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The voice of the Malay communists

Former CPM chairperson Abdullah CD
arriving at the commemorative
ceremony for the 20th anniversary of
the peace accords

THE issue of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) is definitely one that is framed according to the racial lines that divide us as a nation. For example, the prevailing myth is that the CPM was an all-Chinese illegal organisation even though there is enough literature about the party’s Malay members and leaders.

At the same time, there is also the perception of selective racial treatment . Former CPM members who are Malay enjoy the right to return to Malaysia, as guaranteed under the 1989 Haadyai Peace Agreements. But the same right is not extended to former CPM secretary-general Chin Peng.

Interestingly enough, despite the Malays being “favoured”, not every Malay communist has chosen to return. Not only that, while they are made near invisible by official history and hence not vilified in the same way that Chin Peng is, these former CPM Malay members still have reason to be critical of the Malaysian government.

No conditions



Abdullah (right) receiving an old friend and comrade, Wang
Hai Zhi, at his hotel room in Haadyai during the interview

Former CPM chairperson Abdullah CD is one of them. At 86, he is likely the highest-ranking ex-CPM Malay cadre left alive. He was a signatory to the 1989 peace agreements. But he tells The Nut Graph that soon after signing the treaty, he was not convinced that the Malaysian authorities were sincere about letting senior leaders like him return.

Abdullah was given Thai citizenship and has been living in Kampung Chulaborn 12, Sukhirin, one of the four “peace villages” in southern Thailand where former CPM cadres have resettled after the 1989 peace treaty. He is allowed to enter Malaysia, and has visited Parit, his birthplace in Perak, and Kuala Lumpur.

Abdullah says the Malaysian officers tasked with facilitating the return of ex-guerrillas imposed conditions on their return home.

“Saya kata, kalau soal syarat ini, saya tak mahu lah. Ramai lagi yang balik. Saya tak bersetuju syarat,” Abdullah says in an interview in Haadyai on 30 Nov 2009 where he was attending the peace accord’s 20th anniversary commemoration.

“Apa syarat yang tak setuju?” The Nut Graph asks him.


“Syarat dia Akta Keselamatan. Saya tak mahu. Apa-apa syarat, saya tak mahu. Syarat-syarat tak ikut perjanjian. Kalau ikut perjanjian, takde soal syarat.”

His answers seem to corroborate Chin Peng’s own recollection of attempts to make the resettlement process difficult. In Chin Peng’s memoirs, Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History, he wrote that the CPM suspended the returnee programme until then Special Branch chief, Tan Sri Norian Mai, agreed that asking the ex-guerrillas to sign confessions was unfair.

Additionally, under the peace treaty, the Malaysian government was not to apply the Internal Security Act, or the Akta Keselamatan Abdullah was referring to which allows for indefinite state detention without trial, against former CPM members for past activities.

Malay, Muslim, and communist

Book cover of The Memoirs of
Shamsiah Fakeh: From AWAS to
10th Regiment

History about Abdullah’s left-winged beginnings with many prominent Malay leaders before he joined CPM is well-documented in his memoirs which includes his experiences leading the CPM’s 10th Regiment. The 10th regiment mainly comprised Malay-Muslim cadres. But even before the Emergency was announced in 1948, many Malays already supported the leftist struggle against the British and Japanese occupations.

“Banyak jugak orang Melayu dalam CPM. Dulu pun dah ramai dalam KMM,” Abdullah says in the interview, referring to the Kesatuan Melayu Muda nationalist group.

Abdullah’s wife, Suriani Abdullah was also a CPM central committee leader. Another prominent Malay woman leader was Shamsiah Fakeh, who earlier led the women’s wing, Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya.

Other prominent Malay CPM leaders included Abu Samah Mohamad Kassim, another 10th Regiment leader and CPM central committee member, and Rashid Maidin. Rashid, also a central committee member, was on the negotiating team with Chin Peng at the 1955 Baling peace talks. He was also a signatory to the Haadyai peace accords along with Chin Peng and Abdullah.

