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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Racial factors in the political development of the federation of Malaya Jayaratnam, K.


A plural society is like the proverbial iceberg: looking at it is not tantamount to seeing the whole of it. No amount of idealism can erase diversities as long as the stimulants which generate these diversities are rife. Only political maturity and political experience can overcome the separatist trends of a splintered society. Until the foundations for such maturity and experience are firmly laid, politics in such a society will remain complicated and confused, and nationalism will continue being a vicious abstraction. Communalism has become the cardinal problem of the Federation of Malaya. The peoples of the country are of different racial origins, conform to different social patterns, follow different courses of occupation, exhibit territorial preferences and, consequently, tend to have divergent political aspirations. Indeed, the most conspicuous demographic fact about the Federation rests in the balance of numerical power between the indigenous and immigrant segments of the population. Today, the former is outnumbered by the latter. Broadly speaking, herein lie the roots of the problem. It is the purpose of the following study to identify and analyse the influences exerted by communal factors in the political development of the Federation of Malaya. The first chapter is aimed at placing the communal problem in the country in its proper historical and political perspective. The creation of Malaya's plural society is analysed, followed by a study of the inter- and intra-communal diversities which have been so responsible for complicating the Malayan political scene. The chapter also discusses the impact of the Japanese occupation, both on inter-communal relations as well as on the country's nascent nationalism. Chapter two is based primarily on an analysis of Great Britain's attempt at political experimentation in Malaya during the first few years immediately following the war. As such, discussion is focussed on the two constitutional proposals (namely, the Malayan Union proposals of 1946 and the Federation Agreement of 1948) which form the main body of this experimentation. The period in question is made particularly significant by the fact that British policy during this time was considerably influenced by the reactions and aspirations of the different communities. Included in the chapter is a less detailed survey of some of the more important developments during the first decade after the war. Chapter three, on Political Parties, is designed to give a better understanding to present day politics in the country. It is also hoped that this chapter will give adequate insight into the present racial paradox, for today's co-operation was achieved largely through the alliance, for inter-communal purposes, of three parties (the United Malays' National Organization, the Malayan Chinese Association, and the Malayan Indian Congress) which, not so long ago, were organized for the distinct purpose of furthering the individual interests of the country's three main racial groups. This makes a study of the country's political parties a necessity if one is to sufficiently understand the principal features involved in the Federation's attempt to solve the so-called "population puzzle". In a broad sense, it may be observed that the present Malayan nation is the child of immigration. The country's economic potentialities (coupled with the impoverished condition of labour in India and China) have been responsible for luring a flood of immigrants who, today, have become a part of the settled population and hence demand rights equal to those of the indigenous Malays. The problem which needs to be solved is the extent to which these demands deserve to be satisfied. Thus a study of Malayan politics at once becomes interesting to both the political historian as well as the political sociologist. Nor is it void of interest to the political theorist, to whom the problem of successful representative government in a plural society, involving such controversial issues as the representation of minorities, has always constituted an absorbing field of study. The Federation of Malaya appears to have solved this problem to an appreciable extent, as evidenced by the electorate's voting behaviour during the country's first (and, to date, only) national elections held in July 1955. The results have been most gratifying, not only insofar as present socio political expedience is concerned, but also with regard to future stability. Issues pertaining to citizenship rights, involving, on the one hand, the demand for less stringent regulations from the non-Malays and, on the other, the necessity to preserve, for political as well as economic reasons, the "special position" accorded to the Malays, have always presented the country's administrators with a very trying problem. Consequently, the interests of two distinct groups (as represented by the "indigenous Malays on the one hand and the "alien" Chinese and Indians on the other) have had to be placated. While the Malays are apprehensive of the fact that lenient citizenship requirements would make them a political minority in their own country (which they already are numerically), the Chinese and Indians demand equal rights stating that, in addition to having made invaluable contributions to the economic development of the country, they also have, especially in post-war years, changed from a primarily non-resident population to a largely resident one. Compromises have had to be made, but opposition has always been significant. From this standpoint, the present Constitution is of particular importance, since the compromises inherent in it have had to be effected by the different races themselves (through the instrumentality of the UMNO-MCA-MIC Alliance), and now it is also up to them to implement it. Those articles in the Constitution related to communal issues will be the focus for discussion in chapter five. The encouraging potentialities which the present appears to hold for the future of the Malayan nation is a tribute not only to the races resident therein, but also to the flexibility and good sense displayed by British policy.

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