restricted access Preface
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PREFACE EXPERIMENTATION and sagacity had produced a system of some originality. British example inspired the salience of democratic politics, but Malayan ingenuity adapted it to a polity dominated by communal cleavages. For twelve years the system appeared to be stable enough within expanding boundaries. It was able to control a variety of challenges: from the voters, from within the political leadership, from Communist insurgents, or from Indonesian military forces. It also managed inter-communal conflict. Although occasional clashes did take place, they were small and localized in scale. Order was quickly restored; com­ munal violence was not permitted to become a widespread chal­ lenge. And yet the first twelve years of independence did not estab­ lish the viability of the Alliance approach. The system was not fully tested in elections. Special kinds of issues—the freshness of independence in 1959 and the external military threat of Confrontation in 1964—tended to distract from the terms of the constitutional contract and the method of the Directorate. Opposition parties, which relied on appeals to uncompromising communal passions, had lacked organizational structure or financial resources. Nor was the system tested by the stability of its leadership. Men at the highest political echelons persisted in power, but there was little evidence that they either had the inclination or the capacity to assure an orderly succession, let alone a dynamic circulation of the elite. Actually, the system was not even fully tested in terms of the effectiveness of its security forces. For some time British and other Commonwealth troops had played a major role in Malayan military operations against Communist insurgents. They were still present to dis­ courage Indonesian aggression. Just how the security forces would have performed without foreign support, and more im­ portantly how they would perform in cases of large scale com­ munal violence, was far from clear. Finally, the system was not tested in its capacity to manage politically inter-communal con- 250 A POLITICAL SYSTEM IN PERIL flict of interest. On the cultural and economic terms of the constitutional contract, only little visible progress had occurred, and where significant compromises had been made—for exam­ ple, the National Language Act or in economic policy—not only the majority of members but also intermediate leadership ele­ ments in both the Malay and Chinese communities were left unsatisfied and increasingly alienated. As the country moved into a second decade of independence, the time for a critical test was approaching. The Alliance had been weakened by a somewhat lackluster political record, by rigidifying structures and strategies, and a growing insulation of its leadership from political reality. It was besieged by well or­ ganized and generally well financed opposition parties which were prepared to go to any length in order to win at the polls. There were, moreover, no longer any serious political distrac­ tions; efforts to emphasize the Philippine claims to Sabah, for example, made little impact. The legitimacy of the constitutional contract and the Alliance method was clearly at stake. It proved to be a fantastic confrontation. The campaign was conducted with little regard for either the substantive or the procedural terms of the Constitution; it deteriorated into com­ munal intransigence. Election results were inconclusive: public support for the Alliance declined considerably, but not suffi­ ciently to jeopardize its control of the central and most state governments. Even so, euphoria moved a number of Opposition leaders to public declarations of their intention to liquidate the Constitution and to impose new terms of inter-communal rela­ tions. For its part, the Alliance was deeply disturbed. The MCA high command felt compelled "to teach the Chinese a lesson" by withdrawing from the Government even though this meant crippling the Directorate. In turn, several younger UMNO leaders were determined "to assure the attainment of Malay rights" by imposing Malay rule and set out to destroy the (intercommunal ) Directorate and its head, the Prime Minister. Mean­ while, in the streets communal passions rose to a crescendo. Some Chinese and Indians indulged in provocations; many Ma­ lays could hardly contain their rage. When some did not, the Malaysian political system was confronted with the most critical test of its life: large-scale communal violence in the Federal capital. ...