What is the significance of May 13 in Malaysia? What everyone knows is that on that day, there were racial riots that happened in Kuala Lumpur. The 1969 general election had taken place and Parti Perikatan (Umno, MCA, MIC) had lost the popular vote and its two-thirds majority.
The opposition, mainly DAP, Gerakan and PAS at that time, made major gains (it won Perak and Penang, in addition to retaining Kelantan) and there was even a very contested tie-breaker for the Selangor state government. Both Parti Perikatan and the opposition held marches.
This, coupled with heated rumours of violence happening around the country, made the pressure too much to handle that it blew up and eventually almost 200 people were killed in clashes between mainly the Malays and Chinese.
All this resulted in the government taking active measures to change its policies so that the imbalance and inequality that existed between the different races in the country would be addressed, which mainly meant the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP).
It was a horrible point in Malaysia’s history and, of course, it is something that we should look back, take heed and learn from the mistakes that were done so that we do not go full circle and return to a situation such as that.
The older generation that actually lived through the period remember the fear and uncertainty that everybody felt during that period. We hear it all the time from our parents and grandparents who are never tire talking about what they could remember.
They would constantly say that we must never let the country go back to that and it is important that we make sure the relationship between the different races that make Malaysia is always in good and positive terms so the balance will always be maintained.
I can understand that and don’t blame them. They saw the violence, they saw the deaths and they felt the fear. If there is anything we can learn, it is that experience and hindsight counts for a lot. So I do agree that we can learn from the past.
But it may also seem that the government of the day could be taking things a little too far when it comes to reminding people of May 13 to the point of mongering fear among the people. But the real fear is that people are falling for it.
The government that is in place right now, the Barisan Nasional (formerly known as Parti Perikatan) has been key in making the changes in government policy with the intentions of keeping racial harmony in the country.
When I say that it may seem to be that they are fear mongers, here is what I mean.
They continue to remind people that we never want to be a country where the different races that make up the population are constantly fighting with each other and trying to one up each other by stepping on each other’s heads. Which is well and good.
But they also continue to remind people that the races are constantly trying to run each other down. The Malays will continue to fight for their privileged rights, the Chinese will feel like they are continuously oppressed and the Indians will feel sidelined all the time.
And events that rile up racial hatred seem to always suddenly happened, such as last year’s Red Shirts rally led by Jamal Mohd Yunos, a leader of Umno. They came out because they felt that other races were threatening the ‘special position’ that the Malays have.
In fact, one individual who attended the rally, Zawawi Othman, the Umno chief for Pasir Puteh in Kelantan, said that Chinese Malaysians need to respect the Malays or they will be chased out of the country. He said this to me when I interviewed him at the rally.
If that doesn’t border on hate speech, I don’t know what is. And take note, these are leaders of Umno, which is the main party that form Barisan Nasional, hence the main party that is the government currently administering the country.
So basically, what the ruling party is constantly trying to remind the population is that they have to be careful and vote properly (read: vote for the incumbent) because if they do vote for anybody different, there is no guarantee that there won’t be another racial riot.
Now here is where I put in my two sen worth being from a generation that did not go through the terrible experience of May 13, 1969. I have to admit that although I learn about it in history classes, I cannot relate at all to what had happened. I do understand it, but I cannot relate to it.
Here is an incident that happened almost half a decade ago and to constantly harp about it just seems like we are going overboard with it. I don’t want racial hatred and violence to happen in Malaysia. This is my country and I want to live peacefully with my fellow Malaysians.
But that doesn’t mean that my generation and all those after me is just going to settle for the status quo when we see that there is so much that can be changed and improved. Why do we deserve to be scared into this by something that didn’t happen in our time?
I don’t mean to or even want to sound arrogant and insensitive. As I have mentioned, I understand the importance of learning from history and experience. We should do that. But to live in fear forever and stay stagnant is not much of a life.
We shouldn’t be too scared to want change. We should be confident and strong enough to realise that what the country has gone through will make us wiser and more matured to handle the situation when change has happened.
So, as tomorrow is the 48th anniversary of the May 13 incident, I think we should look back, learn and be prepared to change instead of being scared and not wanting to do anything. As far as I can see, the people around me aren’t racist and spew hate speech.
To be honest, all those who are doing it are those who are in an authoritative position. Ordinary folks like you and me are alright with one another. No problems at all. So what’s there to be scared of? So be the change now.
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