The Malayan Emergency – the Political and Social Aspects
Jega opened his presentation by emphasizing the handling of the Emergency is a source of great pride to the government as it is the only government that has signed a peace treaty with communists. It is also a source of pride for the army and police who took over from the British in the late 50s and mid 60s till the effort was completely local by 1989.
The surrender of the Japanese in 1945 after Horoshima and Nagasaki led to a situation where the MPAJA was not legal, but accepted by the returning British. Now the fight was against the British.
The Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948 when former British states formed a single colony, but the CPM felt it was forced upon the people and was undemocratic and biased towards the Malay elites. CPM-led labour unrest had been ongoing since the War and on June 16, 1948 three British planters were murdered in an escalation of violence. Two days later Britain declared an, ‘emergency’ rather than a war and the CPM was outlawed. Some believe the term ‘emergency’ was used instead of ‘war’ since insurance payments to rubber estates and tin mines would not be made in case of war, while others believe British High Commissioner to Malaya, Edward Gent, wanted only a low level reaction of the army and police.
Both sides became polarized and the British took military steps to drive out the guerillas while the CPM continued to harass the civilian population hoping to break the British power. An important source of support for the communists was a civilian organization called the Min Yuen or People’s Movement, which provided food supplies, money, intelligence, uniforms and combat units. In 1948 Henry Gurney became British High Commissioner but was assassinated by communist insurgents in ’51.
One of his initiatives was instituting the Briggs’ Plan, a massive resettling project to bring mostly Chinese settlers who lived near the jungle fringe into 450 new guarded villages. The intention was to cut off the either voluntary or forced support that the communist terrorists got from the settlers. These ‘new villages’ were surrounded by barbed wire, had floodlights, guards, a single entrance and exit, central cooking facilities and curfews were imposed. The idea was to keep the civilians in and the terrorists out. Schools, clinics, electricity and water were supplied in hopes of winning support from the settlers.
|Impact on Daily Life
Identity cards, known as IC in Malaysia, were introduced in September 1948 for use at military checkpoints. They were to be carried at all times. Legally registered residents were given ICs to identify them if they were stopped, so those without an IC were assumed to be terrorists. Military roadblocks were set up on major roads. Control of food was of major importance and people could not travel with food. Curfews were introduced, especially in small towns near the jungle, from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am.
Despite all the difficulties, life went on. People went about their daily lives, went to work and went to school. There was entertainment and people travelled.
With the introduction of the ‘new villages’ life became harder for the CPM. Food was a major problem. With the support from the Min Yuen cut off, many in the jungle were suffering from starvation. This in fact led to desertion of many of the guerillas. In the period from ’48 to ’50 there were several notable skirmishes: in Batang Kali (Scots Guards surrounded a rubber plantation and 24 civilians were killed), in Gua Musang (two policemen were killed) and in Bukit Kepong (20 police and auxiliary police).
Following the first elections held by the Alliance Party (UMNO, MCA and MIC) in July 1955, in which it won 51 out of 52 seats, Chin Peng offered to negotiate for peace. Talks were arranged in Baling for December. Chin Peng wanted legal recognition of CPM but Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister, rejected this. So the Baling Talks broke down and Chin Peng and his fighters returned to the jungle, regrouping on the Malaysian-Thai border.
How It Ended
Museum Volunteers Malaysia