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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38 Number 8. 1975

Malaysia Special — No. 4 — Mass demonstrations

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Malaysia Special

No. 4

Mass demonstrations

Starvation in Baling

Malaysia Special

Some of the 1200 students arrested for Unlawful Assembly.

Some of the 1200 students arrested for Unlawful Assembly.

On the surface Malaysia is a land of plenty, but deep down there is widespread poverty and hardship. The root of these is the presentation of the colonial economic structure in Malaysia whereby the economy is foreign controlled. Even the Malaysian P.M. Tun Razak admitted:

'In 1970 — and the picture today is substantially unchanged — about 60% of the share capital of limited companies was owned by foreigners. In agriculture and fisheries, it was as high as 75% and about 72% in mining and quarrying. In commerce and manufacturing, foreign ownership amounted to about 63% and 59% of the total share capital respectively'. Straits Times, 21-2-74.

It is agreed that Malaysia's economy rests on the tripod of rubber, tin and palm oil but 75% in agriculture and 72% in mining are foreign owned. It is this shocking situation, together with the Malaysian government's policies of providing attractive incentives to foreign capitalists (cheap labour, tax holidays from 2 to 8 years, etc.), that led to the enormous outflow of wealth and leaving the country a pauper. From 1967 to 1971 the total capital outflow amounted to M$3,017 million in the First Malaya Plan. Mr. Edward Heath, former British P.M., proudly announced that British monopoly corporations in Malaysia and Singapore took out M$2.2 million in 1969 alone. Recently it was revealed in the Parliament Debate that total capital outflow would be M$666 million per year. (Sin Chew Yit Poh. 13-4-75). This in turn leaves the country with a national debt of about M$9,000 million (the interest of which amounts to about M$500 million per year, 10% of the total gov't expenditure) and the people in poverty. The situation is getting worse — inflation and falling rubber prices hitting hard especially at the rural people. Typical examples of rural suffering are:

'A farmer, selling rubber at less than 40 cents a kilo, making about $28 a month. Yet he is paying more for rice than he is being paid for rubber, and his family eats twice as much rice as he can produce rubber.................... they were forced, by privation to eat wild yams proved to be poisonous'. (Auckland Star. 13-1-75)

'A wang, the owner of a rubber small-holding in a village in Baling, northern Malaysia ......A wang's earnings averaged M$ 1.20 a day............ Most of A wang's money is spent on rice. Baling is located in a region which does not get rice at the subsidised price of between 45 and 47 cents a catty (l.3lbs.)

'To live at a minimum level of comfort, the smallholder would need $3 a day. To live just above the subsistence level, A wang needs $1.50 daily. He is one of the 545,000 smallholders all over [unclear: Peninsular] Malaysia...........

'Awang had heard of some tenant farmers families in smallholdings who were forced to eat yams and other low-quality foods instead of rice. He had heard too of three four deaths of people who had eaten jungle yams ...' (Far Eastern Economic Review 10-1-75).

Dungeon of Horror
How many tears been shed,
screams supressed,
every minute, every hour
in this dungeon of horror!

How much blood has flowed,
countless broken bones
scattered on this mute floor
in island Singapore.

Its ominously serene.
The air is unclean,
a foul odour hangs about
with no way out.

My mind's eye sees
monstrous faces,
ugly yearnings,
human moanings.

Exulting, these savages
imagine victory it their's.
Hear them laughing?
Wishful thinking!

Every drop of tear,
every clot of blood,
every piece of bone,
never forgotten.

Instead of oblivion
into revolutionary seeds
they are transformed,
now sprouting
into a gigantic force.
They will grow
to wipe out these savages,
and the people will
fear no more.

By Said Zahari who Has been jailed without trial by Lee Kuan Yew since 1963.

Peasants' Demonstrations and Their Demands

The explosion came in Mid-November 1974 in the Baling District. Most of the people in Baling are rubber-tappers. While they hear the authorities bragging about prosperity, the rubber price plunged to 25c-30c a catty. During this rainy season when they cannot work the Baling people are literally at the brink of starving, surviving on tapioca leaves and roots and eating a meal a day. Such living conditions had already claimed three lives in Tanjung Pari. When petitions to the authorities could not draw any sympathy from the authorities, the Baling people are left with the alternative of mass demonstrations. The starving people held a hunger march to protest against the authorities irresponsibility and to demand for their fundamental rights to live.

  • On 19-11-74: About 1,000 people from Kg Weng and Kg Bonger demonstrated peacefully but armed FRUS violently despersed them with tear gas.
  • 20-11-74: More than 1,000 people from Parit Kanai and Parit Panjang held a peaceful demonstration.
  • 21-11-74: About 13,000 hungry people, old folks, children, women, the sick, from Baling district, some as far as 12 miles away, held a hunger march march in Baling. The march spread over a distance of six miles. About another 5,000 gathered in kampongs around Baling but were prevented from participating in Baling by police and the security officers. The Kedah state Chief Minister was forced to meet the people and promised them a solution in ten days time.
  • 1-12-74: About 25,000 people again gathered in Baling.

