May 13 and societal insecurity

A dated picture of a deserted Kuala Lumpur during the May 13, 1969 incident with security forces on patrol. FILE PIC

THE incident of May 13, 1969 had been regarded by most historians, political scientists and sociologists as an event symbolising “the worst racial riot” in the history of Malaysia’s post-independence period.

Analysed from the perspective of security studies, however, the incident was a testimony to Malaysia’s political and societal insecurities experienced by our people in the aftermath of the 3rd General Election.

In his book, People, State and Fear (1991), Barry Buzan explained that “political security concerns the organisational stability of states, systems of government and the ideologies that give them legitimacy”. He also stated that “societal security concerns the sustainability, within acceptable conditions for evolution, of traditional patterns of language, culture and religious and national identity and customs”

The May 13 incident threatened Malaysia’s political security because it had disrupted our system of parliamentary democracy; and had affected the day-to-day management of our country through the cabinet system. Its threat to democracy was reflected by the suspension of the Malaysian Parliament. Its impact on the country’s management system was evidenced by the setting up of the National Operations Council (NOC) as an emergency government.

The above were enforced from May 1969 until the restoration of democratic rule in 1971. Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, the then home affairs minister, said that within the above period, “democracy is dead in this country. It died at the hands of the opposition parties who triggered off the events leading to this violence” (The Straits Times, May 19, 1969).

Whether this statement was correct or otherwise, the fact remains that the May 13 incident had truly damaged Malaysia’s national unity, religious harmony, public order and national security.

Arjunan Narayanan and Kamarulnizam Abdullah, on the other hand, wrote in Keselamatan Nasional Malaysia (2013), “the incident of May 13, 1969 communal crisis was the turning point in Malaysia’s political system”. It had changed “the structure of Malaysia’s race relations”. More importantly, “it had brought about a new transformation to Malaysia’s nation-building process”.

The incident also had jeopardised Malaysia’s societal security. In his book, May 13, 1969: A Historical Survey of Sino-Malay Relations (1983), Leon Comber said that “the government acknowledged that the riots were caused by “ethnic polarisation and animosity”. This was because the incident was believed to have resulted from intense politicking in GE3, particularly on Article 3 about Islam as the religion of the Federation, Article 152 on Bahasa Melayu as our national language, and Article 153 on the special position of the Malays and Bumiputeras.

As such, it was appropriate to consider that the incident of May 13, 1969, had severely affected the government’s efforts in managing race relations and nation-building. This was why it needed a special security management tool — the NOC system — as well as several new policies and short- term programmes to resolve it effectively.

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, for example, had dedicated his premiership (1971-1976) to resolve the problems of national unity, socioeconomic imbalance and disparity, as well as political instability.

On Aug 31, 1970, he announced the Rukun Negara or the National Doctrine to restore Malaysia’s fragile democracy, national unity and political stability. In 1971, he introduced the New Economic Policy as an instrument of “social re-engineering” through an affirmative action programme formulated by NOC.

Therefore, what else do we expect from the May 13 incident? Is it necessary for us to totally discard existing narratives about it as contained in various domestic literature; just because we
suspect a different version of it, especially because of its alleged prejudice against the non-Malays and the leadership of Tun Razak?

Is it necessary for us to pressure our government to declassify documents and data related to it? Can this move enhance our understanding of Malaysia’s political and societal security? What if the classified documents are politicised to further threaten national unity and national identity?

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, as Malaysia’s chief executive of security management, had said that the government “will study” any request to declassify the documents. This is politically correct because the government had emphasised transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

But would it be politically inappropriate if the majority of us believed that the PH government should continue declassifying the information? Would it be pertinent if we suggest that the incident be studied from the perspective of security management structure and strategy?

The status of Malaysia as a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious state should have motivated the government to encourage the people to conduct studies on the security management strategy of the NOC. As suggested by some analysts, the findings of this research should be incorporated into existing SOP on crisis management concerning Malaysia’s political security and societal security.

By Datuk Dr Ruhanie Ahmad.

Read more @

Comments are closed.