May 13: A coup d’etat

Declassified documents have shown that May 13 was not a spontaneous racial riot; it was a political plot planned by certain Umno leaders to oust Tunku Abdul Rahman. According to a reliable source, the MCA leadership was alerted by its partner in the Alliance coalition about the incident before hand and its headquarters in Jalan Ampang Kuala Lumpur was ordered to shut down on Friday May 13 and the entire staff were sent to Fraser Hill for a short ‘vacation’. 

All these years, the opposition parties have been accused by the authority as the responsible party for the riots but the authority has no proofs whatsoever to support their claim. I have written several statements in the past to defend the opposition when the opposition was under attacked.

Congratulations to Dr Kua for his new book. Malaysians have the right to know the truth about the ‘darkest hours of our nationhood’.

Unveiling the ‘May 13’ riots

Beh Lih Yi
May 11, 07 12:52pm
Malaysiakini
“While people were still assembling for this parade, trouble broke out in the nearby Malay section of Kampung Baru, where two Chinese lorries were burnt…By 7.15pm, I could see the mobs swarming like bees at the junction of Jalan Raja Muda and Batu Road. More vehicles were smashed and Chinese shophouses set on fire.The Chinese and Indian shopkeepers of Batu Road formed themselves into a ‘district defence force’ armed with whatever they find – parangs, poles, iron bars and bottles…When the Malay invading force withdrew as quickly as it had arrived, the residents took their revenge. Shop-fronts and cars suspected of being Malay-owned were smashed or burnt…The police arrived at about 9pm but did not remain in the area. Later, truck-loads of Federal Reserve Units (riot squads) and the Royal Malay Regiment drove past…”(Excerpts taken from a dispatch by Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent Bob Reece narrating his eyewitness account on May 13, 1969 after a group of young Malays gathered outside the Selangor Menteri Besar Harun Idris’ residence in late afternoon)

It has been almost four decades since the May 13 racial riots broke out.

What had prompted the worst riots in Malaysia’s 50-year history that cost the lives of 196 persons (according to official records) however remained shrouded under a veil of secrecy, although there are several versions on the matter so far.

The ‘official version’ of it has always been the violence was triggered off by the Chinese-dominated opposition supporters’ provocation in celebrating their electoral victory which saw the ruling Alliance Party suffered a major setback.

‘Full of nonsense’

This version, however was consistently rebutted by the opposition group who claimed otherwise. Other theories also suggested that the riots was rather a planned attack to oust then premier Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The lack of accessible information in the public domain has been a stumbling block for those who intend to uncover the episode but a set of newly-declassified documents in London gave sociologist Dr Kua Kia Soong a thorough glimpse of the event.

Late last year, the principal of New Era College took a three-month sabbatical leave to the Public Records Office in London to study records and declassified documents on the May 13 incident after a 30-year secrecy rule over these documents lapse.

His findings based on the declassified documents – which have been compiled into a new book to be launched on Sunday – found the entire May 13 riots were by no means a spontaneous outburst of racial violence, as it has been portrayed to the Malaysian public.

“The (official) history of May 13 is full of nonsense, it doesn’t reveal anything. It pins the blame on the opposition party which was not true, they were not the responsible party,” Kua told malaysiakini in a recent interview.

“My book shows the responsible party were those ascendent state capitalist class (in Umno), elements within that gave rise and implemented this plan. There was a plan based on the people who assembled at the (Selangor) menteri besar’s house.

“There are correspondences and intelligence reports which showed that. Official history has to reveal that truth and not to pin the blame on everybody around who are not to be blamed,” the educationist and social activist stressed.

Kua maintained the May 13 incident was a coup d’etat against the Tunku by the then emergent Malay state capitalists – backed by the police and army – to seize control of the reign of power from the old aristocrats to implement the new Malay agenda.

A plot to oust Tunku

He opined the riots were works of “Malay thugs” orchestrated by politicians behind the coup.

For instance, he said the “group of hoodlums suddenly appeared from all over the place” on the day of May 13 to gather at Harun’s residence and the questionable conduct of the police and army to just stood by and watch.

He added that documents showed less than a week after the riots, then deputy premier Tun Abdul Razak who headed the National Operations Council was already in full control of the country – an indication that there had been a plot.

On top of that, discussions for future plans had already been carried out.

“For example the National Cultural Policy (announced in 1971) burst in the 80s, it was already been thought of one week after (the May 13 incident),” Kua noted, referring to the controversial policy which placed emphasis on the ‘indigenous culture’ and Islam.

A secret document from the British cabinet office featured in the book showed that barely a week after the riots broke out, the Central Intelligence Agency had figured out what Tun Razak was planning – “to formalise Malay dominance, sideline the Chinese and shelve the Tunku”.

The role of the security forces in the May 13 bloodshed was also questioned in Kua’s findings.

