Tuesday, June 26, 2012


BY: T. G. Mc Gee

MALAYSIA: On the face of it, the results of the recent West Malaysia election should not have provided a catalyst for the communal riots which followed, says T. G. McGee, a well-known authority on urban problems in Asia with a specialised knowledge of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian politics. In this article he provides a detailed analysis of the West Malaysia Parliamentary Election results -- the backdrop to the disorder which followed.

THE current disastrous sequence of events in West Malaysia -- communal rioting, the imposition of Emergency Regulations, the postponement of scheduled elections in East Malaysia, and the apparent inability of the Alliance Government to hold together the divided ethnic elements of Malaysia's society -- have forced a realistic analysis of the 1969 Parliamentary Election results into the background.

An analysis of this Parliamentary election when compared with the electoral patterns of Alliance and Opposition support in the 1959 and 1964 elections provides considerable insight into the unresolved tensions and problems of West Malaysia. Such tensions also exist in the territories of East Malaysia, but there has not been as much time to undertake remedial policies.

To understand these conflicts as they emerge in the electoral patterns, it is necessary to briefly sketch the demographic, social and economic features of West Malaysia. West Malaysia (and Malaysia as a whole) is unique among Southeast Asian nations in that immigrant groups form almost 50% of its total population. In 1966 the Malays made up 50% of West Malaysia's population, while the remainder was composed of Chinese (37%), Indians (11%) and other racial groups (2%). This almost equal balance between the indigenous and alien communities has been the most important deterrent to extreme measures being taken by the indigenous populations against the minority groups as have occurred in other Southeast Asian countries, notably against the Indians in Burma and the Chinese in Indonesia. Malaysia's unique multi-racial situation has been complicated by the fact that the Malays, traditionally located in rural areas, are poorer and less educated than the predominantly urban Chinese (63%) who are economically better-off.

In an effort to prevent a polarisation between the "have" and "have nots" of the Malaysian society in the form of a communal war, the British were careful to ensure that their political power of the colonial period devolved effectively to the Malays. Thus the formation of the Alliance Party -- comprising the predominant UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) but including also the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), which won the 1955 election and every election thereafter -- was looked upon with favour.

Secondly, the distribution and allocation of constituencies ensured a dominance of Malay rural constituencies at the expense of the more heavily-populated Chinese urban constituencies. Since this original constituency demarcation, there have been several changes in parliamentary constituencies boundaries but this basic inequality has not been corrected. For example the urban electorate of Bungsar won by the DAP (Democratic Action Party) in this year's election had a valid vote of 46,698 compared with the Hiler Perak constituency which had a valid vote of 12,221 won by the Alliance.

Since the Independence of Malaya in 1957 several trends have emerged to complicate earlier hopes of maintaining some kind of balance between the Malay indigenous political power and the immigrant economic power. First the growth of towns which had accelerated between 1947 and 1957 has continued.

In particular Kuala Lumpur, the capital, has experienced very rapid growth. In 1967 the Municipal Health Officer for Kuala Lumpur estimated that the city would reach a population of 750,000 by 1968; almost a 100% increase in 10 years. More relevant to current events is the fact that many of those moving to the city have been rural Malays who have not always found employment opportunities. In addition lack of adequate housing has forced them into squatter settlements and the overcrowded Kampong Bahru has been the foci of recent communal clashes.

This Malay movement has not been so marked in other parts of the Malayan Peninsula but the same problems of unemployment exist elsewhere for the Chinese; particularly in George Town (Penang), Malacca, Ipoh (Perak) and Seremban (Negri Sembilan), important centres of Chinese disaffection with the Alliance Government.

To remedy these situations, the Alliance Party has attempted to follow a policy of government investment in the rural sector to uplift the standard of living of the Malay population while providing incentives for private enterprise to invest in the industrial expansion of the cities. It has also attempted to ease Malays into the urban sector by providing government positions and industrial jobs.

Despite considerable success in solving their complex dilemma, the pace has evidently not been sufficient to create sufficient labour opportunities for either the Malays or Chinese, and indeed a growing dissatisfaction in both communities has become apparent.

Among the Chinese, the Alliance Party's policy seems to excessively favour Malays. Among the Malays, the Alliance Party's policies are regarded as not getting results fast enough. In the face of this situation, the PMIP (Pan Malayan Islamic Party), drawing its support largely from the most backward, rural Malay communities through a dual appeal to Malay chauvinism on the basis of their Islamic religion and their inherent rights, has been growing in power.

In the urban areas of the western states several parties, the Democratic Action Party, the Gerakan Ra'ayat Malaysia and the People's Progressive Party, all of them multi-racial in membership but drawing support largely from the Chinese with their promises to improve the community's conditions, have similarly increased their political strength. It is against this background of growing communal polarisations that the results of the 1969 election must be analysed.

