The Malay-dominated United Malay National Organization (UMNO) forms the core of the National Front coalition government. The 12-year communist insurgency ends with insurgent leader Chin Peng's surrender. Chinese-dominated Singapore joins the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. Military confrontation with Indonesia in 1963 rallies the new republic against a common threat.
The incorporation of mainly Chinese Singapore threatens Malay control of the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore leaves the Federation in 1965 after ethnic friction proves insoluble. The "Confrontation" with Indonesia ends in 1966 with the fall of Sukarno. The UMNO Supreme Council includes Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, an ardent advocate for Bumiputras, or ethnic Malays.
Malay-Chinese riots during the 1969 parliamentary elections threaten Malaysia's continued existence as a pluralistic society. In response, the New Economic Policy (NEP) mandates programs to increase Malay economic participation. The National Operations Council (NOC), a joint civilian-military body, rules for 21 months. Prime Minister Abdul Rahman resigns and is replaced by his deputy, Abdul Razak.
The NEP mandates affirmative action for ethnic Malays with the goal of 30 percent Bumiputra ownership of corporate wealth by 1990. Abdul Razak's new Barisan National (BN) alliance incorporates every party but the Chinese left-wing Democratic Action Party (DAP). The new BN wins the 1974 elections in a landslide. Mahathir becomes minister of education.
Prime Minister Abdul Razak dies suddenly in January 1976. His deputy, Tun Hussein Onn, replaces him. The ruling BN coalition is dominant, with the mainly Chinese DAP as the largest opposition party. The coalition retains power throughout the decade with a combination of pro-Bumiputra policies and a booming economy. Mahathir becomes deputy prime minister in 1978.
In 1981 Mahathir becomes Malaysia's first prime minister not from a royal family. A locally educated Bumiputra, he advocates Malaysian self-reliance and assertiveness. His primary Malay opposition, the Islamic party (PAS), wins only five of 192 seats in the 1982 elections. In April 1987, Mahathir narrowly weathers a challenge to his UMNO presidency from the party old guard.
In 1988 the UMNO breaks into two separate parties, Mahathir's UMNO Baru and the splinter party Semangat '46 ("Spirit of '46," for the year UMNO was founded). The split is fueled by a rift between Mahathir and the UMNO old guard, including two former prime ministers. It represents the first fissure in the Bumiputra political leadership.
The 1990 parliamentary elections are held early, with only a 10-day campaign period. For the first time, the ruling coalition faces a Malay-based opposition. Mahathir's BN loses some seats but maintains a veto-proof majority. The 1995 parliamentary elections consolidate BN power in a landslide, though in the states of Kelantan and Sabah the governing coalition includes the Islamic PAS party.
The 1998 arrest of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar on corruption and sodomy charges sends Malaysia into crisis. University students and opposition leaders lead massive anti-Mahathir demonstrations, but the prime minister holds firm, and the crisis appears to ebb with Anwar's imprisonment. The Islamic PAS wins 27 seats in the 1999 parliamentary elections and forges an alliance with the DAP.
Having secured his grip on power anew and steered Malaysia through the Asian economic crisis and back into growth, Mahathir surprises the nation with the announcement he will step down. Elections in late 2003 will determine his successor and mark the end of rule by an iconoclastic and controversial leader.
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