups'

struggles for equal political rights were rejected, before

independence, by the British and the Malay elites, and, after

independence, by the UMNO leaders and by the Malay public in

general. In the 1960s, non-Malays vigorous efforts to forge a

new citizenship that would dissociate citizenship rights from

ethnicity were thwarted by the politically dominant Malays.

This was because the prevailing Malay conception of

citizenship remain circumscribed by a communal view which

emphasized group rights, instead of a view which emphasized

individual rights as an active bearer of effective claims

against society and state. Finally, Malays' insecurity and

sense of weakness and their belief in the bumiputra doctrine,

and the UMNO elites' strategy of ethnic manipulation to

preserve political power, precluded the possibility that the

Malay-dominated state would extend equal citizenship rights to

the non-Malays. Above all, for the UMNO and its non-Malay

coalition partners, citizenship has become an instrument for

the regulation and control of ethnic conflicts — instead of

a set of practices that guarantees democratic participation.

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Revised up to 1 December 1969 and date appointed for coming into force 14 April 1970*

if the act. speech, words, publication or other

3. 11) A "seditious tendency” is a tendency: thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tend­
( * • To bring into hatred or contempt or to ency.
excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any (3) For the purpose of proving the commission
Government; o f any offence against this Act the intention of the
fb To excite the subjects of any Ruler.or the person charged at the time he did or attempted to
inhabitants o f any territory governed by any do or made any preparation to do or conspired
Government to attempt to procure in the territory with any person to do any act or uttered any
of the Ruler or governed by the Government, the seditious words or printed, published, sold, offered
alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any for sale, distributed, reproduced or imported any
matter as by law established; publication or did any other thing shall be deemed
(c. To bring into hatred or contempt or to to be irrelevant if in fact the act had, or would, if
excite disaffection against the administration of done, have had, or the words, publication or thing
justice in Malaysia or in any State; had a seditious tendency.
(ti! To raise discontent or disaffection amongst
the subjects o f the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of 4. (1) Any person who;
the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants f a) Does or attempts to do, or makes any
of Malaysia or o f any State; or preparation to do, or conspires with any person to
(e; To promote feelings of ill-will and hostility do, any act which has or which would, if done,
between different races or classes of the popu­ have a seditious tendency;
lation of Malaysia. ( b ) Utters any seditious words;

(2) Notwithstanding anything in sub-section (1) ( c) Prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, dis­
' an act, speech, words, publication or other thing tributes or reproduces any seditious publi­
shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only cation; or
that it has a tendency: I d ) Imports any seditious publication,
fa) To show that any Ruler has been misled or shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on
mistaken in any o f his measures; conviction, be liable for a first offence to a fine
( b) To point out errors or defects in any not exceeding five thousand dollars or to imprison­
Government or constitution as by law established ment for a term not exceeding three years or to
or in legislation or in the administration of justice both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprison­
with a view to the remedying of the errors or ment for a term not exceeding five years; and any
defects; seditious publication found in the possession of
the person or used in evidence at his trial shall be
( c) To persuade the subjects o f any Ruler or
forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise
the inhabitants o f any territory governed by any
disposed of as the court directs.
Government to attempt to procure by lawful
means the alteration of any matter in the territory (2) Any person who without lawful excuse has
of the Ruler or governed by the Government as by in his possession any seditious publication shall be
law established;or guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be
( d ) To point out, with a view to their removal, liable for a first offence to a fine not exceeding
any matters producing or having a tendency to two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a
produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between term not exceeding 18 months or to both, and, for
different races or classes of the population of a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term
Malaysia, not exceeding three years, and the publication
shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or
otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

5. ( I ) No prosecution for an offence under

“ Tex: published in H is M ajesty's G o vernm ent Gazette, section 4 shall be begun except within six months
Supplement No. t,of9 April 1970. after the offence is committed:

