Perjuangan, under or overrated?

“Perjuangan” is the most common word that spurts out of a Melayu’s mouth when ask to describe, what he or she believes in and willing to continue the quest for it.

It symbolizes a lot things, for a Malayo-Polynesian ethnic group. For most, it’s a somewhat a political struggle. Some use it for their struggle in artistic and/or cultural ventures. To some other, its developing their commercial territory. Some academicians or activities struggle to put forth an idea.

Perjuangan is about the ‘platform’ for which the Malays’ quest is often referred to, in their struggle to exist. It is commonly tied to nationalism. It’s commonly signified from the struggle which was brought within close ranks of the Malay nationalists that lead to the formation of UMNO, a consolidated organisation of the various smaller Malay organisations and societies.

This Malay nationalism Perjuangan, was very much expressed through UMNO, which was born in the Istana Besar, Johor Bahru, 11 May 1946, under the auspices of His Majesty the Sultan of Johor, a much respected Malay Ruler by the colonial ‘administrators’. Dato’ Onn Jaafar consolidated the various groupings and lead the Malays in their first organised struggle to stop the Malayan Union in 1946, which was successful.

Then after Dato’ Onn left, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra took over the helm and continued the struggle of nationalism. This time, its for liberty. For independence. Yes, Merdeka! (Apparently, “Merdeka” became the tagline for UMNO soon after Tunku took over).

This Perjuangan stride later was re-consolidated to work with the non Malays, primary the Chinese, then the Indians. Such co-operation and understanding was fostered, that in the first General Elections in Malaya, in 1955, the UMNO-MCA-MIC coalition called “Perikatan” (Alliance) successfully won an overwhelming 51 out of the 52 seats offered. The first power sharing coalition Malayan Government was formed, even still under the threat of communist terrorism, especially in the interiors.

This multi racial co-operation worked closely, with the representatives of the Malay Rulers, to negotiate independence from Britain, through the Commonwealth and Colonial Office in Whitehall. A lot of issues were trashed through, conceived with the fullest conscience and probable outcomes, by all the parties involved. All the parties came to an agreement. A Federation of Malaya constitution is drafted, with the articles like 11 and 153 embedded.

Come the first stroke past midnight of 31 August 1957, “Merdeka” was shouted loudly, three times. The Union Jack was then lowered and the Federation of Malaya flag was hoisted, for the first time. A new nation is born!

In the morning, all the nine Malay Rulers, the British Government representative and soon to be Prime Minister of Malaya, signed the instruments of the independence of British Malaya, formation of Federation of Malaya and legality of the newest nation on earth’s constitution enforced.


There onwards, the Perjuangan then moved to a different level. The Perjuangan changed its stride and quest. Now it’s about the making ‘Merdeka’ work. There is a new target. National development was an important agenda. Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and ultra Malay nationalists like Dato’ Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and En Ghaffar Baba (both later became Deputy Premiers) worked to draft so many menus needed to be checked through, with too broad spectrum of needs to be fulfilled and so little resources available. There wasn’t enough people to see it through.

Along the way, in the 60’s, there are new issues. First, was the inception of Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore with Malaya to become Federation of Malaysia. Then, it’s the undeclared ‘war’ with Indonesia. The serious threat of communism in the region, “The domino theory”, the balancing of super-powers gaining regional control and the in between Sukarnoe-Macapagal persona, took a lot attention from the nation building process. Malaysia struggled to remain neutral and stay above water. Of course, ASEAN was conceived for regional co-operation.

By then, there was a serious imbalance in development, equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and income and to make it worse, even the basic needs of many were still neglected. UMNO leadership in the mid 60s starting to sense these; growing ‘rumblings in the interior’. The first Kongress Ekonomi Bumiputra (KEB I) in 1965 demanded a special agency from the Government to develop the Malays. Majlis Amanah Rakyat or MARA and Bank Bumiputra were incepted in 1966. Then in KEB II, the Tabung Haji was formed, to organize the Malays save to fulfill their 5th Islamic pillar, performing the Hajj. However, despite these new programs, there is still too much to do with the national development agenda.

Then post 1969 elections saw the camel’s back broke into an ugly outcome of based upon these grossly flawed nation building issues and the wrath of the Malays, being provoked intensely by the newly victorious leftist-angled Chinese, especially in Kuala Lumpur.

Then the Malays demand a new agenda of the Perjuangan, especially from the UMNO leaders, who happens to be the senior and managing partner of the Perikatan coalition Government. In dismay, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra stepped down and his successor, then the NOC Chairman, Tun Razak called every political party, including the Oppositions, such as Gerakan and PAS, to sit down and formulate a grand plan, to ensure the 13 May 1969 racial riots do not happened again, ever! DAP, even invited, however chose to abstain from these consultations.