Cover for The Finest Hour

Dr Collin Abraham, in his book The Finest Hour: The Malaysian-MCP Peace Accord in Perspective, cites these as examples of how the Chinese-dominated party did take pains to give Malay members important roles to deal with perceptions of racial discrimination in the CPM’s rank-and-file.

Abraham also notes how the British used Islam as propaganda to prevent Malays from joining the CPM, when actually, the party viewed religion as a personal choice. When The Nut Graph asks Abdullah how he could be Muslim and a communist, he declares: “Pertama, saya orang Melayu. Bermula di KMM. Kemudian parti komunis. Takde soal, takde soal.”

A “false independence”

A relatively unknown CPM story is that of Syed Hamid Ali, 66, the younger brother of Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali. An active student leader at Universiti Malaya in the late 1960s, he became a guerrilla to avoid arrest.

“Because of my activities, my passport was confiscated while I was travelling. There was the threat of the Internal Security Act. I joined the CPM because I had nowhere else to turn to.

“I took up arms first, before officially joining CPM in 1976. I never wanted to be a communist. But there was nowhere else to go at the time,” says Syed Hamid who resettled in Malaysia in 1991 and now lives in Batu Pahat. He, too, spoke to The Nut Graph in Haadyai.

Syed Hamid was in the 10th Regiment before being transferred to other units. He says even though Malaysia had already been independent for 19 years when he joined, the CPM considered it a “false independence”.

Claude Fenner
Syed Hamid disagrees with the argument, still used against the CPM today, that they continued armed resistance against a sovereign state even after the British left.

“After Merdeka, we continued to rely on British defence and police. Our own police and army worked for and were paid by the British. We inherited their repressive laws like the ISA. The first Inspector-General of Police until 1966 was British, Claude Fenner. Umno continued the policies of the British. What sort of independence is that?”


From the perspective of these former CPM members, denying Chin Peng’s return is not the Malaysian government’s only broken promise according to the 1989 peace treaty. Syed Hamid says the continuing demonisation of CPM by government officials and the media also contravenes the spirit of the peace accords where both Malaysia and CPM agreed not to vilify each other.

It was on this basis that Chin Peng sued the government for defamation in 2005 but lost.

Chin Peng
Chin Peng
In contrast, the Thai government not only ensured that the CPM’s image was not tarnished, it also provided land and resources for former CPM members to resettle in southern Thailand.

With that as a comparison, and considering all that the Malaysian government has done and continues to do, it is clear that if we only understand the CPM issue along racial lines, we would be fooling ourselves. Not only were there Malay Muslim communists in the CPM, these former communists have as much to be discontented about with the Malaysian government as does Chin Peng. favicon

See also:
Was Chin Peng played out? 
Keeping promises to communists 

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15 Responses to “The voice of the Malay communists”

  1. Nicholas Aw says:

    A detailed write-up about the CPM. The bottom line is that the doors have closed for Chin Peng and others who may want to return. It started with the DPM firing the first salvo and then the PM hit the last nail into the coffin which means this hotly-debated issue is buried for good.

    Amidst all the brouhaha, one thing is certain. The Malaysian government is deemed not to have honoured its side of the bargain. But then again, this is Malaysia Bolehland. Everything is possible here from the transferring of RM10million out of the country illegally to an ex-IGP amassing millions and an ex-MB building a RM20 million palatial mansion.

    Don’t worry, the rakyat knows that no action will be taken against these people. If there was any action, perhaps it would be just a slap on the wrist. Keep it up: Malaysia Boleh! I really want to puke!

  2. Hang Jebat says:

    Thank you The Nut Graph for cutting through the ethnic and religious smokescreen that Umno and Malay nationalists have been using for decades to villify and demonise the CPM. The CPM had Malay leaders and members, too. Like Chin Peng, they too are not happy with the double-dealing of the Malaysian government. This has high costs for future peace treaties that the Malaysian government may need to negotiate as the other parties will not trust the Malaysian government on its contractual promises and undertakings.