“Even at that time, people in the diplomatic core (were wondering) how come the day the riot broke out, Razak met with the chiefs of the police and army but they did not do anything,” he said.

Interestingly, Kua pointed out the Malaysian security forces had been tested and tried during the war against the communist insurgency between 1948 and 1960 and earned their reputation.

“They are one of the most effective in putting down the communist insurrection that is a far, far more difficult operation than putting down riot, but they could not put down (such riot) in 1969 for days, for weeks,” he questioned.

It thus brought to Kua’s conclusion: “The May 13 was a pretext for staging that coup… I am not the first person who said it was a coup d’etat but I am providing the documents to show how it was a coup d’etat.”

Exact fatality number unknown

The declassified documents have included reports fielded by foreign correspondents who were in Kuala Lumpur at the time, dispatches by the British High Commission personnel who closely followed the event and various other confidential reports from the diplomat circle.

It is considerably the first time a complete recount of the tragedy is made available to the Malaysian public, as many foreign correspondent reports were previously banned while local documents are inaccessible.

However, what could not be established in the book is another secrecy, the real number of deaths.

Official figures said the May 13 riots claimed 196 lives, 180 were wounded by firearms and 259 by other weapons, 9,143 persons were arrested out of whom 5,561 were charged in court, 6,000 persons rendered homeless, at least 211 vehicles and 753 buildings were destroyed or damaged.

The declassified documents and international correspondents at the time nevertheless have calculated a much higher number of fatalities but an exact number could not be ascertained, although it was common knowledge the victims are majority ethnic Chinese.

Kua said it is his hope to smash two myths with the publication of the book.

“One is racial riot will occur when the Malays are not happy, that’s why you need the New Economic Policy, affirmative action policy et cetera, otherwise the Malays will be unhappy and there will be riot.

“This is the first myth we should dismantle as documents showed some people were involved in making it (the May 13) happened with the connivance of the police and army,” he stressed.

The second myth, Kua said, is academicians and pluralist theorists who uphold the views that riots and conflicts will occur naturally in multi-racial country.

“I am questioning this. The role of the state is very important at a particular historical conjuncture. Malays, Chinese and Indians don’t suddenly decide to fight in conflict, it doesn’t happen like that,” he said.

Asked on whether there is any fear that the authorities might move to ban the publication of the book, as in the case of a recent ban slapped on a book about the Kampung Medan clashes, Kua responded:

“In the age of the internet, what does banning a book mean? We can put it on the Web, you can’t do anything.”

‘May 13’: The first credible account

What actually happened during the 1969 riots
May 11, 07 1:11pm Malaysiakini
The series of events surrounding the ‘May 13’ riot has been documented by Dr Kua Kia Soong in his latest book May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 which will be launched on Sunday in conjunction with the 38th anniversary of the tragedy.This compilation, based on various sets of foreign dispatches and confidential reports at the time – which were declassified recently and made available at the Public Records Office in London – has been dubbed as the first credible account on the incident.

“The real circumstances surrounding the worst racial riot in the history of Malaysia have so far not been made available to the Malaysian public. The official version is fraught with contradictions and inadequacies to which few pay credence,” Kua wrote in the book.

Below are excerpts and summary of the chronology of events based on the declassified documents taken from Kua’s book:

May 10:

The ruling Alliance Party suffered a major setback in the general election although it had managed to retain a simple parliamentary majority. They had lost Penang to the Gerakan Party; Kelantan to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party while Perak and Selangor were at the brink of falling into the opposition’s hands.

May 11 and May 12:

On both nights, the opposition celebrated their victory. A large Gerakan procession was held to welcome the left-wing Gerakan leader V David back from winning the federal seat in Penang.

May 13:

The MCA which had suffered badly at the polls, announced that it would withdraw from the cabinet while remaining within the Alliance.

A dispatch from a foreign correspondent showed it is evident that there was a plan for youths mobilised by Umno elements to assemble at then Selangor menteri besar Harun Idris’ residence in the late afternoon. A retaliatory march had been planned although police permission was withheld.

When people were still assembling for the parade, trouble broke out in the nearby Malay section of Kampung Baru, where two Chinese lorries were burnt. The ensuing carnage at Kampung Baru and Batu Road quickly spread elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur.

The foreign correspondent noted the curfew that was imposed was not fairly applied to all.

“In the side streets off Jalan Hale, I could see bands of Malay youths armed with parangs and sharpened bamboo spears assembled in full view of troops posted at road junctions. Meanwhile, at Batu Road, a number of foreign correspondents saw members of the Royal Malay Regiment firing into Chinese shophouses for no apparent reason.”

Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman immediately attributed the violence as triggered off by the behaviour of opposition supporters after the election result announcement while his deputy Tun Abdul Razak pinned the blame on the communists.

