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 (The Alliance coalition of 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, bubble to burst and eventually almost 200 people were killed in clashes between mainly the Malays and Chinese.
Following this, the government took 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 never tire of 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, this 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...