Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Looking back - the story of Malaya - the election triumph

(Tunku Abdul Rahman campaigning during the first Federal elections. He led Alliance, consisting of UMNO, the MCA and the MIC to great win - 51 of 52 seats and was appointed Chief Minister)

Elections were held throughout the country for the Federal legislature in July, 1955, and were a great success. According to the Federation Annual Report, the eagerness with which the people went to the polls "was very much in evidence in the rural areas, where it was not an uncommon sight to see long queues of people waiting to vote shortly after the opening of the polling stations."

The efforts of those who had planned the elections, those who had put the plans into action, and not least the political parties, were fully vindicated by the fact that in the first Federal general election over one million registered electors voted, the report added.

The citizenship law, the most difficult political issue in post-war Malaya, had been liberalised in 1952, but the electorate at this 1955 election was still mainly Malay. Of those on the register, according to the report, 84.2 per cent were Malays, 11.2 per cent were Chinese, and the remaining 4.6 per cent were mostly Indians.

The election resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Alliance party of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC). Alliance candidates won 51 of the 52 elected seats in the Federal Legislative Council.

Accordingly Tunku Abdul Rahman, leader of the Alliance and president of UMNO, was appointed Chief Minister and formed a Government in which five of his Ministers were Malays, three were Chinese and one was Indian.

Malaya's first Cabinet: Tunku Abdul Rahman (Chief Minister), Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (Lands & Mines), Dato Abdul Razak Hussein (Education), Col. H.S. Lee (Transpoirt), Abdul Aziz Ishak (Agriculture), Sulaiman Abdul Rahman (Local Government & Housing), V.T. Sambanthan (Labour), Sardon Haji Jubir (Works), Leong Yew Koh (Health), Ong Yoke Lin (Posts) and five British members - C.T. Thomas (Finance), D.C. Watherston (Chief Secretary), M.J. Hogan (Attorney-General), O. Spencer (Economic) and A.H.P. Humprey (Defence).

There were still non-elected members in the new Federal Legislative Council - three British ex-officio members (the Chief Secretary, the Attorney-General and the Financial secretary), the nine Mentris Besar, one representative of each of the Settlements of Penang and Melaka, and 32 members appointed by the High Commissioner to represent various commercial and minority interests.

The first elections were also held for State and Settlement legislatures in 1955.

In the month after the national elections the Secretary of State came out to Kuala Lumpur from London to hold discussions with the Malay Rulers and the new Alliance Ministers on further progress towards self-government. It was then agreed that a constitutional conference should be held in London early 1956, and that after it a commission should be appointed to draw up a new constitution. Shortly afterwards, the Federation passed a milestone on the road to Merdeka (independence) when Britain made a momentous pronouncement. The directive issued to General Sir Gerald Templer on his appointment as High Commissioner in 1952 had stated:

"The British Government will not lay aside their reponsibilities in Malaya until they are satisfied that Communist terrorism has been defeated." That was taken, both by the Federation Government and the people, to mean that Merdeka would have to be postponed until the Emergency was over.
(Dato Sir Onn bin Ja'afar, founding president of UMNO)

But on November 30, 1955, Sir Gerald Templer's successor, Sir Donald MacGillivray, told the Federal Legislative Council that the British Government had agreed that the Emergency was no longer an obstacle to self-government for the Federation. Thereafter it was clear that the only major snag in the path of the London conference had been removed. Tunku Abdul Rahman led his mission, representative of the Malay Rulers and the Federation Government, to London at the beginning of 1956. It was then agreed that full self-government and independence within the Commonwealth for the Federation of Malaya would be proclaimed.

The next step was the appointment in March, 1956, of an independent commission to draw up a constitution for a fully self-governing and independent Malaya. The chairman of this body was Lord Reid, a distinguished British judge. The Reid Commission produced its report in February, 1957. It recommended "a federal form of constitution for the whole country as a single, self-governing unit within the Commonwealth based on parliamentary democracy."

(The secretary of State for the Colonies, Alan Lennox-Boyd, signs agreement reached in Merdeka Mission talks in London as the Tunku looks on. On his return to Malaya, the Tunku went to Melaka. Raising ceremonial kris, he told the mass gathering that Malaya would get self-government and independence in 1957)

A great achievement during the hearings of the Reid Commission had been the presentation of a joint memorandum by the Alliance. This reconciliation of the different, and to some extent conflicting, views of UMNO, the MCA and the MIC, would have been impossible in the political climate of Malaya only a few years before. It was a gesture of Malayan unity before a Malayan nation had been born.

(Next: Malaya - the new nation)

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