Malaysia: The Making of a Nation

By Cheah Boon Kheng | Go to book overview

decided in the immediate post-war period. “For the people of Malaya, ” says a British observer, 1 “decolonisation was a series of profound struggles through which they fought for the welfare of their communities, to secure position and place, and to contest the identity of the nation.”

A resurgent Malay nationalism was born during this period. It was manifested in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which successfully campaigned against the British Government's post-war Malayan Union plan. Under the plan the British had intended to end Malay sovereignty, impose direct rule in Malaya and create an equal citizenship for both Malays and non-Malays. If this plan had been fully implemented (the Malayan Union was only in force for two years), Malaya would have become more of a “Malayan” nation-state than a “Malay” nation-state. When it withdrew the plan in the face of the strong Malay opposition, the British Government restored Malay sovereignty and Malay proprietorship of the country and thereby ensured Malay political primacy among the various races. This allowed the Malays to set the pace and agenda for the creation of a new “Malay” nation-state. Independent Malaya eventually materialized on 31 August 1957. It formed the basis for the future enlarged federation of present-day Malaysia.

The period 1945—57 marked the crucial last 12 years of British rule, the period of decolonization. In 1948 British officials together with the UMNO nationalists and the Malay Rulers worked out the legal framework for a modern administration, citizenship, the future basis for the construction of nationhood, and a brief, final and meaningful pattern of collaboration and partnership. All three parties had agreed to create a Federation of Malaya comprising the nine Malay states together with the settlements of Malacca and Penang to replace the Malayan Union under a centralized form of government. In order to end colonial rule and achieve national independence for Malaya, the UMNO nationalists were compelled by the British officials to work out a formula of inter-racial co-operation, unity and harmony among the various races in the country. In 1955 and again in 1956 they negotiated and achieved a “Social Contract” with the two major non-Malay political parties, the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), on the basic principles for co-operation, partnership

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