13 May incident (Malaysia)

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13 May Incident
Peristiwa 13 Mei
Location Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Declaration of national emergency.

Malays mainly consisting of UMNO supporters Chinese mainly consisting of opposition supporters
Casualties and losses
25 killed (official figure, disputed) 143 killed (official figure, disputed)

The 13 May 1969 incident refers to the Sino-Malay sectarian violence in Kuala Lumpur (then part of the state of Selangor), Malaysia, in which many Malaysians died. Officially the number of deaths was played down, but Western diplomatic sources put the toll at close to 600, with most of the victims Chinese.[1]

The racial riots led to a declaration of a state of national emergency or Darurat by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong resulting in the suspension of the Parliament by the Malaysian government, while the National Operations Council, also known as the Majlis Gerakan Negara, was established as a caretaker government to temporarily govern the country between 1969 and 1971.

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Formation of Malaysia[edit]

History of Malaya[edit]

On its formation in 1963, Malaysia, a federation incorporating Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia), Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak, 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, who were perceived to be poorer and more rural.

The 1964 Race Riots in Singapore contributed to the expulsion of that state from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, and racial tension continued to simmer.

Election results[edit]

Amidst tensions among the Malay and Chinese population, the general election was held on 10 May 1969.

Election day itself passed without any incidents, and the results showed that the Alliance had gained a majority in Parliament at the national level, albeit a reduced one, and in Selangor it had gained the majority by cooperating with the sole independent candidate.

The Opposition had tied with the Alliance for control of the Selangor state legislature, a large setback in the polls for the Alliance. On the night of 11 and 12 May, the Opposition celebrated their victory.

In particular, a large Gerakan procession welcomed the left-wing Gerakan leader V. David.[2]

On 13 May, members of UMNO Youth gathered in Kuala Lumpur, at the residence of Selangor Menteri Besar Dato' Harun Haji Idris in Jalan Raja Muda, and demanded that they too should hold a victory celebration.

While UMNO announced a procession, which would start from the Harun bin Idris's residence. Tunku Abdul Rahman would later call the retaliatory parade "inevitable, as otherwise the party members would be demoralised after the show of strength by the Opposition and the insults that had been thrown at them."[3]


The riot ignited the capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area of Selangor – according to Time, spreading throughout the city in 45 minutes.[1]

Many people in Kuala Lumpur were caught in the racial violence – dozens were injured and some killed, houses and cars were burnt and wrecked, but except for minor disturbances in Malacca, Perak, Penang and Singapore, where the populations of Chinese people were similarly larger, the rest of the country remained calm.

Violence concentrated at urban areas. The infuriated Malays lashed out and murdered eight Chinese.[4]

According to police figures which are disputed, 196 people died.[5] The official figures gave 143 of the dead as Chinese and 25 Malay, although unofficial figures suggested higher number of Chinese deaths.[6] 439 were recorded as injured.[7] 753 cases of arson were logged and 211 vehicles were destroyed or severely damaged.

Declaration of emergency[edit]

The government ordered an immediate curfew throughout the state of Selangor. Security forces comprising some 2,000 Royal Malay Regiment soldiers and 3,600 police officers were deployed and took control of the situation. Over 300 Chinese families were moved to refugee centres at the Merdeka Stadium and Tiong Nam Settlement. On 14 and 16 May, a state of emergency and accompanying curfew were declared throughout the country, but the curfew was relaxed in most parts of the country for two hours on 18 May and not enforced even in Kuala Lumpur within a week.[citation needed]

On 16 May, the National Operations Council (NOC) was established by proclamation of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, headed by Tun Abdul Razak. With Parliament suspended, the NOC became the supreme decision-making body for the next 18 months. State and District Operations Councils took over state and local governments. The NOC implemented security measures to restore law and order in the country, including the establishment of an unarmed Vigilante Corps, a territorial army, and police force battalions.

The restoration of order in the country was gradually achieved. Curfews continued in most parts of the country, but were gradually scaled back. Peace was restored in the affected areas within two months. In February 1971 parliamentary rule was re-established. In a report from the NOC, the riots was attributed in part to both the Malayan Communist Party and secret societies:

Immediate effects[edit]

Immediately after the riot, the government assumed emergency powers and suspended Parliament, which would reconvene again only in 1971. It also suspended the press and established a National Operations Council.


The Rukunegara, the de facto Malaysian pledge of allegiance, was another reaction to the riot. The pledge was introduced on 31 August 1970 as a way to foster unity among Malaysians.

The 13 May Incident led to affirmative action policies, such as the New Economic Policy (NEP), after 1969 and the creation of Kuala Lumpur as a Federal Territory out of Selangor state in 1974, five years later.

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 posited a solution to Malaysia's racial tensions based on aiding the Malays economically through an affirmative action programme.

The 13 May Incident also resulted in Tun Abdul Razak taking over the place of Prime Minister, a position previously held by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

See also[edit]


  • Rahman, Tunku Abdul (1969). "13 May – Before and After". Retrieved 29 Oct. 2005.
  • "The Death of a Democracy" by John Slimming. Book written by an Observer/UK journalist, who was in Kuala Lumpur at the time.


  1. ^ a b "Race War in Malaysia". Time. 23 May 1969. Archived from the original on 18 May 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2007. 
  2. ^ Kia Soong Kua – 2007 – 136 pages.
  3. ^ Hwang, In-Won (2003). Personalized Politics: The Malaysian State under Mahathir, p. 78. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 981-230-185-2.
  4. ^ "Preparing for a Pogrom". Time. 18 July 1969. p. 3. Archived from the original on 19 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2007. 
  5. ^ Hwang, p. 72.
  6. ^ Nat J. Colletta, Teck Ghee Lim, Anita Kelles-Viitanen, ed. (2001). Social Cohesion and Conflict Prevention in Asia: Managing Diversity Through Development. Washington, DC : World Bank. p. 226. ISBN 9780821348741. 
  7. ^ N. John Funston (1980). Malay Politics in Malaysia: A Study of the United Malays National Organisation and Party Islam. Heinemann Educational Books (Asia). p. 208. 
  8. ^ Professor Dato' Dr. Zakaria Haji Ahmad. The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, "Government and Politics". ISBN 981-3018-55-0

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 3°08′11″N 101°41′18″E / 3.136402°N 101.688366°E / 3.136402; 101.688366