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]

Main article: History of Malaysia

On 31 August 1957, Malaya gained its independence from Britain. The country however suffered from a sharp division of wealth between the Chinese who dominated most urban areas and perceived to be in control of a large portion of the country's economy, and the Malays, who were generally poorer and more rural. The special privileged position of Malay political power however is guaranteed under Article 153 of the Constitution written during Malayan independence.[2]

There were heated debates between Malay groups wanting radical measures to institutionalise Malay Supremacy (Ketuanan Melayu), while Chinese groups called for their 'racial' interest to be protected, and non-Malay opposition party members argued for a 'Malaysian Malaysia' rather than Malay privilege.[3]

In 1963, Malaysia was formed as a federation that incorporated Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia), Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.

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.

The 1969 national election[edit]

The governing coalition the Alliance Party faced a strong challenge from the opposition parties in the 1969 election, in particular the two newly-formed and mainly Chinese parties Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Gerakan. The election was preceded by outbreaks of racial tensions. A Malay political worker was killed by a Chinese gang in Penang, while a Chinese youth was shot and killed by police in Kuala Lumpur. Radical opponents called for the boycott of the election and threatened violence, but the funeral procession of the shot youth which was held before the day before the election passed peacefully.[4] Amidst tensions among the Malay and Chinese population, the general election was held on 10 May 1969.

The election day itself passed without any incidents. The result showed that the Alliance had won less than half of the popular vote in West Malaysia, a large setback for the ruling coalition.[5] On the national level, the Alliance had gained a majority in the number of seats in the Parliament, albeit a significantly reduced one. The number of seats won by the Chinese component of the Alliance, the Malaysian Chinese Association, had been reduced by half. On the state level, the Alliance had only gained the majority in Selangor by co-operating with the sole independent candidate as the Opposition had tied with the Alliance for control of the Selangor state legislature. The Alliance lost control of Kelantan (to PAS) and Perak, and the opposition Gerakan won control of the state government in Penang.[6]

Post-election celebrations[edit]

On the night of 11 and 12 May, the Opposition parties DAP and Gerakan celebrated their success in the election. In particular, a large Gerakan procession welcomed the left-wing Gerakan leader V. David.[7] The parades by the opposition parties were alleged to be highly provocative, with non-Malays taunting Malays.[4] Some supporters of the opposition were said to have driven past the residence of the Selangor chief minister and demanded that he abandon the residence in favour of a Chinese.[8]

The celebrations by the opposition parties was seen as an attack on Malay political power. Despite winning the election, the Malay newspaper Utusan Melayu suggested in an editorial that the election results had jeopardised the future of Malay rule, and that prompt action was required to shore it up.[9] 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.

UMNO then 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."[10] Malays were brought from the rural areas into Kuala Lumpur which was a predominantly Chinese city, and thousands joined the parade, some of them armed.[8]


On 13 May, the Malay parade broke from its rallying point at the Chief Minister's house and the Malays ran through adjoining Chinese section.[4] According to Time, the spark to the riot occurred when the Chinese onlookers began to taunt those in attendance, and the infuriated Malays attacked and at least eight Chinese were killed.[11] The Malays burnt, killed and looted in the Chinese areas,[4] and the violence spread throughout the city within 45 minutes,[1] igniting the capital Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area of Selangor. In retaliation, Chinese, sometimes aided by Indians, armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and struck at Malay kampongs (villages).[11]

The people of Kuala Lumpur were caught in the racial violence – many were injured or killed, houses and cars were burnt and wrecked. The violence was concentrated at urban areas, and 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.

According to police figures which are disputed, 196 people died.[12] The official figures gave 143 of the dead as Chinese and 25 Malay, although unofficial figures suggested higher number of Chinese deaths.[13] 439 were recorded as injured.[14] 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 a reaction to the riot. The pledge was introduced on 31 August 1970 as a way to foster unity among Malaysians.

The Malay nationalist Mahathir Mohamad blamed the riot on the government especially the then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman for being "simple-minded" and not planning for a prosperous Malaysia where the Malays have a share of the economic stake. The Tunku in turn blamed "extremists" such as Mahatir for the racial clashes, which led to the expulsion of Mahatir from UMNO.[16] It propelled Mahatir 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 affirmative action policies included the New Economic Policy (NEP), and the creation of Kuala Lumpur as a Federal Territory out of Selangor state in 1974, five years later.

After the riots, Tunku Abdul Rahman was forced into the background, with the day-to-day running of the country handed to the deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, who was also the director of the National Operations Council. On 22 September 1970 when the Parliament reconvened, the Tunku resigned his position as Prime Minister, and Tun Abdul Razak took over.[17]

In an attempt to form a broader coalition, the Barisan Nasional was formed in place of the Alliance Party, with former opposition parties such as Gerakan, PPP, and PAS invited to join the coalition.

After the 1969 riot, UMNO also began to restructure the political system to reinforce its power. It advanced its own version of Ketuanan Melayu whereby "the politcs of this country has been, and must remain for the foreseeable future, native [i.e. Malay] based: that was the secret of our stability and our prosperity and that is a fact of political life which no one can simply wish away."[18] This principle of Ketuanan Melayu had been repeatedly used in successive election by UMNO to galvanise Malay support for the party.[19]

See also[edit]


  • Rahman, Tunku Abdul (1969). "13 May – Before and After". Retrieved 29 October 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. ^ Liana Chua (2012). The Christianity of culture : conversion, ethnic citizenship, and the matter of religion in Malaysian Borneo. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 39. ISBN 9781137012722. 
  3. ^ Dominik M. Mueller (2014). Islam, Politics and Youth in Malaysia: The Pop-Islamist Reinvention of PAS. Routledge. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0415844758. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gayl D. Ness (May 1972). "May 13: Before and After. by Tunku Abdul Rahman; Malaysia: Death of a Democracy. by John Slimming; The May 13 Tragedy: A Report. by The National Operations Council; The May Thirteenth Incident and Democracy in Malaysia. by Goh Cheng Tiek". The Journal of Asian Studies 31 (3): 734–736. doi:10.1017/s0021911800137969. 
  5. ^ Keat Gin Ooi, ed. (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 138. ISBN 979-1576077701. 
  6. ^ Boon Kheng Cheah (2002). Malaysia: The Making of a Nation. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 105. ISBN 978-9812301543. 
  7. ^ Kia Soong Kua – 2007 – 136 pages.
  8. ^ a b Donald L. Horowitz (2003). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. p. 284. ISBN 978-0520236424. 
  9. ^ Donald L. Horowitz (2003). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. p. 285. ISBN 978-0520236424. 
  10. ^ Hwang, In-Won (2003). Personalized Politics: The Malaysian State under Mahathir, p. 78. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 981-230-185-2.
  11. ^ a b "Preparing for a Pogrom". Time. 18 July 1969. p. 3. Archived from the original on 19 October 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2007. 
  12. ^ Hwang, p. 72.
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Professor Dato' Dr. Zakaria Haji Ahmad. The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, "Government and Politics". ISBN 981-3018-55-0
  16. ^ Keat Gin Ooi, ed. (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to Timor, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 819. ISBN 979-1576077701. 
  17. ^ Keat Gin Ooi, ed. (2004). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to Timor, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 114. ISBN 979-1576077701. 
  18. ^ Lee Hock Guan. Daljit Singh, Anthony L Smith, ed. Southeast Asian Affairs 2002. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 178. 
  19. ^ Lee Hock Guan. Daljit Singh, Anthony L Smith, ed. Southeast Asian Affairs 2002. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 183. 

External links[edit]

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