Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #97


Chapter 12: A Prescription For Malaysia

In 1969, shortly after the traumatic race riot that nearly ripped Malaysia apart, an angry and impatient young politician wrote a most unusual letter to the prime minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Written in Malay, the letter used the most polite and deferential language, tone, and form that characterized communications between a peasant and his ruler.

It was classic of a feudal Malay society, as Malaysia was at that time. Despite that, the petition could not hide its blunt and trenchant message: The Tunku must go.

Such a frontal challenge to a leader was unprecedented in polite and highly structured traditional Malay society. Malay society prides itself in an orderly and predictable succession. That gauntlet could only have been thrown by someone either unbelievably stupid and reckless or very sure of himself and his assessment of the citizens’ mood.

What galled the Tunku was that the challenger was a low-level politician who had lost his parliamentary seat in the elections that took place just before the riot. Most losers in combat would quietly withdraw to lick their wounds, not come out swinging looking for new adversaries, at least not so soon afterwards! Yet there it was, the impudence and impertinence of a hitherto obscure political backbencher challenging the nation’s revered leader amidst a national crisis! Incensed, the Tunku saw to it that the politician was expelled from the party. Thus was how Mahathir bin Mohamad was stripped of his UMNO’s membership.