Tuesday, 16 January, 2018 04:26:29 PM
Multiracial efforts led to independence
THE EARLY YEARS: Umno founding member Datuk Onn Jaafar
was all for a multiracial party, writes Dr Paridah Abd
AS one of the founding architects of Umno's early days,
Datuk Onn Jaafar played a resolute role to unite the
Malays to denounce the Malayan Union.
In February 1948, a new Federation of Malaya was formed,
with the sovereignty of the Malay sultans restored and
Malay rights protected.
Although established as a political front, Umno did not
initially seek political power and was favourable to
play its supporting role to sketch the final dream of
independence for Malaya. One of the most imperative
roles was the assistance given to defeat the communist
After the Malayan Union was replaced by the
semi-autonomous Federation of Malaya, under Onn's
capable and disciplined directive, Umno shifted its
focus more to politics and governance.
Umno became a pedestal for many aspiring Malays who
joined the organisation in considerable numbers, making
it the largest Malay political organisation observed in
The year 1947 was to prove a year of political wrangling
for Umno, as the party attempted to consolidate the
foothold it had been given by the colonial office.
In January of that year, at the opening of the Umno
general assembly in Kedah, Sultan of Kedah Sultan
Badlishah commented: "The Malay sultans and Umno must
join hands in carrying out the constitutional proposals
for the benefit of Malays."
Meanwhile Onn emphasised: "The peninsula was the home of
Malays and we shall preserve it as the home of Malays."
In June 1948, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP)
attempted a take-over of Malaya by force of arms. The
revolt was a product of international communist
The methods used by the Malayan communists were murder,
sabotage, terror and destruction, and most of the
members were Chinese. The government had to declare
MCP launched an armed rebellion against the federation
as a result of the failure of the British to include
Chinese aspirations in the 1948 Constitutional
Arrangements that not only precipitated the rebellion
but also encouraged the assistance it was to receive
from the Chinese community.
The Emergency gave Malays an opportunity to improve
their political position. The Malay community was taking
part in the fight against terrorism, through the Malay
Regiment, the regular police and the special and
In December 1948, Onn travelled to Britain to discuss
self-rule in Malaya. Besides requesting for a grant of
STG10 million for expenditure on the economic
development of Malays, Onn also proposed the idea of a
Malay to be appointed as deputy high commissioner.
His requests had two grounds -- as a means of improving
the competitive position of Malays vis-à-vis the Chinese
and as a gesture to reassure Malays that the British
were mindful of their special position and rights in
Onn's state visit to London won much admiration from his
British adversaries. British member of parliament L.D.
Gammans described the man as a rational, pragmatic and
"The Malays are fortunate to have a leader of substance
during a critical time when the British administration
has already promised that independence would be granted
to Malaya after a period of preparation," he said.
Unexpectedly, on July 4, 1948, High Commissioner of the
Federation of Malaya Sir Edward Gent was summoned to
return to England. As a result of dire weather, the
Royal Air Force Transport Command York that flew him
home collided with a Scandinavian Airways Skymass in
His death was untimely at the time of initial discussion
between the British government and the Malayans for an
In 1951, there were no signs indicating that Umno under
the leadership of Onn was heading towards independence.
In view of the racial composition of Malaya, an
essential condition of independence, as requested by the
British, was the existence of a political party that
should at least represent the two major races. The
Communities Liaison Committee (CLC) was established in
1949 by the British government, comprising the top
echelon of Malayan politicians from different
communities, to address sensitive issues, especially
those relating to ethnicity.
Compromises on a number of issues, including
citizenship, education, democracy and Malay supremacy,
were agreed upon and these set the stage for Malayan
The CLC can be considered as the prototype for
multiracial political cooperation. Through this CLC, the
British wanted a multiracial Malayan nation to be
eventually formed. The CLC was an unofficial body and
all the meetings, which continued for two years, were
held in private.
Soon after the CLC had reached a unanimous agreement on
all the problems concerning the political, economic and
other aspects of relations that should exist between the
Malays, Chinese, Indians and other people, as partners
in a united Malayan nation, Onn suggested the abolition
of the separate ethnic parties such as Umno, MCA and MIC
and the forming of a united political party which was
above racial precedence.
Source: NST, 12 May, 2013
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