May 13 Incident

From Academic Kids

The May 13 Incident is a term for the Chinese-Malay race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on May 13, 1969 which left at least 184 people dead.


Causes of the Riot

On formation in 1963, Malaysia suffered from a sharp division of wealth between the Chinese, who were perceived to control a large portion of the Malaysian economy, and the Malays, whom some perceived to be more poor and rural. However, this is not to say that the Chinese controlled a majority or even the largest portion of the national wealth. This honour went to foreigners who at that time held the highest percentage of the national wealth.

Race riots in Singapore in 1964 were a large contributing factor in the expulsion of the state from Malaysia, and racial tension continued to simmer, many Malays dissatisfied by their newly independent government's perceived willingness to placate the Chinese at their expense.

In the May 10, 1969 general elections, the ruling Alliance coalition headed by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) suffered a large setback in the polls. The largely Chinese opposition Democratic Action Party and Gerakan gained in the elections, and secured a police permit for a victory parade through a fixed route in Kuala Lumpur. However, the rowdy procession deviated from its route and headed through the Malay district of Kampong Bahru, jeering at the inhabitants.

While the Gerakan party issued an apology the next day, UMNO announced a counter-procession starting from the head of Selangor state Dato' Harun bin Idris on Jalan Raja Muda. Reportedly, the gathering crowd was informed that Malays on their way to the procession had been assaulted by Chinese in Setapak, several miles to the north. [1] ( The angry protestors swiftly wreaked revenge by killing two passing Chinese motorcyclists, and the riot began.

During the course of the riots the loudspeakers of mosques were forcefully used to urge the rioters to continue in their actions.

The riot ignited the capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding state of Selangor, but except for minor disturbances in Melaka the rest of the country stayed calm. A nationwide state of emergency and accompanying curfew were declared on May 16 but the curfew was relaxed in most parts of the country on May 18 and not enforced even in central Kuala Lumpur within a week.

According to police figures, 184 people died, 356 were wounded and many women were raped. 753 cases of arson were logged and 211 vehicles were destroyed or severely damaged. Other sources place the number of dead at 196 or even above 200. Some estimates place deaths as high as 700 as a direct result of rioting.

The Singapore response

The May 13 incident also stirred up some resentment in neighbouring Singapore. The Chinese Singaporeans, feeling unhappy about what has happened to the Malaysian Chinese in Malaysia, started some riots against the Malays in Kampong Glam and Chinatown. Road blocks were later set up by the military force to prevent further violence, but the number of casualties were not as high.

Repercussions of the Riot

Immediately after the riot, the government assumed emergency powers and suspended parliament (which would not reconvene until 1971). It also suspended the press and established a National Operations Council.

The riot led to the expulsion of Malay nationalist Mahathir Mohamad from UMNO and propelled him to write his seminal work The Malay Dilemma, in which he posits a solution to Malaysia's racial tensions.

Tunku Abdul Rahman was toppled as Prime Minister in the ensuing UMNO power struggle, the new 'Malay-ultra' dominated government swiftly moved to placate Malays with the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP), enshrining affirmative action policies for the bumiputra (Malay) class. Many of Malaysia's draconian press laws, originally targeting racial encitement, also date from this period.

Political references

This incident is raised during voting years to imply consequences to the other ethnic groups of not voting for the ruling United Malays National Organization party. However, as the people who lived through the incident are replaced by post '69 citizens, there is less to be gained from such statements.

In 2004, during the UMNO general assembly Badruddin Amiruldin (new deputy permanent chairman) waved a book on May 13 during his speech and stated "No other race has the right to question our privileges, our religion and our leader". He also stated that doing so would be similiar to "stirring up a hornet's nest".

The next day, Dr Pirdaus Ismail (Umno Youth EXCO) was quoted as saying "Badruddin did not pose the question to all Chinese in the country," "Those who are with us, who hold the same understanding as we do, were not our target. In defending Malay rights, we direct our voice at those who question them."

Deputy Internal Security Minister Noh Omar dismissed the remarks as a lesson in history and said that Badruddin was merely reminding the younger generation of the blot on the nation's history. [2] (

See also

External links


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