The outcome of these consultations was brilliant. The National Economic Policy was presented, approved and commenced in July 1971. It is designed to fulfill most of the national development agenda for nation building. The majority in the interiors infrastructural needs will be met. The Malays and Bumiputra, being the majority were given a special agenda to alleviate them from below poverty level, primarily with education and eventually with small business development programs. The Bumiputras’ 2.4% piece of the economic pie will be expanded to the planned 30%, NOT taking from others (be it the foreigners, who owns 40% the nation’s wealth in 1970 or the Chinese, 30%) BUT to create bigger economic pie and opportunities.

Under Tun Razak, everyone and everything is geared to make this NEP Perjuangan work. Universities, training centres planned. Action plans conceived and carried out. New industrialization policies, areas and plans were put in place. More commercial activity encouraged, more jobs created. Government machineries and agencies are geared to ensure the development plans, be it the 2MP, 3MP or far way planned 4MP are driven, at all cost.

The Malays were given a fresh breath into their Perjuangan, by Tun Razak. Many are so hyped up with this new socio-economic plan. They now see a light at the end of the tunnel. Tun Razak had the fullest understanding and co-operation of Tun Tan Siew Sin, Tun V.T. Sambanthan and Dr Tan Chee Koon, one time a very vocal Opposition. The Barisan Nasional was formed in on new year’s day, 1973, to replace the Perikatan and Gerakan, PAS and the political parties from Sabah and Sarawak are included.

Dato’ Hussein Onn reluctantly took over the helm of this Perjuangan with the premature demise of Tun Razak in 1976. In his time, the PNB was geared to ensure the institutional obligations of fulfilling the Malays’ economic pie are done. It’s proven to be one of the most successful development unit trusts in the world.

Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad took over the Premiership and UMNO Presidency on 21 July 1981. Of course, the Perjuangan torch now is carried by him too. He went on a strategic development plan. His industrialization policies were almost high octane. Dr Mahathir’s agenda in the Perjuangan now includes mastering high technology, not just mere education. Dr Mahathir wants the Malays to be practicing professionals, industrialists, engineers, scientists, IT developers, technopreneurs and even space explorers. Programs like Hicom, Proton, Perwaja, Petronas exploration, KLIA, North South Expressway, MAS and MISC expansion plans, MSC, Astronautic Technologies, etc., were executed to fulfill the planned 2020 Vision, a forward and strategic plan to drive Malaysia into a developed nation status, within 30 years from 1991.

Dr. Mahathir had a morbid interpretation to the Perjuangan. He wanted the Malays to be in a far better position. All the development and industrialization programs he created and driven were targeted to alleviate the Malays to these once unimaginable levels. The Perjuangan is about the pride of the Malays. It’s about the pride of the nation, as well.

This nationalism charged agenda is always on the over-drive mode. The KLCC Petronas Twin Towers and Menara Kuala Lumpur were erected, as symbol of a proud nation and its people. Putrajaya was conceived and commenced, to provide the housing of a future developed nation’s administration.

The Perjuangan also include Malaysia championing the underdogs’ issues in the international arena. That’s Dr Mahathir’s way to prove that the Malays are ready to be involved in the politics at the global level. He managed to bring the epitome of this international diplomacy game when his leadership at the global level was given endorsement and support by super power leaders such as Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin. Of course Jiang Zemin is also a close friend.

The nationalism and pride demonstrated by Dr Mahathir is unsurpassed, when he refused international capital market re-development programs, including IMF, even after the KLSE near obliterated and economic almost melt down in the 97-98 regional economic crisis. This was carried out simultaneously with the Perjuangan to hold fort on against the wrath of the emotions of the Malays, as a consequence to his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking on 2 September 1998.

These are “All you can be”-‘Malaysia Boleh’ attitude that Dr. Mahathir tried to instill all these for the Malays as the content in the Perjuangan. That is his interpretation of the ‘Malay Agenda’. The Perjuangan now is about the Malays able to be a resilient race. It’s about a race with substance. It’s about a race able to manage its economic sustenance. It’s about a race with pride!

Perjuangan, as Dr. Mahathir wants it, is a social and skill transformation as well as paradigm shift, to ensure the infant Malay civilization survive the challenges of the dynamic world. This strategic master plan is most probably the single most valuable component that Dr Mahathir bequeathed to his successor, to continue the Perjuangan.

Yet, so much needs to be done. Many still left incomplete. And yet Dr Mahathir hands it over to PM Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to carry on, after 22 1/3 years. Tun Dr Mahathir expects PM Abdullah to carry on the Perjuangan torch further. Plans like yet to be fully undertaken such the double tracking system and Bakun Dam. Of course, the Scenic Bridge across the Johor Straits to replace the causeway.

PM Abdullah has some new ideas of his own, for the Perjuangan. He planned to go back on the Perjuangan as laid during Tun Razak’s time. The inculcation and strategic indoctrination of the nationalism, as the main component of Perjuangan. More is expected from the ‘Pejuang Pejuang Bangsa’ in ensuring the Malay Agenda is carried on and forward.

It was done at intense pressure. The BTN, as agency under the Prime Minister, is used to consolidate all walks of life within the Malays, under the protocol concept of ‘Perjuangan’. This later will provide the grass root mechanism so that the power base in all levels are maintained and the rakyat, especially amongst the rural folks, understand and accepted some of the high octaned national agenda. “Vision 2020” was a BTN themed objective.

