|Father of Malay nationalism|
|Friday, 13 July 2007 09:10am|
©The Sun (Used by permission)
DATUK Onn Jaafar (1898-1962) was the son of a former Johor mentri besar and became well known before World War II as a fearless newspaper editor with outspoken views. He clashed publicly with Sultan Ibrahim of Johor over several issues, and for this, he was exiled to Singapore.
After a few years, he was pardoned and returned to Johor, where he spent most of his life in government service, rising to become mentri besar in 1946. While holding this post, which he relinquished in 1950, again over disagreements with Sultan Ibrahim, he initiated the formation of the United Malays National Organisation or Umno.
In 1946, when Britain announced the formation of the Malayan Union, which restricted the Malay rulers’ sovereignty and Malay special privileges, Onn wrote a letter to the Malay newspapers inviting 41 Malay associations throughout the peninsula to attend the Pan-Malayan Congress on March 1, 1946 to coordinate protests against the Malayan Union.
The congress decided to form a national organisation to protect Malay interests, and elected Onn as its first president.
Onn decided to call the organisation the United Malays National Organisation because he thought the name spelt unity, similar to that of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) which had just been formed in 1945. Umno has remained the organisation’s popular name instead of its Malay name, Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu.
Onn’s achievement in Umno’s formation can be understood only when it is realised that no single unified pan-Malayan nationalist movement had ever existed before the war since previous efforts had repeatedly failed. This is why Onn is today justifiably regarded as “the father of Malay nationalism”.
It was during Umno’s campaign against the Malayan Union that he led its rallies and demonstrations throughout the peninsula and emerged as a skilled orator. He articulated the Malays’ sense of nationalism so well that most Malays found at least some of their ideals in his thinking.
Although a volatile personality, given to temper tantrums, he was nevertheless charismatic, brimming with ideas and confidence, and initiated a Malay boycott of the British administration and invented the popular slogan, “Hidup Melayu!” or “Long Live the Malays!”.
He persuaded the Malay rulers to turn their backs on the “unjust treaties” surrendering their sovereignty and Malay special privileges, which they had signed with Sir Harold MacMichael, the British government’s plenipotentiary.
It was these treaties which had allowed the British government to form the Malayan Union.
After Umno and the Malay rulers succeeded in persuading the British administration to rescind the Malayan Union, Onn emerged as the Malays’ undisputed leader until he resigned in 1951 as Umno president over the party’s refusal to accept his suggestion to open its doors to non-Malays.
He had come to believe that the only route to independence would be through the creation of a multi-ethnic party.
He would have led Malaya to independence and become Malaya’s first prime minister if he had not been impatient with Umno and resigned from the party.
Umno founder Onn Jaafar was unrelenting in opposing the Malayan Union.
Onn addresses an Umno general assembly for the last time as its president. Next to him is Tunku Abdul Rahman, who succeeded Onn.
Umno Youth delegates in this picture taken in February, 1951.
Radical reforms under the Malayan Union
THE Malayan Union scheme, which the British drafted in London during World War II, comprised a set of radical reforms that attempted to inculcate a sense of nationhood while at the same time, alter the country’s pre-war political structure.
The proposals, outlined in a government White Paper, were presented to the British Parliament in January 1946 following the return to London of the government’s special representative, Sir Harold MacMichael, after he had successfully concluded with each Malay ruler an agreement which transferred full jurisdiction to the British Crown.
Firstly, the scheme consolidated into one single entity all the former nine Federated and Unfederated Malay States together with the British Straits Settlements of Malacca and Penang but excluded Singapore, which became a separate colony. The latter was detached because of its strategic importance and its mainly Chinese population, which would upset the population balance.
A British governor would head the Malayan Union who would in turn appoint his own legislative council, and an advisory council of Malay rulers which would decide on matters related to Islam.
Since the British Crown had jurisdiction over the Malay states, the British government or Parliament could legislate for all the states under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act.
The scheme would introduce a Malayan Union citizenship to anyone born in the country, who was over the age of 18 and had lived in Malaya for more than ten years.
Only Malayan Union citizens would be admitted to public office or membership of central and local councils. However, this citizenship would not connote “nationality” as the Malayan Union would not yet be an independent or even self-governing state.
To Umno and the Malay rulers, the scheme meant that Britain had abrogated the old treaties with the rulers, under which each ruler would accept British advice on all matters except on Islam and Malay customs. They argued that this meant that the Malay states were now being annexed by Britain. They also opposed equal rights for all races, seeing this as a threat to Malay special privileges.
For the non-Malays, especially the Chinese, jus soli citizenship, determined by place of birth, was an attractive offer, but they did not show enough enthusiasm and support for it. In contrast, the Malay opposition to the Malayan Union was stronger and more successful.
As a result, the British government finally withdrew the plan and replaced it with the Federation of Malaya scheme, which restored Malay sovereignty and privileges and, under pressure from the Malay rulers and Umno, withdrew the citizenship offer by jus soli and imposed more restrictive conditions for non-Malay citizenship.
Demonstrations against the British-conceived Malayan Union in Johor Baru in 1946.
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