May 14:

The riots continued but on a smaller scale. The curfew was only lifted in staggered hours in various districts to allow people to buy food. The police called out all possible reserves and handed over the northern part of the city to the army.

Police put casualties for the previous night incident at 44 killed and about 150 injured. Another dispatch showed the casualties were mainly Chinese as it stated that out of 77 corpses in the morgue of the General Hospital on May 14, at least 60 were Chinese.

The government’s attempts to blame the communists for the riots were however not taken seriously by the officials at the British High Commission (BHC) who could see that the Tunku was not prepared to blame his own people for the riots, nor was he going to blame it on the Chinese “as a whole”.

May 15:

The King proclaimed a state of emergency. The National Operations Council headed by Tun Razak was formed. Tun Razak was still responsible to the Tunku, but all the powers under Emergency Regulations were vested in him.

The curfew had been lifted temporarily in Kuala Lumpur that morning but the situation had rapidly worsened and more sporadic fighting had broken out. Curfews were re-imposed but food was very short.

The local press was suspended until censorship regulations could be drawn up but no attempt was made to supervise reports sent out by foreign correspondents.

May 16:

The situation was still tense in Selangor with cars and houses being burned and fatalities rising. Death tolls had risen to 89 with over 300 injured. 24 hour curfew remained in force in Selangor and had also been imposed in Malacca. In Penang and Perak, the situation had improved although the curfew remained in force.

Tunku made a broadcast in which he announced the setting up of a National Defence Force to be manned by volunteers. The new information minister Hamzah Abu Samah and Tun Razak gave a press conference pinning the blame for the riots on communist infiltration of the opposition parties.

There were reports of looting by the largely Malay military and their bias against the Chinese Malaysians. Number of refugees were increasing.

May 17:

There were skepticism among British officers toward the official figures for fatalities and the preponderance of Chinese casualties among the dead. The police estimated the deaths at about 100 now while British officers estimated the proportion of Chinese to Malay casualties is about 85:15.

The press censorship invited criticism not only from the local press but also in diplomatic circles especially when official statements lacked clarity and credibility.

In a confidential BHC memorandum to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the coup d’etat has been acknowledged and it has effected the transfer of power not only to “Malay hands” but also to the security forces. The latter’s professionalism is questioned.

The BHC also noted the Federal Reserve Unit, which at the time was multiracial in composition, was the more impartial of the security forces while the Malay troops were discriminatory in enforcing the curfew.

“Discriminatory takes the form, for example, of not, repeat not, enforcing the curfew in one of the most violently disposed of the Malay areas in Kuala Lumpur (Kampung Baru) where Malays armed with parangs, etc continue to circulate freely; with the inevitable result that gangs slip through the cordon round the area and attack Chinese outside it. In Chinese areas, the curfew is strictly enforced.”

May 18:

The Tunku qualified his earlier assertion that the disturbances were caused by communists, putting the blame instead on assorted “bad elements”. He also announced the deferment of the Sarawak elections and the continuance of the restrictions on the movement of foreign journalists.

The situation was still unsettled in some parts of the capital city.

May 19:

Less than a week after the riots, the reins of power had effectively passed to Tun Razak, indicating that there had been a plot to bring about the coup d’etat.“The exact relationship between Tun Razak and the Tunku is not clear. In public Tun Razak says he is directly responsible to the Tunku but he has made it clear privately that he is completely in charge of the country. This could mean the beginning of a process of withdrawal by the Tunku as an effective PM”.

There are some 10,000 reported refugees. The local press was allowed to publish under censorship while foreign journalists had their curfew passes withdrawn. Some opposition politicians were arrested.

May 20:

In a meeting, an Australian High Commissioner had suggested the opposition leaders should be given a role as peace maker but Tun Razak and Ghazali Shafie were firmly against this. “They considered opposition leaders would simply use such an opportunity to promote their own political views.”

The Malaysian Red Cross Society is continuing its daily feeding programme for refugees in various places and over 5,000 had received food supplies.

May 21:

The official statistics of casualties at this juncture were 137 killed (18 Malays), 342 injured, 109 vehicles burned, 118 buildings destroyed and 2,912 persons arrested who were mostly curfew breakers.

May 23:

The declassified documents reveal that Malay troops were not only fraternising with the Malay thugs but were discharging their firearms indiscriminately at Chinese shophouses as they went through the city.

“When confronted by foreign correspondents with reports of racial discrimination, Tun Razak flatly denied them. Following this, curfew passes issued to foreign journalists were withdrawn and reporters were ordered to remain indoors ‘for their own safety’.”

A foreign correspondent’s report showed the Malay hooligans were detested by the law-abiding Malays of Kampung Baru.

Internal security and home minister Tun Dr Ismail indicated that the Internal Security Act would be in future amended to “counter changing communist tactics”. It was disclosed that of the 3,699 arrested during the crisis, 952 were members of secret societies.