Students Demonstrations and Their Demands

Although newspapers and other mass media conveniently blacked out news of the protests, the news did reach the several universities. This almost spontaneously sparked off mass student demonstrations throughout the country.

  • 3-12-74: More than 8,000 students from all the institutions of higher learning held a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur to protest against inflation, poverty and corruption. On the same day, similar demonstrations were also held in Penang and Ipoh. The Malaysian Federal Reserve Units fired tear gas to disperse the students. 1169 students in K.L., 38 in Penang and 3 in lpoh were arrested and charged with 'unlawful assembly'!
The demonstrations erupted again the next day and continued for about a week. All of these were demonstrations of sympathy and support for the unden- page 10 iable social distress in Baling. Some of the students demands are:
1)Effective measures by the government to fight inflation.
2)Eradicate corruption (e.g. corruption of Selangor Chief Minister).
3)Reduce the allowances of MP's to its former level (a Bill was then passed to double the monthly allowances of MP's to $1,500).
4)More stringent controls over multinational corporations.
5)Stop making empty promises which have been unfulfilled for 17 years (e.g. Land reform).
6)Guarantee the availability of essential goods and services at reasonable prices.
7)Effective agricultural and other socio-economic reforms for the benefit of the majority of the people and not just a few capitalists.

'Ghazali-isms' — 'Once and for all Cleanup'

In desperation to suppress the dissentment, the Malaysian Government used various methods such as threats of withdrawing scholarships and reducing university funds. The 'kill' came from the Home Affairs Minister's 'Once and for all cleanup'. Most of the student leaders and four lecturers were detained under the notorious Internal Security Act. Even an American lecturer in the University of Malaya's law faculty was deported for his support to the students.

Academic Staff Support and Their Demands

The students' protests received support from a large number of the academic staff. 'The University's Academic Staff Association said if believed the issue of poverty raised by students in recent demonstrations was reasonable'. (Straits Times, 11-12-74).

'The National Institute of Technology Academic Staff Association, the Universiti Sains Malaysia Academic and Administrative Staff Association and the U. of Malaya Academic Staff Association issued a statement demanding:
1)The immediate withdrawal of police from in and around the universities.
2)The immediate and unconditional release of all detained students and staff.
3)Refraining from further arrests of students and staff.
4)Allowing the councils and senates of the universities to exercise their legitimate functions....' (Straits Times. 13-12-74).


1)The overwhelming majority arrested were Malays, including a few of royal blood. It is important therefore, to view the Baling issue, among others, as a class issue. The struggle of the Baling people is the struggle of the people of all nationalities and not confined to any particular 'race' as frequently amplified [unclear: y] the Razak's regime.
The true background to the spontaneous explosion of student dissentments is as a Malay leader puts it:

'We know about the problems of the small farmer and how little money he earns and how little food he eats. We know because we are his children'.

It is the poverty and hardships of their families and friends that urged the students to stand up.

3)The Baling epic had revealed the ugly face of the Malaysian system. The Government mobilized and whole state machinery (police, FRU, etc.) to sabotage the just struggles of the peasants and students. The mass media (newspapers, radio, TV etc.), which are controlled by the Government, went all out to distort the fact.
4)The starvation problem is but a significant aspect of the more embrasing problem faced in Malaysia:
  • Galloping inflation: Prices of daily necessities have increased by 50% — 200% in the last two years, A loaf of bread costs 50 cents, condensed milk 75c, sugar a kati 60c, etc.; the cost of living in K.L. is 4% higher than it is in London. (New Straits Times. 29-10-74). It is still rocketing.
  • Worsening recession: The imperialists are trying to transfer their economic crisis to the Third World, including Malaysia, by depressing prices of raw materials such as rubber, coffee, tea, etc., and inflating their exported products like machinery. Rubber price plunged to 25-30c a kati (1.31bs.).
  • Increasing unemployment: The unemployment rate is 22%. Workers were retrenched ruthlessly. For example — From Feb. to Nov. last year, more than 4,000 textile and electronic workers were retrenched in Penang alone.
  • Increasing landlessness: 40% of the K.L. residents are squatters, more than 350,000 peasant families have no land or inadequate land and the figure increases by more than 10,000 per year. (New Straits Times. 22-9-74). More and more fertile lands will be handed over to foreign capitalists. At the moment, more than 2,000,000 acres of the most fertileland in Malaysia, about ¾ of the total cultivated lands are in foreign hands like Guthrie, Dunlop, etc. to a mass fabulous super-profits to prop up the tottering imperialist economies.
5)In the consecutive 11 days of struggles the Malaysian students have shown their active concern for the oppressed majority by massive demonstrations and boycotting lectures. It is an unprecedented epoch in the history of the student movement in the Peninsular.
6)The struggle of students against social injustice will undoubtedly gain the support of progressive students all over the world.
1)Cheap labour: Working hours not less than 8 hours a day and workers' pay as low as $1.00 a day. If they are sacked, taw forbids them to strike. In order to provide 'political and social stability' for the foreign investors, suppressive policies are imposed and therefore the majority of the people suffer.
2)It is an empty promise. In fact empty promises just like the intimidation of people is a way of life of the Malaysian Government.