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Wishing for another 13 May

(Corrected 2 Oct 2013, 11.55am)

The aftermath of 13 May 1969: A few days later, at the corner of Jalan Yap Ah Shak and Hale Road in Kuala Lumpur (Pic by Hassan Muthalib)

The aftermath of 13 May 1969: A few days later, at the corner of Jalan Yap Ah Shak and Hale Road in Kuala Lumpur (Pic by Hassan Muthalib)



SO much has already been said about the movie Tanda Putera, especially about its portrayal of the 13 May 1969 racial clashes. Datin Paduka Shuhaimi Baba’s film isn’t actually about the 13 May tragedy. It’s about the leadership and friendship of our second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and his deputy Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman.

Still, much of the critique and reception to the movie has focused on the film’s portrayal of the racial clashes between Chinese and Malay Malaysians in its opening scenes. And even though the focal point of the movie isn’t about 13 May, the movie and the events of the past several years make one thing clear: There are Malaysians who, it would seem, are spoiling for another 13 May to happen in Malaysia.

Whether they are Umno politicians or non-state actors, the signs are mounting that another racial clash is what these individuals and groups want to have happen. What are these signs?

Razak’s advice

Tun Abdul Razak (Wiki commons)

Tun Abdul Razak (Wiki commons)

I watched Tanda Putera. And two years ago, I had the opportunity to research the events of 13 May 1969 for a workshop presentation. One of the texts I read was The May 13 Tragedy: A Report of The National Operations Council, published in October 1969.

Razak, who was the National Operations Council (NOC) head, said this in the preface: “The lesson of the recent disturbances is clear. This nation cannot afford to perpetuate a system that permits anybody to say or do things which would set one race against another. If the events of [13 May] are not to occur again, if this nation is to survive, we must make sure that subjects which are likely to engender racial tensions are not exploited by irresponsible opportunists.”

If Razak were alive today, I imagine he would be sorely disappointed at what his party’s current leadership has allowed to happen since 1969. Umno members and pressure groups are unafraid to threaten violence or the dismissal of rights against non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysians. Here are some examples from seven years ago, lest we think there isn’t a pattern emerging.

In the 2006 Umno general assembly, two delegates, Musa Sheik Fadzir and Hasnoor Husseinthreatened retribution against non-Malay Malaysians. Hasnoor promised that “Umno is willing to risk lives and bathe in blood to defend the race and religion.” That was also the year in which Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein raised a keris at the assembly leading one Umno delegate to ask when the then Umno Youth chief was going to use the dagger.

keris2What was Hishammuddin’s fate? He was promoted from education minister to home minister and, in that capacity, in 2009 openly defended Muslims who desecrated a cow head to protest the relocation of a Hindu temple. He nevertheless remains in the cabinet today as defence minister and acting transport minister.

What else do we have today? We have a prime minister who singled out and blamed Chinese Malaysian voters for the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s dismal performance in the 2013 general election. And what did he do when the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia ran its Apa lagi Cina mahu? headline and numerous reports demonising and targeting these citizens? Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the son of our second prime minister, defended the Malay daily and pointed fingers at Chinese-language papers instead. Additionally, he has called on government departments and government-linked companies to advertise in Utusan Malaysia to ensure its sustainability.

What Chinese Malaysians did

From my research on 13 May 1969, Tanda Putera is historically accurate in some respects. In the 1969 elections, the Alliance government, the BN’s predecessor, lost voters to PAS and the three non-Malay political parties – the DAP, Gerakan and the People’s Progressive Party. It lost its two-thirds majority for the first time. (Corrected) In Selangor, the state assembly was hung with the Alliance holding 14 seats and the Opposition and an independent occupying the other 14, resulting in “feelings of anger, frustrations and anxiety within the local Umno branches”[1].

Concurrently, emboldened by victory and the possibility of taking over Selangor, the opposition held victory parades on 11, 12 and 13 May 1969, where youthful folly and arrogance clearly took hold of better judgement. At these parades, Chinese and Indian Malaysians booed and jeered at the Malays, dispensing insults and threats. These “included ethnic slurs and obscenities, and also instances of indecent exposure”[2]. The NOC report said rumours were also thick that a counter Umno procession would be attacked by certain “Chinese elements”.