May 24:

Law and order has been re-established in Kuala Lumpur and the atmosphere in the town had improved. People were going back to work (in non-curfew hours) and the government offices were limbering into action. The curfew remained in force (from 3pm to 6.30am of the following day). The government was not ready to admit that it was armed Malay youth who had caused the disturbances.

May 27:

The Tunku was under pressure to resign as he was clearly incensed by foreign journalists’ speculations about his weakening position and got his private secretary to write a protest note to the BHC.

May 28:

A confidential report by the BHC to the FCO on this day observed the government’s attempts to blame the communists for the disturbances were an attempt to justify their new authoritarian powers.

June:

The riots had been under control but they were still sporadic outbreaks of civil disturbances. A BHC report noted violence erupted again in one part of Kuala Lumpur on the night of June 28 and 29, a number of houses were burnt and the casualties were officially given as five killed and 25 injured. Some disturbances toward the end of June also involved ethnic Indians.

July:

Renewed trouble in which one policeman was killed was quickly stopped from spreading in Kuala Lumpur by positive police action.

Tun Ismail’s firm stand in ordering the security forces to act firmly ‘without favour or discrimination’ to any communal group and the Tunku’s announcement of a National Goodwill Committee made up of politicians of all parties went some way toward allaying the fears of the people.

Tun Ismail also revealed the total arrests since May now stood at 8,114, comprising people “from all the major racial groups”. Of these, 4,192 had been charged in court, 675 released on bail, 1,552 unconditionally released and 1,695 preventively detained.

Situation in the Peninsula had improved substantially but tension remains high in sensitive areas of Malacca, Perak and Selangor.

Tension had begun to ease until Malay agitation connected with Tunku’s return to a position of influence and the removal of Dr Mahathir Mohamad from Umno’s general committee on July 12 had heightened it again. Malay university students petitioned for Tunku’s resignation and demonstrated on the campus.

Unveiling the ‘May 13’ riots

5 Responses to “May 13: A coup d’etat”

  1. KSTAN Says:

    My impression from the previous UMNO assembly aired on Astro is that UMNO is threatening the non-Malays and the opposition parties that there will be another MAY 13 if we kept on questioning certain “rights” of the Malays. But what the non-Malays and opposition is questioning about is the abuse of these “rights” by UMNO which is tainted with corruption and nepotism and not to mention their free-will to simply reinterpret the constitution and certain laws of the country whenever it suits them.

    So why have UMNO (especially the Pemuda wing) brought kept on emphasizing on such a threat?

    1.To unite the Malays within UMNO as some segments within UMNO were not happy with the current leadership. UMNO must show that there is a need to be united to protect themselves against the axis of evil, mainly non-Malays, non-Muslims and the opposition parties.

    2.To uplift some of the leader’s image as a pro/ultra Malay who may have lost some ground support in the party

    3.PAS & PKR seems to be stronger and may possibly more support in the next GE

    4.Many of BN/UMNO corruption cases/stories/rumours have been highlighted, especially in the internet blogs. So this will help to divert the people’s attention from such stories.

    But we should not fear another MAY 13 for there shall be NONE. There is simply TOO MUCH at stake for UMNO to do so. Abdullah will never allow this to happen! UMNO leaders have too much at stake economically speaking and I refer to this in terms of their businesses and enterprises and huge investments. A MAY 13 will cause a COLLPASE or at least a major blow to our already fragile economy and will affect these UMNO leaders as well. The UMNO in the past had nothing to loose as they were not tight down with businesses, enterprises or in any investments. So no one should vote in fear on the basis of a MAY 13 if UMNO/BN looses seats or looses a 2/3 majority or even loose the entire GE all together.

  2. Jim Says:

    Wow…..a new relevation to me…..I think I should get this book by Dr. Kua.

  3. BBPP Says:

    I totally agree with you KSTAN ……… with you all the way !

  4. crazy hippo Says:

    Should there be another May 13, how should we, the non-malays, react? will this book create a greater gap between the malays and non-malays? i remembered a friend, who was queing to withdraw some moneys at the ATM of maybank self-service lobby near a local university – he was surrounded & hurled with vulgar words from a group of malay undergrads – shouting “lu cina b***, keluar dari tanah melayu ini”. i grew up in kuching, sarawak, where multi racial was not so much of a problem in school. never was there anyone who question why my friends are malays or chinese or ibans. we studied & enjoyed together without any racial disharmony. can we unite & stop all these for peace???

  5. ronnieliutiankhiew Says:

    dear amanda,
    yes, we can unite. but before that, we have to fight the racists in umno and other political parties. these are the culprits, not the students you mentioned in your comment. thay can be taught if the leaders know how to behave. if hisham stops brandishing the keris every year nad kj stops uttering racist remarks, malaysia will be a better place for us.
    take care, ronnie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: