Letter to the Prime Minister from Muar Detention Camp

Lim Kit Siang, M.P
c/o Detention Camp,
Muar, Malaysia.
5th August 1969

Y.T.M Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-haj
Prime Minister,

Dear Prime Minister,

I feel it my duty as a Malaysian citizen and Member of Parliament to write to you about my anxieties for the future of Malaysia.

The tragedy of May 13 disturbances has raised a big question mark as to whether Malaysia could hold together as a nation and her citizens as one people.

Close in the wake of the May 13 disturbances, the Malayan Communist Party has reactivated its armed struggle at the Malaysian-Thai border.

It has never been a question of whether, but when, the second armed insurrection will take place. And the armed activities of the M.C.P are bound to intensify with the impending British defence withdrawal by 1971.

But the biggest threat of the M.C.P. lies not in its military challenge, but its mass political and propaganda appeal.
The American debacle in Vietnam is a good lesson. Despite its overwhelming military might and firepower, a colossal expenditure of wealth and the sacrifice of 40,000 of her own sons on the Vietnamese battlefield, the United States of America is unable to subdue a puny but sturdy and ideologically motivated communist opponent.

The Americans failed because they tried to fight ideas with bullets, when the only way to defeat ideas is with better ideas.
If in Malaysia, the only counter to the M.C.P. is the military one, then we will repeat the disastrous mistakes of the Americans in Vietnam

The M.C.P. thrives best on popular discontents and frustrations in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres for they form the basis of its attempt to rally the masses under its banner and convert the M.C.P. armed insurrection into a people’s revolution.

I have no doubt that given the choice, Malaysians of all races want their political, economic, social and cultural grievances and discontents to be resolved peacefully rather than violently.

In Malaysia, the democratic process represents change by peaceful means while the M.C.P. represents change by violence.

It will be tragic if a situation should ever arise where the democratic process is discredited, for in such a popular disillusionment with democracy, the M.C.P will benefit and its popularity and appeal enhanced.

The May 13 disturbances have left two serious after effects:

Firstly, inter-racial understanding and relationships have been gravely damaged. The killings, inhumanity of man to man, arson and the unspeakable horrors are memories not easily erased by the victims’ survivors, whatever the race. The crucial question is: Even though the wounds of May 13 may close with time, will the wounds heal? For if the wounds do not heal, then it is only a question of time before those wounds re-open, and lead to disturbances which in comparison, then May 13 disturbances may no more than child’s play.

The loss of lives, suffering and hardships of May 13 disturbances will not be completely in vain, however if they serve as salutary lessons to all of the madness of racialism, and the need to usher in an era of racial reconciliation, understanding, tolerance and the development of a Malaysian consciousness and identity.

We must do all we can to prevent the memory of the May 13 disturbance from working like an acid, silently but relentlessly eating away the remaining fabric of inter0racial relationship, for then all is lost for Malaysia.

This task of racial reconciliation can only succeed if it is a national, all-party, all-races effort. The government alone cannot ensure its success.

The second serious after-effect of the disturbances is its blow to the people’s confidence in the democratic process and the booster it has given to the declining political and propaganda appeal of the Malayan Communist Party.

The May 10 General Elections result was a defeat for the Alliance Party. But it was graver blow to the M.C.P.

During the general elections campaign, the M.C.P. and its open auxiliaries campaigned for a boycott of elections to discredit parliamentary democracy and to prepare the political base for its second armed insurrection.

The people rejected the M.C.P. line and came out solidly to vote. This proved that the people had faith in the democratic process to peacefully bring about the changes they want.

The result of May 10 was the people’s verdict for democracy, as against the M.C.P. campaign. There was joy and expectancy, after the results, not to deprive anyone of his rights, but at the new hope to work for a more just, equal and fulfilling society.

The May 13 disturbances and the subsequent events, however, had greatly undermined the people’s faith in democracy.
I believe that the situation, though grave, is not irretrievable, if the government can spearhead a national, all-part, all-races effort to restore communal confidence through the pursuit of genuine multiracial politics and policies.

I believe it is a mistake to spurn the offer of co-operation of newly-elected Opposition M.P.S and Assemblymen (apart from Penang and Kelantan) to help in getting the country back to normal.

The shunning or arrest of elected Opposition leaders can only be construed by the electorate as the government’s partisan discrimination against Malaysian political leaders who hold differing political views from the Alliance party.
I sincerely appeal to you and the Government that at this moment of trial for out nation, we must all rise above party politics and think only of the long-term national interests.

I do not believe, for instance, that it is in the national interest to disregard the contribution the Democratic Action Party, the leading Opposition Party in the Dewan Ra’ayat, can make in the forging of national unity and consciousness.

From the very outset of the May 13 disturbances, the DAP had offered its help to restore peace and harmony. I myself, on 17th May, had occasion to make a similar offer and pledge on behalf of my party at a press conference in Singapore, on the eve of my return to Malaysian capital from Sabah and arrest.

I wish to make the following proposals, which in my view can go a long way to ensure communal harmony and goodwill, and the development of a Malaysian consciousness and identity, transcending racial ties and affinities:

(1) The immediate convening of Parliament:

a. for an affirmation and pledge by all M.P.s to the concept and ideal of racial tolerance, understanding and multi-racialism; and
b. to restore the people’s confidence in the democratic process and deny the M.C.P. from making political capital from the disturbances.

(2) The establishment of a Royal Commission of inquiry into the causes of the May 13 disturbances, and to apprehend and punish the culprits; and

(3) The establishment of an all-party, all-races Royal Commission of Enquiry to probe into the entire gamut of racial problems in Malaysia, with a view to seek long-term solutions. This Commission should also comprise eminent Malaysians from the different professions. The recently-formed Department of National Unity can form the Secretariat of the Commission.

I have written this letter, not as a party politician, but as a Malaysian nationalist, who do not want our beloved country slither down the path that Nigeria is now taking. For when that happens, there will not only be economic decline and political unrest, the entire country will become a hell on earth, with race pitted against race, Malaysians against Malaysians.
I hope that my letter will receive your due consideration.

May God keep you in continuous good health. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
(Lim Kit Sing)
Member of Parliament
for Bandar Melaka