Many people are ignorant as to the actual events and happenings on May 13th 1969. The events leading up to it, including it and after it are just a blur because of 40 years of continuous whitewashing and blocking. The real events are shrouded in mystery to most and the truth of the matter was just revealed a few years back.
If you have read the book, May 13 by Dr. Kua Kia Soong then ignore this article. If not, pay attention closely because everything you thought you knew about the events surrounding that fateful die is a lie. Ask a man of the street as to what really happened on that day and more often then not, his response is going to be "Oh, itu Melayu bunuh Cina bunuh Melayu." The truth of the matter is far more disturbing and it goes some way towards explaining why we are where we are today.
Let's peer into the crystal ball shall we, in a journey into the past....
The year was 1969. Singapore had left the union four years ago. The 1964 racial riots which were orchestrated by UMNO in Singapore as a protest to then Singapore chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Malaysian Malaysia policy where he contended that all Malaysians should be treated as equals was bloody and still fresh on many people's minds. The root of that struggle and that decision is a different story altogether but now the actual background to the issues that arose later in that decade can be seen.
Between 1965 to 1967, there were many negotiations held between Singapore and Malaysia to maintain a unified currency and share certain public agencies like the UM, MSA (later MAS), Reserve Bank of Malaya and others, however severe communalist sentiment hampered the negotiations and UM was split into Universiti Malaya (based in KL) and the Singapore campus became NUS. Malayan-Singapore Airways became Malaysia Airlines and the Reserve Bank of Malaya became Bank Negara thus irrevocably divorcing Malaysia and Singapore.
Part of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement was that Singapore would help fund development in East Malaysia but after the secession of Singapore, that funding was cut off. The numerical advantage that non-malays had over malays in the 1964 election was also lost because of Singapore's secession. As such, UMNO began to be overtaken by a state-capitalist class led by Abdul Razak and Dr.Ismail. This class was always repressed by the Old Guard of UMNO led by Tunku as they tended to harp on more communal issues whereas the Old Guard was more interested in placating the MCA interests (which they held significant interests in as well.) As such, there was a great tension in UMNO throughout the late 1960's and many Malays felt divorced from the UMNO cause as many of Old Guard continued to neglect their interests.
The 1969 election was a significant one. Both the non-Malays and the Malays were extremely unhappy with the Alliance (as BN was known then). The non-Malays were unhappy with what they considered extreme discrimination in favour of the Malays in nearly every field whereas the Malays were generally unhappy about UMNO's lack of concern for the poor Malays. Many had seen no progress in the 12 years since independence and were losing faith with UMNO. Thus, the stage was set for a showdown. The pressure on Tunku was already building since the publication of the "Malay Dilemma" by Mahathir in the mid 60's. As such, he announced before the election that this would be his last election as the Prime Minister and he would step down after this. Abdul Razak then called on the public to give the Tunku a strong mandate as a retirement gift.
However, this was not enough. The non-Malays were extremely disaffected with the MCA/MIC and chose to throw their support behind the newly founded Gerakan and the heir to the PAP, the DAP. The Malays on the other hand, especially the ones in the East Coast and Northern parts of Malaysia decided to support the PMIP (PAS as it was known then.) The 1969 election was a disaster for the alliance as it lost it's two-thirds majority, the popular vote and the control of 3 state legislatures. UMNO was in turmoil.
Up to this, the official "history" is relatively accurate. However, from here to the 13th of May and beyond the official "history" papered over the actual truth. The following information have been gleaned from the despatches by foreign correspondents and ambassadors over the weeks up to and including May the 13th.
Exultant supporters of the DAP and Gerakan filled the streets of KL to celebrate their famous victory. The election campaign was of a deeply communal nature and served only to fuel racial tensions. Many foreign correspondents based in KL filed reports praising the Malaysian democratic system and predicted another five years of peace, prosperity and more effective, efficient government. Initially Tunku was disappointed but he soon conceded that the people wanted a strong opposition, which had been realised. On the 13th of May, MCA decided to withdraw from the cabinet while remaining in the Alliance. At UMNO HQ in Batu Road, the feeling was that democracy had gone too far. The political hegemony of UMNO was being threatened and a non-malay Menteri Besar for Perak and Selangor was very likely. UMNO Youth then decided to assemble at the residence of the then Selangor Menteri Besar, Harun Idris to demonstrate "support". Their assembly then turned into a riot which attacked Chinese business and homes throughout the city centre. One letter send by a British resident in KL who was sheltering 6 Chinese youths in her house to her MP in London was particularly impassionate and articulated the extent of the destruction the riot had caused the many unspeakable acts of terror perpetrated by the mob.
The majority Malay security forces professionalism was also questioned in the aftermath of the riots as many had "selectively" enforced the curfew as seen by foreign observers. On the 15th of May, Emergency was declared by the Yang Dipertuan Agong and all state legislatures and the Parliament was suspended. A National Operations Committee headed by Abdul Razak was formed and all local newspapers (the then honest, Straits Times included) were suspended. Censorship laws were quickly introduced and despite Tan Sri Hoffman's (The then editor of the Straits Times) impassionate pleas, were implemented. Many Opposition member's of Parliament were arrested under the ISA and many more confined to House Arrest. Abdul Razak and the new state-capitalist class of UMNO had assumed full power and it was just a matter of time until the Tunku was forced to resign. The military was given massive powers in the NOC and practically ran the civil service. Slowly, the picture began to clear. Abdul Razak was now running the country with the support of the police and the military. Although publicly he claimed responsibility to the Tunku, privately he had made it clear that only one person was in charge and that person was himself.
In summary, it is clear that the riots of May 1969 had led to the ascendance of the state capitalist class which controlled the NOC. It is also evident that the old aristocratic class under the Tunku had been eclipsed by the new Malay elite under the leadership of Razak. This new Malay ruling class largely maintained the Alliance Formula but enlarged it to incorporate more opposition parties. However, the predominance of UMNO within this larger coalition was unmistakable. The racial bloodbath and the state of emergency under military rule was intended to serve as a deterrent to any challenge to UMNO's dominance of the post 1969 Malaysian political landscape. The climate of terror and repression allowed the new regime to introduce and implement discriminatory Malay-centric economic, educational and cultural policies. These policies have been crucial in winning over the Malay masses to support the new Malay ruling class. At the same time, these discriminatory policies have been instrumental in facilitating the accumulation of capital by the new Malay capitalist class.
All the information above was drawn from Dr. Kua Kia Soong's book MAY 13 published by SUARAM. The book can be obtained for a nominal fee from Kinibooks.