Monday, April 27, 2015

S'pore and KL at odds over Malay rights

Apr 26, 2015

This week in 1965 | A look back at the events that shaped Singapore 50 years ago
By Ho Ai Li


Singapore and Kuala Lumpur sharpened their differences over the issue of Malay rights, as news about an impending move to set up an opposition alliance ruffled the feathers of central government leaders.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye had told reporters that a convention of Malaysia opposition parties would be held soon to form a United Opposition Front, to realise the vision of a Malaysian Malaysia. The convention was held in early May in Singapore.

"It is necessary for us of like minds to get together, not to oppose the Constitution or the privileges of the Malays, but to assist in the building up of a truly Malaysian nation," he said.

But the idea of a united opposition front was immediately criticised by the ruling Umno party, with its secretary-general Ja'afar Albar questioning the motives of Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) and accusing Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of undermining the Kuala Lumpur leadership.

Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had also weighed in on the issue, noting earlier at a rally that the opposition parties' main grouse was about Malay rights.

"But it must be remembered that all the business, the wealth and trade in this country are in the hands of the non-Malays," he said.

Hardly 1 per cent of the Malays were in business and hardly 15 per cent of those in universities in Malaysia or abroad were Malays, he said.

He said that "if the Malays are not given protection, you will find that they will join the ranks of the extremists and in the course of time you will find Malaysia joining Indonesia".

A few days later, Mr Lee alluded to plans for a united opposition and addressed the issue of Malay rights.

He said the PAP with other like-minded groups in Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak would lead the people in Malaysia towards realising a true Malaysian Malaysia.

At an Istana event, he stressed that the PAP had never objected to Malay privileges and said he could not see any difference between Malay privileges and the concept of a Malaysian Malaysia.

"While we uphold special privileges for Malays in the Constitution, we believe that the crux of the problem is how to raise the living standards of the rural people, who are mainly Malays," he said. "Their standards are not advanced by special rights for a small number of special Malays."

Meanwhile, Mr Lee sued Mr Ja'afar for libelling him in an open letter and in two articles in the Malay-language Utusan Melayu newspaper in 1964, by accusing Mr Lee of being an agent of Indonesia. The newspaper and its editor Melan Abdullah were also sued by Mr Lee.

The suits were settled after the defendants withdrew the libellous statements and apologised in September 1967, two years after Singapore had separated from Malaysia.

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