  3. patriot says:

    Thanks to Deborah for this good write-up. This would remind the rakyat that those who joined the CPM comprised of all races and that they fought against the Japanese foremost to drive them out of the country they loved.

  4. seriati says:

    I was the same batch with Syed Hamid in UM. I cannot say he was fortunate to have joined CPM…he “had nowhere else to turn to”. For me, for a long time I felt unfortunate for not being able to join. In fact, I tried much earlier when I was in school.

    I am a Malay.

  5. Phua says:

    The more moderate Malayan social democrats (e.g. the Malayan Democratic Union or MDU) should also be remembered as participants in the fight for independence from British colonialism.

    Neither should we forget the post-independence alliance between the Labour Party and the Parti Rakyat in Malaysia’s political history.

  6. PH Chin says:

    Thanks, Deborah, for your write-up. After reading both sides of the story, I’m convinced the former CPM members were played out by the powers-that-be.

  7. Jason says:

    Hail Communism! Just take a great look at USSR and North Korea. Brilliant eh?

  8. Lee says:

    I am a third generation octogenarian Malaysian of Chinese origin residing in Kuala Lumpur, now and during the pre-WWII years and I have never been a member of any political party. My late parents, my siblings and I had witnessed the invasion and capture of Malaya by the Japanese Army on bicycles and we were very fortunate to survive the very difficult and fearful war years under the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

    One early morning shortly after the Japanese Army occupied Malaya, my brother and I personally witnessed armed Japanese soldiers rounding up all innocent male civilians between the ages 18 – 50 years along Weld Road (Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur) and taken away in Japanese army trucks. My late Dad was one of the many civilians rounded up and at the point of a bayonet; they were ordered to march towards a few Army trucks waiting for them near Menara Weld. Fortunately while marching towards the trucks, my late Dad escaped and hid in one of the vacant link houses (now demolished) along Weld Road. Many of the civilians rounded up that morning were our friends and neighbours and we never saw any one of them again – presumably taken away and massacred!

    We also witnessed many gruesome sights where decapitated human heads were displayed on poles at traffic roundabouts in and around Kuala Lumpur during the war years. There were also many road blocks along public roads in Malaya where civilians were subjected to body searches and thereafter ordered to bow and pay respects to the armed Japanese soldiers [supervising] the road blocks. Frequently, the Japanese soldiers would physically assault and reprimand innocent and unarmed civilians for not bowing the correct way.

    It was during the early fearful war years of Japanese occupation of Malaya that a gang of young Malayans of different races led by Chin Peng went underground into our Malayan jungle to start guerrilla activities against the Japanese armed forces occupying Malaya. This small group of guerrilla fighters was initially referred to as the ‘Anti-Japanese Army’. I recall these poorly armed and untrained Anti-Japanese guerrilla warriors were very young Malayans but willing to sacrifice their lives and the comfort of their homes to combat the professionally trained and heavily armed Japanese soldiers to liberate Malaya.

    At that time, Communist China and England were at war with Japan and these two countries naturally supported the guerrilla activities of the Anti-Japanese Army by air dropping food, arms and medical supplies (and even trained British army personnel) into the Malayan jungle to assist the guerrilla warriors.

    After WWII ended, I clearly recall Chin Peng was honoured and invited by the British Government to participate in the historical Victory Parade in London together with all the other allied forces. I understand Chin Peng was also awarded an MBE(?) medal by the British government for his bravery and contributions in liberating Malaya.

    After the Victory Parade in England and his victorious return to Malaya, I believe Chin Peng and his comrades had expected similar recognition of their services (in liberating Malaya) by the colonial British Government of Malaya. Unfortunately, their services and contributions in liberating Malaya were not recognized by the colonial British Government of Malaya.