Lim Kit Siang

Lim Kit Siang

These are depicted in Tanda Putera and seem an accurate retelling of the days leading up to 13 May 1969. However, the movie does take creative licence. I did not find any documentary evidence of Chinese Malaysian youths, what more of DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, who was in Sabah then, urinating on the flagpole in the Selangor menteri besar’s compound. But bands of DAP and Gerakan sympathisers did head towards Datuk Harun Idris’s house to tell him to vacate his state residence[3].

None of these provocations can justify the killings and violence that subsequently occurred, and which mainly targeted Chinese Malaysians and resulted in the Chinese suffering the highest number of deaths[4].

Additionally, there were reports that the violence was part of an orchestrated move by certain elements within Umno, which encouraged the violence to bring about Tunku Abdul Rahman’s downfall”[5]. These facets, including that of a “regime crisis”, are unfortunately and perhaps predictably missing from Tanda Putera’s screenplay.

What’s important about all this? It highlights the difference between the role of Chinese Malaysians then and today. In 1969, some Chinese Malaysians did act in a provocative manner, although no amount of provocation can justify violence as a reaction.

Do we see the same kind of provocation from Chinese Malaysians today?

After the 2008 general election, the DAP in fact called on all members to refrain from any victory parades, mindful of the ghost of 1969. And despite some Malay writers and leaders’ assertions, there is zero evidence of any Chinese Malaysian attempt to grab power or of any Christian plot to take over the government.

Tanda Putera film poster

Tanda Putera movie poster

All evidence, in fact, points to Malay Muslim power in Malaysia being unchallenged by the minority communities of Malaysia. Indeed, it’s not the Chinese Malaysians Umno should be singling out; it’s the Malay constituencies whose support they have lost that Umno should be training their sights on. And yet, the Chinese — whether they be non-Malay Christians or the predominantly Chinese DAP — are being singled out as threatening Islam and Malay rights.

In the absence of any evidence of provocation from this minority group, one question begs to be asked: Are Chinese Malaysians, who are predominantly non-Muslims, being set up? Does the Umno-led government and Malay-rights interest groups such as Perkasa want to see another 13 May?


History shows us that when minority groups are repeatedly demonised, it becomes that much easier to provoke violence against them. What’s also clear in Malaysia is that when minority groups are threatened, there is little chance the state will proffer much protection.

Utusan Malaysia repeatedly gets away with malicious lies and sedition unless it is sued in a civil suit. And until today, Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali has yet to be charged for exhorting the burning of Malay-language bibles, while Jakim uses the Friday sermon to call for a “holy struggle” against non-Muslims who use “Allah”.

In its 18 July 1969 edition, TIME magazine wrote the following in Malaysia: Preparing for a Pogrom: “… Malaysia’s minorities are preparing for a pogrom … The majority of Chinese and Indians have come to believe, as a result of the riots, that they cannot expect government protection from Malay mobs.”  

Forty-four years down the line, the signs point to elements in Malaysia wanting to create another 13 May. And from the government’s behaviour thus far, it would seem that minority groups would have reason to doubt that their government would protect them from any such attack. The Nut Graph

Jacqueline Ann Surin wishes all Malaysians a meaningful and peaceful Malaysia Day. She is convinced that the only thing that will prevent another 13 May are mindful and engaged citizens who are committed to a safe and just Malaysia for all citizens.

[1] Goh Cheng Teik, The May Thirteenth Incident and Democracy in Malaysia, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1971

[2] William C Parker, Jr. as quoted in May 13: A Review of Some Controversies in Accounts of the Riots by John G Butcher

[3] Goh Cheng Teik, The May Thirteenth Incident and Democracy in Malaysia, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1971

[4] TIME magazine, Race War in Malaysia, 23 May 1969 and Malaysia: Preparing for a Pogrom, 18 July 1969

[5] John G Butcher, May 13: A Review of Some Controversies in Accounts of the Riots

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21 Responses to “Wishing for another 13 May”

  1. MICHAEL LIM says:

    In Selangor, the Alliance only held 50%* of the seats, NOT a 2-seat majority as stated in the above article. This resulted in the above article’s statement of “feelings of anger, frustrations and anxiety within the local Umno branches”.