The most striking fact emerging from the 1969 Parliamentary election is not the substantial loss in the number of Alliance Party parliamentary seats and in its percentage of the total vote compared to 1964 but that the pattern of Alliance and Opposition support is strikingly reminiscent of the 1959 elections. Looked at in the context of the three elections, the substantial Alliance victory of 1964 could in retrospect be viewed as reflecting the threat of Konfrontasi which encouraged the voters (particularly the Chinese) to put aside their concern for local issues of economic development and social welfare when casting their votes.

In 1959 the Alliance Party was already clearly entrenched in its regional areas of support -- Johore, Pahang, Kedah and the dominantly Malay constituencies of the West Coast states of Penang, Perak, Selangor and Negri Sembilan. The Pan Malayan Islamic Party controlled the states of Kelantan and Trengganu. The Socialist Front and the People's Progressive Party were dominant among a mixture of opposition parties in the urban areas of the West Coast states.

Ten years later, the Alliance Party had gained Trengganu at the expense of the Pan Malayan Islamic Party. The latter party had made substantial gains in Kedah, a dominantly Malay Alliance stronghold. Despite these changes, the pattern of electorate support for these two parties was not radically different. The DAP and the Gerakan had inherited the Socialist Front and other miscellaneous parties' strength in the mixed and dominantly Chinese urban constituencies of Penang, Negri Sembilan and Selangor. The PPP (People's Progressive Party) still retained its position in its urban stronghold of Ipoh and the surrounding areas.

The implications of this regional pattern of electoral support at the parliamentary level can be more fully explored by the investigation of the patterns of communal support and rural-urban support for the principal parties. Earlier elections have revealed strikingly the influence of the communal structure of Malaysian society. The principal Malaysian political parties with the exception of the PMIP have always recognised this fact despite their avowed adherence to a policy of anti-communalism.

For instance the Alliance Party has usually followed a policy of nominating from its threefold party alliance a candidate whose race is that of the dominant race in each constituency. This is one of the principal reasons for the easy recognition of the MCA's bad showing in the 1969 polls since their candidates failed to win many seats in the Chinese constituencies. There have been exceptions -- for instance, V. Manickavasagam in Klang constituency and Tan Siew Sin in Malacca Central -- but these are few, certainly the exceptions rather than the rule.

It should be made clear that the present distribution of the races -- predominantly Malays in rural areas and Chinese in urban areas -- creates a situation in which the Malay vote is more important than its size in the population might lead one to believe because of the heavy concentration in the over-represented rural constituencies. The pattern of communal support in the elections of 1959, 1964 and 1969 indicates that the Alliance has not markedly lost the support of the dominantly Malay constituencies. However, this conclusion must be seen in relation to the pattern of the contested electorates since the PMIP contested far fewer seats than the Alliance.

The PMIP drew practically all its support from the Malay constituencies but also increased its votes in mixed constituencies principally among the Malays in the West Coast states of Selangor and Perak. The growing appeal of the Socialist Front Party in the mixed and Chinese constituencies has been inherited by the DAP and the Gerakan. The other parties appear to have declined in Chinese areas despite the fact that the PPP, the principal party of this group, won four seats in the 1969 election.

In the 1964 election, the PPP, the DAP and the Labour Party were also included in this category. Certainly there has been a decline in the Alliance support in Chinese areas, but it is scarcely as bad as the election results appear to indicate viewed in terms of the total vote of these constituencies. Overall the pattern seems to be very much back to the 1959 pattern of communal support.

While the division into rural and urban constituencies is necessarily crude, the emergent trend resembles that which existed in 1959. This is particularly true of the Alliance Party. The most marked change has occurred in the urban constituencies where the combined vote of the PAP and the Gerakan has taken almost 50% of the vote. If the PPP is added to this, then over two-thirds of the urban vote went to the opposition parties. The other marked change is in the considerable increase in PMIP's share of the rural vote. Thus the ethnic division between rural and urban populations is amply supported by these data.

The implications of this analysis of regional, communal and rural-urban suport for the various parties point to a growing polarisation which indicates that the policies of the Alliance Party have not succeeded in convincing the majority of the West Malaysian population of the need for continuing to support the ruling party's policies.

On the face of it, the results of the 1969 election should not have provided a catalyst for the communal rioting which ensued. True, the MCA has lost the support of the majority of Chinese. True the UMNO has lost some support among the Malays. But these trends should serve as indicators to the Alliance Party of the inadequacy of its policies for building a multi-racial society. They need not be interpreted as an irrevocable disenchantment with the Alliance Party or the successful manoeuvring of another party or parties to overthrow the existing Government.

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