KAJANG: An academic and antique book dealer have voiced concerns over the resurfacing of racially charged narratives similar to those which led to the May 13 riots in 1969.
Speaking to FMT, book dealer Muhammad Nazreen Jaafar and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) professor Teo Kok Seong said these narratives mostly revolve around the position of the Malay language and education.
Nazreen, who is a former researcher at a local think tank, said his concerns stem from what he read in an internal document produced by the Alliance, the pre-cursor to Barisan Nasional.
“I happened to acquire the document, published in 1968, from another dealer. It is an internal analysis by the Alliance for the upcoming 1969 election,” said Nazreen who runs the Bukuku Press online book store.
He added that he had verified the authenticity of the document with former Alliance leaders who were around at the time.
The analysis, he said, touched on the political climate at the time, the opposition parties and the proposed strategies for Perikatan, as the Alliance was known in Malay.
He said the document had spoken of the rising communal tensions, largely related to the polarisation of ethnic groups in urban areas, particularly between Chinese and Malays.
This included concerns over granting non-Malays equal economic, social and political rights, like the Malaysian Malaysia idea, which Perikatan said was pushed by DAP and other opposition parties including the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Labour Party, he said.
According to the analysis, he said, the opposition at the time had wanted other communal languages to be recognised as on par with Malay at the national level.
“On education, the UDP felt that Perikatan had killed the growth of Tamil and Chinese education in the country.”
Nazreen said the document showed how Perikatan had planned to use racial narratives to frame the opposition parties as only wanting to champion non-Malay interests, and, in the case of the Pan Malaysia Islamic Party, as a right-wing Malay party.
“May 13 was a culmination of grievances of Chinese and Malays, and now, I see the same symptoms.”
Nazreen said this includes narratives and remarks on the Unified Examination Certificate, the Malay language, Chinese language requirements in the private sector, and vernacular schools.
“Issues of language and education are linked to race, and when these are politicised, it leads to ill feelings on the ground and generalisations according to race.
“From there, all it takes is a trigger.”
He added however that while the document may indicate that Perikatan wanted to use racial narratives to win the 1969 election, which in turn might have fanned the flames of the May 13 riots, it could not be said that it was solely to blame.
“As we only have this document, we do not know what the opposition’s strategy then was, and whether they too wanted to play the racial card.
“What is clear is the pitfalls of both sides playing up racial and religious narratives. If we’re not careful, May 13 could happen again.”
Teo, the principal fellow at UKM’s Institute of Ethnic Studies, agreed that similar narratives could be seen in 1968 and 1969.
He lamented that some political parties, according to him, appeared to be challenging the constitution and Malay rights, like in the case of the matriculation quota issue.
“Article 153 clearly states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is to safeguard the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak through the reservation of positions in areas of scholarships, educational and training privileges or training facilities.
“The way some non-Malays are addressing this issue is worrying. I see the same kind of pattern which led to May 13.”
The May 13 riots which took place in the wake of the 1969 general election witnessed communal riots and clashes, resulting in the deaths of over 200 people.