    * Please refer to the above article’s reference to:
    Goh Cheng Teik, The May Thirteenth Incident and Democracy in Malaysia, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1971

    Pseudonym:- For peaceful MALAYSIA

    • If you read this published article by Dr Wong Chin Huat:, you’ll see that the Alliance won only 14 out of 24 seats in Selangor in the 1969 elections. That would make it a 2-seat majority in the state assembly.

      Hope that clarifies.

      • MICHAEL LIM says:

        I am sure the Alliance only held 50% of the seats*, NOT a 2-seat majority as stated in the above article due to the following reasons:-

        (* Please refer to the above article’s reference to Goh Cheng Teik, The May Thirteenth Incident and Democracy in Malaysia.)

        A) Main reason

        In Dr Wong Chin Huat’s article you mentioned, he stated “The Alliance held only 14 out of 24 seats in Selangor”. According to Dr Goh’s book, Dr Wong made a mistake in the number of seats (it was 28 and not 24 seats in total).

        B) Other reasons:-
        On page 15 of Dr Goh’s book, [he gives] a breakdown of the seats won:-
        Alliance = 14
        Opposition parties = 13
        Independent = 1 (page 76, Appendix: Detailed seats results)
        Total Opposition = 14

        2) The above Appendix has detailed seats results of candidates, number of voters, total numbers who voted, etc.

        3) Umno branches wouldn’t have had feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety if they had won by a simple majority.

        Also, can Dr Wong Chin Huat produce detailed seat results like Dr Goh? It is very hard for Dr Goh to make mistake/s or falsify such detailed results.

        Thus on the balance of probabilities, Dr Goh is correct (we can only be 100% sure if we get the official results from the Election Commission, if it is still available and the law on the number of seats in Selangor).

        • Thanks, Michael for your comment. Let me check with Dr Wong, and if what I wrote in my column was inaccurate, The Nut Graph will be sure to make a correction. Please bear with me while I look into it and thanks for your persistence and patience.

          The Nut Graph

          • An Unimportant Person says:


            Michael Lim is correct.

            In 1969, the Alliance party won 14 seats, the Opposition won 13, and an Independent, Lim Tuan Siong, won the seat of Sungai Pelek, a small insignificant backwater village/town.

            The Sultan of Selangor began pressuring Harun Idris for his government.

            Harun Idris was beside himself as he was unable to contact the independent, Lim, who had disappeared and was incommunicado.

            Nobody knew where Lim was – well, almost nobody, heheheheh!! 🙂

            By then, the Opposition was cock-a-hoop, believing they had finally gotten rid of Harun and started celebrating.

            The rest is history.

            Hope this provides a tiny bit more background on the history of the May 13 riots.

            • Thank you for sharing that. TNG will make a correction once we have verifiable information from a known and reliable source. For now, the source I’m relying on is a published academic and public intellectual, Dr Wong Chin Huat. I have contacted him already and he will check his information and revert about the accuracy of the piece he wrote that I referred to.

              Unfortunately, we can’t make corrections based on your anecdote unless you can identify yourself AND point to an accurate and reliable source about where you got the information you have.

              We’re not a blog. We’re a media outlet. So, before we publish anything, including a correction, we’re committed to first making sure it’s accurate. Additionally, we’d like to account for how we made a mistake, if any was made. So, I’ll still need to wait for Dr Wong’s input before I make any changes to my published column.

              Thanks for your understanding and for keeping us honest.

              The Nut Graph

        • Dear Michael,

          I’ve corrected the mistake I made and explained how it came about after hearing back from Dr Wong Chin Huat.

          Thanks again for keeping us accurate and for your patience.