    As such, Chin Peng and his comrades again went underground and started a long and arduous guerrilla warfare against the colonial Government of Malaya; targeting British citizens residing in Malaya and their commercial enterprises (plantations, tin mines and trading companies) in Malaya. The late Governor of Malaya Sir Henry Gurney was one day ambushed and killed by these guerrilla fighters along the mountainous winding road to Fraser’s Hill.

    Since Chin Peng and his comrades had the support of Communist China, the colonial Government of Malaya branded Chin Peng and his warriors as ‘Communists’ and that is how “Communist Party of Malaya (CPM)” came about.

    Subsequently a state of ‘Emergency’ was declared in Malaya and the colonial government led by Sir Gerald Templer introduced massive relocation and resettlement of all rural farmers (mainly of Chinese origin) into security fenced-in and guarded ‘New Villages’ to prevent Chin Peng and his comrades demanding food, medical supplies and other basic essentials from the poor isolated rural farmers. This relocation/resettlement exercise caused severe hardships, sufferings and great financial losses to the thousands of poor farmers.

    It is important to appreciate that in those days Malaya, and subsequently Malaysia, looked upon Communist China with great suspicion and mistrust to the extent that Malaya strictly restricted Malayans visiting Communist China. In fact, the word ‘communist’ was then deemed a dirty word and anyone branded a communist in Malaya would be in serious trouble with our Police. Even senior Malayan government officials visiting Communist China on official government duties were subjected to interrogations on their return by our Special Branch Police to ensure they were not indoctrinated with communistic ideology.

    Since many Malayans were employed in the colonial government services especially in the police and armed forces, many Malayans were therefore involved in the fight against the CPM, and naturally in all wars, both sides incurred fatal casualties. This struggle continued even after Malaya achieved independence from England. To the relief of everyone, the hostility finally ended with the signing of a Peace Treaty in 1989 that put an end to the very costly Emergency era in Malaya.

    In my personal opinion, Chin Peng and his comrades were therefore freedom fighters and not terrorists because none of them were ever charged for committing war crimes during their guerrilla warfare in Malaya and Malaysia.

    Since Malaysia has current cordial diplomatic relations and commercial dealings with Communist China and Japan with freedom of movement of citizens between the three countries, there is no reason whatsoever why Chin Peng should not be allowed to return to Malaysia to be with his family and finally be buried in Malaysia; a country that he still considers his home. Even the body of a notorious and dangerous Malaysian terrorist, killed recently in Indonesia, was allowed to be brought back for burial in Malaysia. After all, Chin Peng has lived peacefully and quietly in Thailand ever since the 1989 Peace Treaty and, in his current age of 85 years, he is certainly not a threat to anyone or country; least of all Malaysia. It is therefore highly regrettable that our government is still hostile towards Chin Peng who by his past guerrilla activities to liberate Malaya should rightfully be regarded as a national hero and not a villain instead.

    Furthermore, Chin Peng can hold his head high and boast to the whole world that he and his comrades have honoured the 1989 Peace Treaty but can our government boast the same? The whole world is observing Malaysia and I sincerely hope our Government will demonstrate to the whole world that all formal treaties and legal contracts will be respected and honoured in Malaysia.

    Finally, I would like to state categorically that I do not know Chin Peng personally and have no dealings or connections whatsoever with him. All my memories of Chin Peng are from our past local media reports and a classic book “The Jungle Is Neutral” authored by Spencer Chapman about the Malayan jungle warfare against the Japanese occupying forces in Malaya.

  9. When Ong Boon Hua alias Chin Peng was invited to the National University of Australia to give his side of the story in Canberra, he said, “When I fought with the British against the Japanese, I was given the OBE award, the highest order of the British Empire. But when I fought against the British to free Malaya of colonial rule, I was labelled a terrorist.”

    The British had a powerful propaganda machine which Chin Peng’s CPM [could not] match, so branding the CPM as a gang of terrorists was no sweat. In fact, if one were to talk about terrorism, the British were no less guilty themselves. Their Scots Guards did one of the most heinous act in 1948 when they, in cold blood, massacred 24 innocent rubber tappers in Banting.

