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Today in History_May 13th Racial Riots

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May 13, 1969, marked a dark moment in Malaysian history. Racial riots between Malay and Chinese communities in Kuala Lumpur were triggered following the 1969 Malaysian general election which saw the newly-formed opposition parties, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Gerakan, winning a higher than expected number of seats.

While election day itself (10 May) was without incident, it was the post-election celebration that was the catalyst of the tragedy. Celebratory parades took place through the city of Kuala Lumpur on 11 and 12 May, and over-enthusiastic opposition supporters threw out provocative chants. Not wanting the taunts to go without a response, supporters of UMNO planned their own parade on 13th May, convening at the home of Selangor Chief Minister Dato’ Harun Idris. On the evening of the rally, a scuffle reportedly broke out between Malays travelling to join the parade and Chinese onlookers in one part of the capital city. When news of the fight spread to other parts of Kuala Lumpur, so too did the violence.

Police, then the army, were called in and a 24-hour state of emergency was declared in Kuala Lumpur. The tragedy claimed numerous lives and caused significant damage to the country’s social and political fabric. It’s estimated that around 200 people died, with hundreds more injured. Buildings were razed and cars were destroyed. The event led to the establishment of Majlis Gerakan Negara (MAGERAN) or National Operations Council (NOC), and the government introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) which aimed to reduce the economic imbalance by race in Malaysia.

Read more: May 13, never again: The 1969 riots that changed Malaysia | Malaysiakini

Recommended Reads

In a previous post, we shared images from the tragedy that was 13th May 1969 in Kuala Lumpur. Through the black and white images, it’s obvious that what happened was not only disturbing, but also traumatising on individual, community, and national levels. The riots of 13th May 1969 was a harsh lesson in race relations that shaped our national policies thereafter. It may have taken place more than five decades ago but its impact still reverberates, which make it imperative that all Malaysians should understand what happened and why. To this end, we have compiled a list of recommended reads to shed light on this dark period of our history.

’13 Mei: Laporan Majlis Gerakan Negara (MAGERAN)’ is exactly what it says in the title. MAGERAN was the emergency administrative body established to restore law and order, and this book details the report published by the body in the months following the tragedies. The book also features a foreword by Tun Abdul Razak.

’13 Mei: Sebelum dan Selepas’ is a collection of personal thoughts by Tunku Abdul Rahman on the tragedy. Tunku accounts prior events and factors that led to the racial riots, and the aftermath of it. He also expressed his disappointments to those who played their parts that contributed to the tragedy becoming imminent.

’13 May 1969: The Darkest Day in the Malaysian History’ dives into the societal and political changes that occurred throughout Malaya’s early histories; on how Chinese settlers came to Malaya and made it their home, and how over time, due to social, economic, and political factors, frictions between the Chinese and the Malays grew until they exploded on 13th May.

’13 Mei di Kuala Lumpur’ touches on the social history of the two biggest ethnic groups in Malaysia, the Malays and the Chinese, and also examines the role played by the British administration in the context of ethnic relations.

We hope that you will find these books to be eye-opening and to impart a richer understanding of the 13th May incident.

The featured books above are available at the Perdana Library. If you are interested in reading or borrowing the books, please visit us here in Putrajaya or contact our librarians at 03-8885 8961 (Library Counter).