          The Editor

          • Chin Huat says:

            Dear Jacqueline, Michael Lim and “An unimportant person”,

            I posted an apology this morning [for the mistake in my calculations] but somehow it was lost in the cyberspace, perhaps due to a bad connection.

            I have checked the 1969 Election Report published by EC and realised how I made my mistake. I mistook the total number of seats won by the Alliance in 1964 as the total number of seats contested by Alliance in 1969.

            The break down was:
            The Alliance 14
            DAP 9
            Gerakan 4
            Independent 1
            Total 28
            It was a hung legislature, not a slim 2-seat majority on the Alliance’s side.

            I apologise to Jacqueline and all readers for my carelessness in the 2007 article which led to Jacqueline reproducing the error. I thank Mr Michael Lim and Ms/Mr An Unimportant Person for pointing out the mistake.

            I have written to the Sun and the Malaysian Bar (through a lawyer friend) which reproduced the article on their websites to publish my correction and apology note on their website so that future readers may be spared from reproducing the error.

            Once again, my sincere apologies to all.

            Chin Huat

          • An Unimportant Person says:

            Chin Huat,

            No apologies required. 🙂

            The main issue you highlighted there was the hung Parliament.

            In my mind, tt was the REAL reason why the May 13 incident occurred.

            Without the hung Parliament, Harun would have satisfied the Sultan of Selangor.

            Without the hung Parliament, the Independent, Lim would have not gone into hiding to consider his options.

            Without the hung Parliament, the Opposition would not have gloated about Harun’s discomfort and held “victory” marches.

            And so it goes …

            The actual number of seats was a very minor academic matter, so don’t sweat the small stuff 🙂

  2. sputjam says:

    When riots broke out in the UK, the police and authorities there went and prosecuted and apprehend the perpetrators including those who attacked a lone Malay student.

    In Malaysia, the biggest mistake was giving amnesty to those who created mayhem and anarchy. That was Tun Razak’s biggest mistake. It is like giving license to rioters to repeat the same thing when required in future. And that happened in Kampung Medan a few years ago and again no action against those who murdered innocents.

    The law needs to be enforced otherwise the country’s legal system will break down as it is happening now where people’s right to freedom of faith is now under threat by the government.

    • neptunian says:

      The Law as we should view it has already broken down in Malaysia.

      Sedition : Sedition charges thrown at any one not with the Govt. No charges ever made against BN people regardless of how seditious their public statements are.

      Criminals : All the raids on gangs etc have resulted in the home minister coming out in defence of a “friendly” gang. Selective raids against gangsters and gangs are obvious, when one notices gangs at entertainment areas acting with impunity. (Personal experience – Jockey gangs at an entertainment area block entry and exit of road lanes near to the outlets to reserve the lanes for their operations from 5:30pm. This forces the cars already parked there to do Yoga-like manoeuvres up one way streets to get out. The police cars going around ignore these – selective enforcement?)

  3. Phua Kai Lit says:

    Right thinking Malaysians of all races can work together to prevent this.

    Refuse to listen to the racist/fascist elements and boycott totally
    all irresponsible fascist propaganda such as “Tanda Putera”.

    • Did you watch Tanda Putera? How do you know it’s “irresponsible” and “fascist”?

      • Kong Kek Kuat says:

        @ Jacq

        Yes, I agree with you that Tanda Putera is not irresponsible.

        I don´t know about being “fascist”, but in your own words: “These are depicted in Tanda Putera and seem an accurate retelling of the days leading up to 13 May 1969. However, the movie does take creative licence. I did not find any documentary evidence of Chinese Malaysian youths, what more of DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, who was in Sabah then, urinating on the flagpole in the Selangor menteri besar’s compound. But bands of DAP and Gerakan sympathisers did head towards Datuk Harun Idris’s house to tell him to vacate his state residence.”

        Might as well add Malaysian flag burning and picture stomping the Agong to the movie eh?

        Most interesting of all, I must say though, is that you find asking Harun Idris to leave his “State Residence” as a provocation. Might as well make transporting the Christian Bible through a Malay-majority housing estate as provocation eh?