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Provided that for the purposes of this sub­ 9. (1) Whenever any person is convicted of
section a prosecution shall be deemed to be begun publishing in any newspaper matter having a
against any person when a warrant or summons seditious tendency, the court may, if it thinks fit,
has been issued in respect o f any charge made either in lieu o f or in addition to any other
against that person and based on the facts or punishment, make orders as to all or any of the
incident in respect of which the prosecution following matters:
afterwards proceeds. ( a) Prohibiting, either absolutely or except on
(2) No person shall be prosecuted for an conditions to be specified in the order, for any
offence under section 4 without the written period not exceeding one year from the date of
consent of the Public Prosecutor. In such written the order, the future publication of that news­
consent the Public Prosecutor may designate any
court within Malaysia to be the court of trial. ( b j Prohibiting, either absolutely or except on
conditions to be specified in the order, for the
6. (1) Notwithstanding anything to the con­ period aforesaid, the publisher, proprietor, or
trary contained in the Evidence Ordinance, no editor of that newspaper from publishing, editing
or writing for any newspaper, or from assisting,
person shall be convicted o f an offence under
section 4 on the uncorroborated testimony of one whether with money or money’s worth, material,
witness. personal service, or otherwise in the publication,
editing, or production of any newspaper; and
(2) No person shall be convicted of any offence ( c j That for the period aforesaid any printing
referred to in section 4 (1 ) f c j or ( d j if the person press used in the production of the newspaper be
proves that the publication in respect of which he used only on conditions to be specified in the
is charged was printed, published, sold, offered for order, or that it be seized by the police and
sale, distributed, reproduced or imported (as the detained by them for the period aforesaid.
case may be) without his authority, consent and
(2) Any person who contravenes an order made
knowledge and without any want of due care or
under this section shall be guilty of an offence and
caution on his pan, or that he did not know and
shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not
had no reason to believe that the publication had a
exceeding five thousand dollars or to imprison­
seditious tendency.
ment for a term not exceeding three years or to
7. Any person to whom any seditious pub­ (3) Nothing in this Act shall affect the power
lication is sent without his knowledge or privity o f the court to punish any person contravening an
shall forthwith as soon as the nature of its order made under this section for contempt of
contents has become known to him deliver the court:
publication to the officer in charge of a police
Provided that no person shall be punished twice
district or, in Sabah and Sarawak, to an adminis­
for the same offence.
trative officer or to the officer in charge of the
nearest police station, and any person who
10. (1) Whenever on the application of the
complies with the provisions of this section shall
Public Prosecutor it is shown to the satisfaction of
not be liable to be convicted for having in his
the court that the issue or circulation of a
possession that publication:
seditious publication is or if commenced or con­
Provided that in any proceedings against that tinued would be likely to lead to unlawful
person the court shall presume until the contrary violence, or appears to have the object of promot­
be shown that the person knew the contents of the ing feelings of hostility between different classes
publication at the time it first came into his or races of the community, the court shall make
possession. an order (in this section called a “prohibition
order”) prohibiting the issuing and circulation of
8. (1) A Magistrate may issue a warrant that publication (in this section called a “pro­
empowering any police officer, not below the rank hibited publication”) and requiring every person
o f Inspector, to enter upon any premises where having any copy o f the prohibited publication in
any seditious publication is known or is reasonably his possession, power, or control forthwith to
suspected to be and to search therein for any deliver every such copy into the custody o f the
seditious publication. police.
(2) An order under this section may be made
(2) Whenever it appears to any police officerex parte on the application of the Public Pros­
not below the rank of Assistant Superintendent ecutor in chambers.
that there is reasonable cause to believe that in any
premises there is concealed or deposited any (3) It shall be sufficient if the order so de­
seditious p u b lic a t io n , anu he has reasonable scribes the prohibited publication that it can be
grounds for believing that, by reason of the delay identified by a reasonable person who compares
which would be entailed by obtaining a search the prohibited publication with the description
warrant, the object of the search is likely to be order.
frustrated, he may enter and search the premises as (4) Every person on whom a copy o f a pro­
if he were empowered to do so by a warrant issued hibition order is served by any police officer shall
under subsection (1). forthwith deliver to that police officer every

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

prohibited publication in his possession, power, or (7) The owner of any prohibited publication
control, and, if he fails to do so, he shall be guilty delivered or seized under this section may. at any
of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to time within 14 days after the delivery or seizure,
a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or to petition the court for the discharge of the prohib­
imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year ition order, and the court, if on the hearing of the
or to both. petition it decides that the prohibition order ought
not to have been made, shall discharge the order
(5) Every person to whose knowledge it shall and shall order the prohibited publication deliv­
come that a prohibited publication is in his ered by or seized from the petitioner to be
possession, power, or control shall forthwith returned to him.
deliver every such publication into the custody of
(8 ) Every prohibited publication delivered or
the police, and, i f he fails to do so, he shall be
seized under this section with respect to which a
guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be
petition is not filed within the time aforesaid or
liable to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars
which is not ordered to be returned to the owner
or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one
shall be deemed to be forfeited to the Federal
year or to both.
(6) The court may, if it thinks fit, either before (9) For the purposes of this section “court”
Or after or without service of the prohibition order means the High Court.
on any person, issue a warrant authorising any
police officer not below the rank o f Inspector to 11. Any police officer not below the rank of
enter and search any premises specified in the Inspector may arrest without warrant any person
order, and to seize and carry away every prohib­ found committing or reasonably suspected of
ited publication there found, and to use such force committing or of having committed or of attempt­
as may be necessary for the purpose. A copy of ing to commit or o f procuring or abetting any
the prohibition order and of the search warrant person to commit any offence against this Act, or
shall be left in a conspicuous position at every reasonably suspected o f the unlawful possession of
building or place so entered. any thing liable to forfeiture thereunder.

Reproduced with permission o f the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission


Public Papers and Official Documents/Publications

Abdul Razak, Tun (1972) . N a t i o n a l U n i t y T h r o u g h D e v e l o p m e n t ,

Kuala Lumpur: Government Printer.

Alliance National Council (1956). M e m o r a n d u m To Reid

C o m m i s s i o n , Kuala Lumpur: Alliance Party.

______ (1958). C o n s t i t u t i o n a n d R u l e s o f t h e A l l i a n c e Party,

Kuala Lumpur: Alliance Party.