Many of these ‘Perjuangan’ people were avid admirer of the late Tun Razak (as they were first trained by BTN then) and then many became avid believer of Dr. Mahathir and his nationalism etched programs. They managed to conceive values and mental stamina to undertake these near ‘divine’ Malay Agenda.

Once, I was trained by the Mighty Dato’ Dr Nordin Kardi himself, in the height of the ‘Reformasi’ days. His interpretation of Perjuangan is “Kalau Tuan ada seRinggit dan memberikan enam puluh sen, itu bukan Perjuangan. Kalau Tuan ada seRinggit dan memberikan lapan puluh sen, itu bukan Perjuangan. Kalau Tuan ada seRinggit dan memberikan semua, pun belum Perjuangan lagi. Perjuangan ialah apabila Tuan ada seRinggit, Tuan berikan satu Ringgit dua puluh sen!”. He sums it up “Perjuangan adalah tiada makna jika tanpa Pengorbanan.

Perjuangan needs a lot of sacrifice. It’s probably true. Perjuangan is about a quest and it has to be a selfless act. It has to be an action that benefits the many, more than the minority. I guess that’s noble. In Islam, that’s considered Fardhu Kifayah. It’s a noble and divine deed, which benefits communally. It’s wholesomely unmistakable, there on.

After the boom of the early 90s, many Malays have reaped the fruits of the earlier Perjuangan investments and sacrifices. Many Malays are provided with overseas education and exposure, then conveniently assume the many commercial and industrial positions along with opportunities available. More commercial opportunities made available, especially with a galloping economy. Naturally, many too, climbed up the ladders in the KL corporate ‘rat-race’ ladders.

Eventually the fruits from Perjuangan brought upon a better life for the Malays, in so many ways. Quality of life improved. Economic standing improved. Even EQ has improved. At large, the Malays were brought to a higher level then they were before. Some elder folk saw the successes as unimaginable, once.

In the multifaceted success of the nation building and national development, many of the professional and educated Malays, now complacent with their standing and lifestyle and lost in their own circumstance, suddenly no longer appreciate Perjuangan and what it stood for. Some even challenge it. Many are just simply nonchalant about it.

That’s were a fresh re-injection into the Perjuangan spirit is necessary. In the 2005 UMNO Women, Youth and Puteri simultaneous AGM commencement, UMNO Deputy President spoke about “Melayu Glokal”. A Malay, able to play, even master the game at global level but down to earth, with very strong Malay roots.

Thus, the Perjuangan now goes for a more complicated target audience. They definitely want more, from the ever so frequent repeated word, ‘Perjuangan’. The brains’ kinetics wants to be simulated. That’s when UMNO Youth start to introduce the “Keris Panca Warisan” and a year later, naming the flag, “Sang Saka Bangsa”. When the Keris is drawn from its scabbard and wielded in the air, it is not actually about ‘a warrior drawing his battle weapon’. It’s not a symbol that depicts the UMNO Youth can be agitated to draw into street fighting all over again (the ghosts of May 1969 racial riots are always lurking!). It’s about the UMNO Youth Head trying to drive the spirit up to continue the ‘Perjuangan’! It’s about the UMNO Youth doing the ‘Haka’, like everytime the “All Blacks” ready to play.


Keris Panca Warisan” here seen in UMNO Youth Head’s clenched fist


The Chinese should not be least weary about the Keris thingy. It is just a cultural symbol. The Keris is a must in almost all Malay weddings, especially at the ‘Bersanding’. The Keris is just a ‘regalia’. Most of the time, when a Malay gets his ‘Datukship’, he is expected to wear the Keris and of course, the Tanjak to the Palace. Wielding the Keris nowadays in UMNO meetings is never about the Malays drumming war or a precursor for a bloodbath, against anyone. In fact, no one should ever go to the bleak 11 May 1969 racial riots again, ever! The slightest thoughts alone is a sin.

So much understanding, co-operation, trusting, harmony, tolerance and faith has been developed, forged and bridged amongst the two most major ethnic groups in Malaysia. Malaysians now even living each others’ ethnic lifestyle and festivities.

Therefore, Perjuangan is all about the Malays, fulfilling its civilization progression demand, without encroaching the slightest bit into other people’s rights. Yes, sometime it’s over used. Sometime it’s over killed. Then again, some actually ‘conveniently’ forgotten how the person arrived to where he or she is, today. So, it’s a moral duty to remind him or her, of the Perjuangan.

To sum it up, Perjuangan is a strategic movement to ensure the Malay agenda is fulfilled, at its own pace, space and opportunities created, to ensure the multiracial existence of Malaysia is maintained with spirit of harmony, tolerance, co-operation and sincere co-existence, without endless prejudices, preconceived notions and suspicions.

For me, Perjuangan, is the elusive symbol of the 50th Merdeka Celebrations…………………….”Perjuangan yang belum selesai!

Published in: on March 12, 2007 at 15:19  Comments (6)