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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 Samad

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 insurgency.

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 history.

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 pressure.

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 Emergency.

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 auxiliary police.

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--vis the Chinese and as a gesture to reassure Malays that the British were mindful of their special position and rights in their country.

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 visionary leader.

"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 London.

His death was untimely at the time of initial discussion between the British government and the Malayans for an independent state.

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 independence.

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

Read more: Multiracial efforts led to independence - Columnist - New Straits Times




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