    Chin Peng is a communist but to call him a terrorist is altogether a different thing because he was no terrorist but a nationalist fighting to free Malaya from colonial rule. In fact, it has been said that if not for Chin Peng, Britain would not have granted independence that early to Malaya.

    Since, as Winston Churchill once put it, “History is written by the victors”, terrorists are what the communists of CPM are. Malaysia, in reneging on the Haadyai Peace accord, has used this fact as the reason for failing to carry out its legal obligations. She has knowingly broken the sanctity of contractual agreement upon which lies one of the foundations of the liberal traditions.

    The ramifications are serious since by doing so nobody will be confident that Malaysia can be trusted to keep to her legal obligations in any form of agreement entered into with her!

  10. Sean says:

    Lee should commit his memoirs to video at YouTube or somewhere equally likely not to disappear quickly. I have little faith that the “reality” of Malaysia — as constructed by recent governments — has much in the way of basis in fact. I would implore all young Malaysians to ask their elderly relatives to recall any memory of the Malaysia of yesteryear, no matter how apparently insignificant, and have it recorded for posterity.

    Real facts, real memories and the feelings experienced during historical events are national treasures. Replacing them with a cheap façade will do irreparable damage.

  11. Correction to my comment: “Their Scots Guards did one of the most heinous act in 1948 when they, in cold blood, massacred 24 innocent rubber tappers in Banting.” It should read: “Their Scots Guards did one of the most heinous acts in 1948 when they, in cold blood, massacred 24 innocent rubber tappers in Batang Kali.”

  12. koko says:

    Just let him die in Thailand and be buried there. His coming to M’sia will not bring any good, there are thousands or millions of M’sian who do not agree to his return. If some guy just acts smart by bringing him [back] for the sake of humanity or whatever reason, then let’s see what these thousands or millions [could] humanly do? Just to build a temple people can get very angry, you want to bring someone who killed their parents or grandparents. Maybe you can get Nobel Prize for Peace, but [it is] a stupid act politically and brings more destruction to this country.

  13. Sean Wong says:

    I am a man of 74 years young, grew up in the villages during the Japanese occupation of Malaya and also after the liberation. I witnessed the struggles of the leaders against Japanese rule and the British Administration of Malaya before and since after Merdeka period, which was really “false independence”, before retirement of the First Inspector General of Police (a British national). The CPM leaders of all races were actually the most patriotic people of Malaya then who protected Malaya against the Japanese and British occupations of Malaya. Malayans had been influenced by the British political propaganda painting the remaining -eaders of the anti-Japanese forces as as terrorists because they had killed many […] informers of the British colonial masters who wanted to hunt down their enemies then. The younger Malaysians who learn the rubbish from Malaysian history books knew nothing about the actual facts of events and intentions of the struggles of the so-called CPM leaders who were the remaining leaders of the anti-Japanese forces. [The younger generation] does believe the current racist propaganda […] of the days since the years 1941 to 1989, the conclusion of which was the Peace Treaty signed in Haadyai,Thailand. Give a big welcome to these heroes of those days after they suffered so much for Malaya then and Malaysia now so that we enjoy the fruits of their sufferings. Thanks for allowing these comments to put Malayan history in its right place.

  14. comradeT says:

    I still don’t know why all those people are still sensitive and panicking about PKM’s old comrades.Those old fellows like Chin Peng and Abdullah CD just want to come back to their homeland Malaysia, what’s the matter? Is there any problem of because they are so-called “terrorists”, so they don’t have the rights? The treaty has been signed by both sides, a long time ago, and so why did the government mungkir janji? We read the contents of history textbooks in secondary school – PKM were horrified and terrified like Nosferatu? What the heck? Does socialism or communism scare you like a nightmare? Who’s the one who sacrificed themselves to fight the Japanese and British Imperialism? Who’s the one who shouted for a free Malaya? If you believe in your outdated textbooks, [you’ve been cheated].

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