Two events in May have, for more than four decades, set the course of this country’s history. It is quite apparent that both events lie behind Malaysia’s failure to develop as a nation. One is the anniversary of Umno’s founding. Two days later is the anniversary of Malaysia’s day of infamy.
Those two events, like steel threads, are woven stiffly into the tapesty of Malaysian life. Until all Malaysians, and Malay society especially, have come to terms with the full story of those days of horror in 1969, there will be little reason to be optimistic about a joint Malaysian future free of racial strife.
On Tuesday, Umno marked its 64th anniversary, with lashings of self-congratulation and a note of caution. On May 13, another Malay-rights movement holds a rally for 10,000 ostensibly to urge the Malay community to strive harder to improve themselves.
The Umno event was attended by Najib Tun Razak, son of the man at the centre at May 13, 1969 and its aftermath. With them was Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the other half of the Jeckyll-and-Hyde face of Malaysian race relations.
Najib’s message at the celebrations bore little of the jingoistic bombast of past such events. That may yet come when Mahathir, the prime proponent of race politics, makes his keynote address at the May 13 rally in Kuala Terengganu.
It will be a celebration of race under the guise of empowerment and advancement, with the visible support of the man whose political philosophy, rooted in half-baked notions of race and genetics, and an uncompromising approach to power, has held back the flowering of Malaysian society.
By no means can an event bringing together Mahathir and 10,000 others, “Malays First”, and May 13, be regarded as anything but as a celebration of race supremacy and the politics of brute force.
And as such it will be a truly grotesque spectacle.
“Uncivilised,” says PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayu. “Outrageous. Unhealthy. Bordering on extremism. Dangerous” were other words that the Islamic party used to describe it.
Yet organisers of the May 13 rally say they have been misunderstood. Gertak, the name of the umbrella group holding the event, is a Malay word that means “to scare”. The rally’s theme is “Malays Rise”. It is held on May 13. It is held in a city chosen as the venue because few Chinese live there.
Yet rally chairman Razali Idris, a minor Umno apparatchik, insist there is no malice. “We just want to remind the Malays that we are not better off,” he was quoted as saying. ” It is not our intention to threaten other races.”
That is utter drivel, typical of the double-speak that Mahathir Mohamad practised and encouraged in his decades in power.
No one who lived through those times can doubt the visible meaning of an event held on May 13, with the theme “Malays Rise’ and the presence of a man whose political career was built on race-baiting, with a philosophy likened to that of Nazi Germany.
Mahathir’s rabble-rousing helped Tun Abdul Razak secure what was, in effect, a bloody coup d’etat against Tunku Abdul Rahman. As a beneficiary of that coup d’etat, Mahathir was never shy about using the cry of “May 13” to keep non-Malay communities and non-Malay politicians in line.
Within Malaysia’s non-Malay society, “May 13” will always be regarded, even if unstated, as the day Malay power was established by blood. The blood of thousands, according to Tunku Abdul Rahman himself in later years, a remark in tune with widely-held beliefs although the official report he authored at the time held the death toll to be within the hundreds.
That is the unstated theme behind Umno leaders making reminders about “not wanting another May 13”, usually quite coincidentally around May. Just as, earlier this month, another minor Umno functionary, Azhar Ibrahim in Penang, dipped his hands into the well with another crude warning, even linking it to military power. Though the state Barisan Nasional quietly dissociated themselves from his crude remarks, Penang Umno chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi himself was more circumspect.
His reluctance to condemn or criticise such political crudity, and the silence from Najib Tun Razak and other Umno leaders about the crudity of the May 13 rally, is telling.
It tells that Umno wants power at any cost, even the cost of innocent lives. If that impression is not true, then Umno leaders must prove themselves.
They can prove their commitment to building a joint Malaysia future by making an outright condemnation of all use of the spectre of “May 13”.
They can prove their willingness to building a fully Malaysian future by helping Malay society come fully to terms with how and why May 13 happened, and not through touchy-feely measures as advocated by one adman to whitewash the brutal reality of May 13, 1969.
That can only come with full public exposure of all the details about that day of infamy — and when Malay society, especially, fully comes to terms with what was done in their name. When Malay society and all Malaysians face the truth.
Hours after this editorial was written, rally organisers said the event had been postponed on instructions “from the top”. Razali Idris, amidst more drivel, said the May 13 date had been chosen by Mahathir himself. Enough said.