Living in Fear of the Recurrence of 13 May Incident

On 13 May 1969, Malaysia and its people were shaken by the incident of racial riot in the aftermath of the 1969 Malaysian general election. Up to this day the Malaysian community is still living with the traumatic experience within them due to how violent and brutal the event was.

From literary fiction to news articles, memories of violence including burning houses and tarred corpses can be found emerging from voices of various ages and races. According to the National Operations Council, there were 196 deaths and 439 injured. However, sources from foreign countries suggest that the number of casualties ranges from 600 to 800. 

A shot taken on Jalan Bangsar, KL in May 1969. Source:

While the impact on the younger generation now is not as prominent, different versions of the story are still circulating around us.

I would not say that disregarding this 50-year-old tragedy is the solution, but many seems to continue holding on to the past filled with blame and racial discrimination.

It is no doubt even more disappointing when the authoritative figures exploited this fear of bloodshed buried within the Malaysian society despite the existing racial tension between the races.

Also, many have criticised the issue as a result of the Japanese Occupation and the British rule which had happened more than 63 years ago, neglecting other factors contributing to this persisting problem. This then denies and excludes the engagement of self-reflection and efforts to improve racial relations.

Be careful what you say

“I fear that this could lead to a racial tension that could invite the same tragedy of May 13, 1969,”

Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil –

This quote is extracted from the opening speech of Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, a former chair-lady of Wanita UMNO during one of their general assemblies. She asserted that UMNO’s loss of power may lead to the recurrence of 13 May tragedy.

I have no intention of finding the ‘true’ meaning of this quote or whether it is proposed as a threat to the delegates. Instead, the focus is placed on the choice of words by authoritative figures, especially those in power, as the possibility of having it misinterpreted can invite unwanted consequences.

What I mean by this is that delicate issues such as the tragedy of May 13th should not be simply included without sensibility, although lessons are to be learnt from the past. There should not be a slight indication that violence is encouraged or can be used to subjugate the people in the community.

Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has now quitted politics. Source:

I believe that this will not be the only example if political speeches across the years are collected and examined in detail. Hence, we, as the audience, need to equip ourselves with the ability to filter and evaluate information that are delivered to us.

Understanding reasons behind the conflict

“Parliament may pass law prohibiting the questioning of any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III”

Source: Federal Constitution of Malaysia

In the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of Malaysia, it is stated that the special positions of Malays and natives of the States of Sabah and Sarawak are not to be questioned. Although the constitution holds a great power over the ruling of the nation, I think that most do not understand or worse, are unaware of anything related to it. 

According to Tricia Yeoh, a Malaysian politics expert, the insecurities of the Malay communities have been worsened by their economical struggles due to the increasing costs of living. This brings forward their need for the privileged status as a protection of their positions in the country.

While the Chinese and the Indian attempt to break out of their identities as second-class citizens, the conflict arises. Without proper understanding of each other’s perspective, the racial pressure continues and spreads to newer generations.

When will we move away from racial politics? Source:

Written by Yu Huan

Views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNM IGNITE.

Stay opinionated, stay unbothered.

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