Japanese forces attacked British Malaya on 8th December 1941. Singapore, the supreme symbol of British power in SE Asia fell on 15th February 1942. Sarawak and British North Borneo were occupied without a shot being fired. Over three and a half years of Japanese Occupation would follow, until British military administrators would return in August/ September 1945.

The results of the occupation were devastation of the pre-war economy, a much more politicized populace than before, and a much more divided populace. The Japanese presented themselves to Malay-Muslims as their patron, respectful of Islam and Malay culture. They fostered pan-Malay consciousness and gave Malays new opportunities in administration.

They encouraged young Malay radicals hoping for links with the Indonesian nationalists, though few peninsular Malays supported them. Japanese regard for the Malays was thrown into question in 1943, however, when they handed over the four northern Malay states to Thailand. (These states would be returned to British control in 1945). The Chinese were treated by the Japanese as war enemies often with appalling brutality.

Not surprisingly, Chinese formed the majority of the underground resistance forces which developed in the peninsular and the Borneo territories. The peninsular forces were known as the Malayan peoples¶ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) and were to a large degree controlled by members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). The Indians of Malaya, by contrast, were encouraged by the Japanese to focus their political thought on India.

Many young Malayan Indians were recruited for service in the Japanesesponsored but ill-fated INA (Indian National Army). When the British returned in 1945 they quickly subdued the open intercommunal hostilities which had flared at the war¶s end. They were aware that there could be no going back to the complacency of the pre-war days. Alongside the massive reconstruction of the economy they also set about fundamental administrative reforms.

In 1946 Sarawak and North Borneo ± the latter particularly badly damaged by war ± were acquired from their former owners and finally became the full responsibility of Britain. On the Peninsula the British introduced a plan for µMalayan Union¶ uniting administratively the Malay States, Penang and Melaka (though not Singapore) and giving all residents equal rights of citizenship. Malays from all states were galvanized by the blithe disregard for states¶ rights and Malay pre-eminence over the immigrant peoples.

UMNO (United Malays National Organization) was swiftly formed in protest, and the British were forced to abandon the idea. In subsequent talks UMNO agreed, however, to a federal administrative structure, and to citizenship for nonMalays who filled certain strict criteria. The Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948.

In the same year the CPM attempted a revolution using guerilla warfare tactics and drawing on the experience and organization gained during the war in the MPAJA. The British declared a state of emergency (the event became known as the µEmergency¶). Developed counter insurgency policies which, crucially, won the support of the majority of the population.

By the early 1950s the CPM terrorism has been reduced to a minor problem though Emergency regulations were not lifted until 1960. One permanent result of the Emergency was a highly centralized federation. The states relinquished most of their sovereign powers so that the crisis could be handled efficiently.

During the Emergency the British promised self-government for Malaya, though at the time it was not clear how this could be achieved in a way acceptable to all communities. Attempts to establish multi-racial political parties met with little success. The largest and best organized party in Malaya, UMNO, was exclusively for Malays. The perils of politicized ethnic rivalry loomed large.

Beginning in 1952, however, a formula for potentially stable self-government was worked out. This was the Alliance, a coalition of three communal based parties. UMNO represented the Malays. The Chinese were represented by the new and politically conservative MCA (Malayan ± later Malaysian ± Chinese Association). The Malayan ± later Malaysian ± Indian Congress (MIC) represented the Indian community.

The Alliance testified to the pragmatic good sense, diplomatic skills and political generosity of its founders. Tunku Abdul Rahman, UMNO leader and first Prime Minister until 1970. Hugely successful at national elections in 1955, the Alliance achieved Merdeka (Independence) for the Federation of Malaya in 1957. The new nation¶s democratic parliamentary system and its legal system were broadly derived from British models.

The Alliance was not without its flaws, leaving many issues which Malaysia is still working out. It was a pact, or bargain, between three communal elites which gave the economically weak Malays access to political and administrative power while assuring the other communities of respect for their interests. The Malays were offered a degree of µpositive discrimination¶ but left the socio-economic imbalances between communities to be worked out by laissez faire forces.

In addition, questions of national cultural integration were left largely unresolved. Malay pre-eminence was acknowledged in adopting Islam as the national religion, elect a King among the hereditary rulers, and in making Malay the national language. The application of the national religion and language to the daily lives of nonMalays was extremely circumscribed. It was believed that inter-ethnic suspicions were running too high for such issues to be determined at once.

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