______ (1969). A l l i a n c e M a n i f e s t o 1969: A n E v e n B e t t e r D e a l

F o r All, Kuala Lumpur: Alliance Headquarters.

Allen, J. de V., Stockwell, A.J. & Wright. L. (1981). A

Collection of T r e a t i e s a n d O t h e r D o c u m e n t s A f f e c t i n g the
States of Malaysia 1761-1963, 2 volumes, London: Oceana

Bradell, R. (1931). T h e L a w o f t h e S t r a i t s Settlements, 2

vols., Singapore: Malaya Publishing House.

Colonial Office (1946). M a l a y a n U n i o n and Singapore. Cmd,

6724. London: H.M. Stationary Office.

______ (1946). R e p o r t o n a M i s s i o n t o M a l a y a ( M a c M i c h a e l
Report). Colonial No. 194, London: H.M. Stationary Office.

Corry, W.C.S. (1954). A G e n e r a l S u r v e y of New Villages,

Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

Democratic Action Party (1967). The Setapak Declaration,

Kuala Lumpur: DAP.

______ (1969) . DAP General Elections Manifesto, Our

Triple O b j e c t i v e T o w a r d s a M a l a y s i a n M a l a y s i a , Kuala Lumpur:

(1969) . W h o L i v e s if M a l a y s i a Dies, Kuala Lumpur: DAP.

Ghazali Shafei, M (1971). Democracy: The Realities

Malaysians Must Face, Kuala Lumpur: Jabatan Penerangan

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Kratoska, Paul H. ed., (1983). H o n o r a b l e intentions: T a l k s on

the B r i t i s h Empire in Southeast A s i a D e l i vered at the Royal
C o l o n i a l I n s t i t u t e , 1 8 7 4 - 1 9 2 8 , Singapore: Oxford University

Labor Party Malaya (1955) . M a n i f e s t o o f t h e L a b o r P a r t y of

Malaya, Penang: Labor Party.

Lee Kuan Yew (1965) . The Ba t t l e For a M a l a y s i a n Mal a y s i a

2 v o l s . , Singapore: Ministry of Culture Publications.

______ (1964) . S o m e P r o b l e m s i n M a l a y a , Singapore: Ministry of


(1963) . B a t t l e For Merger, Singapore: Government

Printing Office.

Malaya, Federation of (1948). T h e Federation of Malaya

Agreement, Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

______ (1950). C o n s t i t u t i o n a l D e v e l o p m e n t in S o u t h e a s t As i a :
M i n u t e s o f t h e F i f t e e n t h C o m m i s s i o n e r G e n e r a l ' s C o n f e r e n c e , CO
537/5970, Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

______ (1951). R e p o r t o n th e B a r n e s R e p o r t o n M a l a y E d u c a t i o n
and t h e F e n n - W u R e p o r t o n C h i n e s e E d u c a t i o n , Kuala Lumpur:
Government Press.

_______ (1953) . D e t e n t i o n a n d D e p o r t a t i o n d u r i n g t h e E m e r g e n c y
in t h e F e d e r a t i o n of M a l a y a . No. 24.

______ (1954). C i t i z e n s h i p Laws, Kuala Lumpur: Government


_______ (1954) . R e p o r t o f t h e C o n s t i t u e n c y D e l i n e a t i o n C o m m i s ­
sion, Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

_______ (1956) . R e p o r t o f t h e E d u c a t i o n Committee (Razak

Report), Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

_______(1956) . S e l f - G o v e r n m e n t f o r t h e F e d e r a t i o n o f M a l a y a ,
Report of the Constitution Conference, Kuala Lumpur:
Government Press.

_______ (1956) . T h e Baling Ta l k s , Kuala Lumpur: Government


(1957) . T h e 195 7 C e n s u s R e p o r t - A P r e l i m i n a r y R e p o r t
B a s e d o n " F i r s t C o u n t T o t a l " R e t u r n s , Kuala Lumpur: Government

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

_______ (1957). R e p o r t of the Federation of Malaya

Constitutional Commission (Reid Report), Kuala Lumpur:
Government Press.

_______ (1957). Federation Of Malaya Constitutional Proposals

1957, Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

_______ (1958). R e p o r t of the Election Commission on the

D e l i m i t a t i o n of C o n s t i t u e n c i e s f o r t h e F i r s t E l e c t i o n s t o t h e
H o u s e of R e p r e s e n t a t i v e s and the S t a t e L e g i s l a t u r e Assemblies,
Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

_______ (1960). Internal S e c u r i t y Act, i960. No. 18 o f 1960.

_______ (i960) . R e p o r t of t h e E d u c a t i o n R e v i e w C o m m i t t e e (Talib

R e p o r t ) , Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.

(1960). R e p o r t of the Election Commission on the

D e l i m i t a t i o n of P a r l i a m e n t a r y a n d S t a t e C o n s t i t u e n c i e s u n d e r
t h e P r o v i s i o n s of t h e C o n s t i t u t i o n o f t h e P e r s e k u t u a n T a n a h
M e l a y u , Kuala Lumpur: Government Press.