        No, I haven´t yet watched the movie. But I may as well give it a miss and save the money, since it´s basically up to my creative take on history while squatting over the hole. Wouldn´t you agree?

        • One Tree Day says:

          Jacqueline, I commend you for tackling this difficult subject, keep it up. Here is my 2 cents:

          I think the release of Tanda Putera was highly irresponsible because:

          1) The timing of the release, two days before Merdeka Day and after inflammatory statements such as “Chinese tsunami” and “Apa Cina mahu lagi?” were made. How do you expect Malaysians to feel patriotic when the May 13 zombie keeps coming back from the dead […]?

          2) May 13 happened 44 years ago. Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh asked Malaysians to forgive the Seri Pristana incident, so what about May 13? Why harm the kids psychologically with this never-ending bogey? It’s like [spouses] who keeps [bringing up past infidelities] every time [they] want [their] way.

          3) Director’s careless use of ‘creative license’ on a very sensitive subject combined with slanderous advertising, as highlighted in your article. Why make up false stories about May 13 to slander the political opposition when you’re promoting a ‘historical’ movie?

          4) The irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money. The director admitted that she had expected the movie to flop at the box office. Why spend over RM4 million of taxpayer’s money for something you know is going to flop? Unless…

          Right now, [in my view], it’s clear Tanda Putera is nothing more than a piece of hateful propaganda being used by the ruling corrupticians to make Malaysians hate each other. Which is incredibly, totally irresponsible. And insidious.

          Fellow Malaysians, pls keep in mind. This is exactly what the corrupticians want–keep the Rakyat occupied arguing over stupid things like Tanda Putera while they continue to plunder the country’s resources.

          Maybe Halloween Day in Malaysia should be moved to May 13, since that’s when the zombies and evil clowns seem to come out. Until all Malaysians start taking ownership of May 13, you can bet the May 13 zombie will be back.

          Pls see:


  4. Haji M Zin says:

    So it was “youthful folly and arrogance” in ’69? Malays, and now Islam being provoked .. and amplified by X 000,000s via social media.

    Expecting the inevitable, but insya-Allah not.

    Haji M Zin
    Alor Gajah DPH

    • How are the Malays and Islam now being provoked? I’d like to hear you provide some evidence to back up your claim.

      • Haji M Zin says:

        Ms JA,

        Maybe you don’t see anakanda Namewee, Alvin, Melissa and many others being any more than an irritation?

        Kampung folks follow the alternative media, too and so wishing for more balanced content, boleh?

        Haji M Zin
        Alor Gajah DPH

        • Kong Kek Kuat says:

          @ Haji M Zin

          Astagfirullah…maybe the alternative mass media didn´t market itself properly.

          Get this: Kampung folks follow the mainstream mass media religiously. Completely pro-gomen. Then the kampung folks follow the alternative mass media. Complete mix with pro-gomen, anti-gomen, and the in-betweens.

          So, balanced in favour of gomen la. Apa lagi kampung folks mau?

  5. Every 4 years, the Umno/BN government […] will remind us to choose wisely to avoid another May 13. This is seditious and a threat indeed. To say May 13 is started by the Chinese is Chinese-bashing, and parties like SUPP and MCA [which] are quiet on this cannot be accepted for another second. They lose trust with the rakyat.

  6. cjsavvy says:

    Can we ever be done with finger-pointing? Whatever or whomever caused May 13, 1969 is all but history. That Umno and other like-minded groups want to rekindle the flames of racial animosity is for all to see and judge. More than forty years along the arrow of time, it’s time to move on to our true calling. Malaysia is a unique nation with a mixed population. There is not one other nation, other than Singapore, which possesses this amazing cultural variety. We can be a model of unity for the world to emulate. How? By ensuring that BN loses the next election. Let PR give it a shot at rebuilding the nation. BN has all but messed up the dreams of the two early leaders depicted in Tanda Putera, not to mention the hopes of ordinary Malaysians who yearn for equality in every aspect of nationhood.

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