May 13, 2014

Remembering 13 May 1969

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Today is the 45th anniversary of 13 May 1969, a date considered a dark blot in Malaysian history. Unprecedented racial riots erupted among Malays and Chinese after General Elections, first in Kuala Lumpur and then surrounding areas. A state of national emergency was declared, Parliament suspended, and a caretaker government was established. 

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Over the years, 13 May has been a cautionary lesson against inflaming racial tensions. It's also been misused as a threat by some politicians, such as the virulent Ibrahim Ali, especially when discriminatory policies are rightfully questioned, which their paranoid minds perceive as efforts to erode ketuanan Melayu (Malay lordship). 

It is perhaps fitting I tie this with last week's event with my fellow Malaysians in Hong Kong. Organised by Mamak Stall HK (a mamak stall is THE place for Malaysians to eat and hang out), the event was titled "GE14: Can We Make a Difference?" Topics included the 2013 (fraudulent) elections, gerrymandering and delimitation which pertains to the drawing of voting constituencies.

We were graced by leading human and judicial rights activist Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan, former President of the Bar Council and co-chair of civil society organisation Bersih. formed in 2007, Bersih (translation: Clean) campaigns for free and fair elections, and was a catalyst for a Malaysian populace who had become cynical about widespread corruption, inefficiency and intolerance in government and politics.

I had mixed feelings prior to attending - as mentioned in an older post, I felt disenchanted with Malaysian politics. However, Dato Ambiga's speech was both inspiring and backed with facts and reason. My favourite is her remarks on the increasing frequency of extremist and racist remarks, which have been targeting Malaysian Chinese in particular, for example, Chinese migration being ‘a mistake’ which must be rectified. Her response drives the point home that while there will be extremist fringes - who receive undue attention because of their loud bark - there is much to be done and we should not allow that to detract from our goals or divide us - definitely some encouragement for this cynical Malaysian. I'm not extremely jubilant, but definitely hopeful that we can take our country back.

You can watch her measured response in the video below. 

Photo credits: here, here.

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