The Star Online|Malaysia 13th General Election

History of Malaysian GE - 1955 - A new chapter for Malaya


Pretty politics: A large crowd of women elbowing their way to vote at a polling station in Mersing,
Johor during the first general election in Malaya in 1955. The Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan), a coalition
of three communal based parties – Umno representing the Malays; MCA representing the Chinese and
MIC representing the Indian community – won 51 parliamentary seats out of 52, and became a dominant
political force. Pretty politics: A large crowd of women elbowing their way to vote at a polling station in Mersing, Johor during the first general election in Malaya in 1955. The Alliance Party (Parti Perikatan), a coalition of three communal based parties – Umno representing the Malays; MCA representing the Chinese and MIC representing the Indian community – won 51 parliamentary seats out of 52, and became a dominant political force.

AFTER more than a century of colonial rule, the rise of nationalism saw the British loosening their grip on Malaya.

The first local elections was held in Malacca in November 1951 but all the nominations were returned unopposed. Elections for George Town municipal council in Penang a month later were the first popular elections in the Federation of Malaya. Kuala Lumpur held its municipal council elections in 1952.

This was followed by the introduction of a new Constitution. The United Malays National Organisation (Umno), Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) formed a partnership known as Alliance.

The Malayan Union was formed on April 1, 1946. Umno was established the same year to oppose the Malayan Union, which curbed the powers of the Malay Rulers. MIC was set up the same year, and MCA in 1949.

The Malayan Union was replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

Nominations for the first federal election were on June 15, 1955, when a total of 129 candidates – 111 from seven parties and 18 independents – filed their nomination papers for 52 parliamentary seats.

After six weeks of campaigning, the Alliance swept 51 of the 52 seats.

The election cemented the coalition of different ethnic parties which agreed for Umno president Tunku Abdul Rahman to be appointed Chief Minister of Malaya. His Cabinet comprised six Malays, three Chinese and one Indian.

The Pan-Malayan Islamic Party, later known as PAS, was the only opposition party not wiped out, winning the Krian constituency in Perak.

The electorate rejected outright Parti Negara, led by former Umno president Datuk Onn Jaafar, the socialist Labour Party, People’s Progressive Party and other minor groups.

Helicopters and motor launches were among the modes of transport for bringing out ballot papers from rural areas to counting centres.

Newspapers reported that political parties tried building enthusiasm for the polls during the five-week campaign but only got lukewarm response from the 1.28 million eligible voters.

The 1955 election was the final step towards Independence. In 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained complete Independence from Britain. Tunku subsequently led the Alliance to victories in the 1959, 1964 and 1969 general elections.

After the May 13 riots of 1969, the Alliance transformed into a larger coalition - Barisan Nasional - with Tun Abdul Razak Hussein leading it to victory in 1974.

Barisan has never lost control of the government although twice – in 1969 and 2008 - it failed to secure a two-thirds majority.

Throughout the decades, voting patterns reflected the prevailing communal moods.

Issues that determined the voting pattern in 1955 included the culmination of Malay nationalism, the rise of anti-colonial sentiments and socialist based parties; Communist insurgency and state of emergency (1948-1960); and education and better condition of life for working class.

For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site