restricted access 3. The Federation of Malaya: The Beginningof Compromise
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CHAPTER THREE The Federation of Malaya: The Beginning of Compromise IT IS remarkable how radically the relationship among the vari­ ous communities changed in less than five years. Gone was the confidence that the minimum interest of each would not be vio­ lated at the hand of another, and so was the comforting illusion that except for the most prominent members of each community, most everyone could indulge himself in a casual indifference toward the existence of other groups inhabiting the Peninsula. The experience of direct contact during the Japanese Occupa­ tion and the MPAJA terror left in its wake an intense awareness of the presence of others and the unlimited threat they presented. Fear, suspicion, and hostility raised the condition of radical discontinuity between the communities, previously a prominent fact, to the predominant consideration. Gone too was any realistic prospect of returning to the pre­ war definition of stability. British troops had returned victori­ ously, but not before the frailty of British control was exposed. Faith in Britain's role as an insulator among the communities with an effective capacity to impose even-handedly the parame­ ters of their relationship was critically undermined. Clearly, a new political formula was called for. The first attempt, the Malayan Union, fell rather short of the mark. It decreed political equality before the existence of a political community; it envisaged democratic politics without a consensus on basic norms and where the allocation of rewards was perceived in zero-sum terms. Such theoretical flaws were apparently overlooked due to the unusual conditions. The design, after all, had been drawn up during the War in London after all contact with Malaya was lost. Hence, there was not any oppor­ tunity to sense or appreciate the radical changes. The plan was implemented moreover precipitately under a timetable imposed by the exigencies of the military, ignoring in general the de­ mands of statesmanship. But even granting the best intentions, which many Chinese and most Malays were disinclined to do y2 A POLITICAL SYSTEM ESTABLISHED the flaws were there, and they aggravated inter-communal ten­ sion. Inter-communal boundaries were now more sharply drawn than ever. Indeed, a new, more viable political design had be­ come an imperative. This time the British government was taking no chances. The political realities of Malaya would be fully recognized. First, a Working Committee charged with preparing a draft for a new Constitution was appointed. Sitting with British officials were the Malay Rulers and the leaders of UMNO, the popular repre­ sentatives of the recently mobilized Malay community. Subse­ quently, a consultative committee composed of prominent mem­ bers of the other communities was also organized. There would be a broadly based expression of views and an opportunity for the Government to gauge the political salience of each. The British government, however, had no intention of abdicat­ ing its pre-eminent role in the new political definition. Most of all, it was determined to reorganize the political structure. The existence, side by side, of Federated States, Unfederated States and Straits Settlements was demonstrably cumbersome and wasteful of scarce personnel resources. If Malaya was ever to take her place in the international community, she needed an effective central government. The only question that remained was just how much authority could be conceded to local (pro­ vincial) units. Practically nothing was the answer of the Ma­ layan Union experiment. Not much more, the revised position. Almost as firm was the British position for the need for a redefinition of the polity. The dichotomy of Malays and "immi­ grants" was, they were convinced, no longer a viable arrange­ ment. It was time to recognize this fact, for if ever a Malayan nation was to emerge, the various communities would have to be integrated. Unfortunately, satisfactory terms had not yet been found. Experience with the Malayan Union scheme sug­ gested that a relationship based on political equality was, at least initially, not the correct approach. The British government hoped that the communities themselves might find the appropri­ ate formula. For this, the Malays were definitely in the strongest position. They could, as in the past, claim the legitimacy of the traditional order. Now, however, they could also demand recognition under the democratic principle of majority rule. The United Malays THE FEDERATION OF MALAYA 73 National Organisation (UMNO) was remarkably successful in mobilizing (Malay) masses. When in June two Members of Parliament visited Malaya, it demonstrated its resources quite convincingly. "In every hamlet, village and town that we...