History, The Coming of Independence
Malayan Union, bicameral parliament, Japanese occupation, Indian immigration, Deep divisions
Malaya, Sarawak, and North Borneo were seized by the Japanese in 1941 and 1942 and remained under Japanese occupation until World War II ended in 1945. Ethnic rivalries complicated the movement for independence that emerged after the war. The British had encouraged Chinese and Indian immigration to supply labor needed by the tin, rubber, and other industries. In the 1940s the population of the Malay states was approximately 50 percent Malay, 37 percent Chinese, and 12 percent Indian. Deep divisions separated these groups, coinciding substantially with religious and linguistic differences. With independence approaching, Malays expressed concern that immigrants would acquire political power. In 1946 they protested successfully against a scheme, known as the Malayan Union, that would have given most immigrants citizenship and voting rights while reducing the power of the Malay rulers. In 1948 the peninsular states formed the Federation of Malaya, which retained the power of the sultans.
The Alliance, the dominant political party that emerged in the 1950s, was multiethnic in its leadership but also ensured separate representation of ethnic groups through three component parties: the United Malays National Organization, the Malayan Chinese Association, and the Malayan Indian Congress. The Alliance won an overwhelming victory in the first nationwide elections in 1955. The British and the Alliance worked out the constitution, providing for a federal state; a bicameral parliament consisting of one elected and one appointed body; citizenship for most non-Malays; and special provisions for the Malays, who were regarded as less economically developed and were given preference for civil service jobs, scholarships, and licenses. In 1957 the Federation of Malaya (which occupied what is now West Malaysia) gained independence from Britain. It joined the United Nations that same year.
Meanwhile, the government had been fighting a Communist-led rebellion, known as the Malayan Emergency, since 1948. Most Communists were poor ethnic Chinese who were opposed to British colonial rule. When the Federation of Malaya became independent in 1957, they continued to fight for Communist rule. By the time the conflict finally ended in 1960, about 11,000 people had died. Not until 1989, however, did the Communists formally agree to lay down their arms.
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