- Also see Politics.
United Malays National Organisation (frequently known as UMNO), is Malaysia's largest political party; a founding member of the National Front coalition, which has played a dominant role in Malaysian politics since independence. The party aspires to protect the Malay culture as the national culture and to uphold, defend and expand Islam.
Up to this day, UMNO is the longest continuing ruling party in the world. UMNO is widely considered as backbone of the Alliance Party, ruling coalition since 1951 and its predecessor since 1973, Barisan Nasional.
After the British returned to Malaya in the aftermath of World War II, the Malayan Union was formed. However, the Union was met with much opposition due to its constitutional framework, which allegedly threatened Malay sovereignty over Malaya. A series of Malay congresses were held, culminating in the formation of the nationalist party, UMNO on May 10, 1946 at the Third Malay Congress in Johor Bahru, with Datuk Onn Jaafar as its leader. UMNO strongly opposed the Malayan Union, but originally did not seek political power. UMNO has no choice with continuing to play its supporting role to the British rulers. The British cooperated with UMNO leaders and helped to defeat the communist insurgency.
In 1949, after the Malayan Union had been replaced by the semi-autonomous Federation of Malaya, UMNO shifted its focus to politics and governance. The Malay people thus search for their birth-rights since the government of Malaya did not proclaim it openly, resulting in a confusing situation. However it is crucial that UMNO’s struggle is apparently not racial based. As they also fought for other races once they are at the helm of the country.
In 1951, Onn Jaafar left UMNO after failing to open its membership to non-Malay Malayans to form the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP). Tunku Abdul Rahman replaced Dato' Onn as UMNO President. That same year, the Radical Party won the first election in Malaya—the George Town municipal council election—claiming six out of the nine seats available. However, the following year, UMNO formed an agreement with the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to avoid contesting the same seats in the Kuala Lumpur municipal council elections. UMNO and MCA eventually carried nine out of the twelve seats, dealing a crushing blow to the IMP. After several other successes in local council elections, the coalition was formalised as an "Alliance" in 1954.
In 1954, state elections were held. In these elections, the Alliance won 226 of the 268 seats nationwide. In the same year, a Federal Legislative Council was formed, comprising 100 seats. 52 would be elected, and the rest would be appointed by the British High Commissioner. The Alliance demanded that 60 of the seats be elected, but despite the Tunku flying out to London to negotiate, the British held firm. Elections for the council were held in 1955, and the Alliance, which had now expanded to include the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC), issued a manifesto stating its goals of achieving independence by 1959, requiring a minimum of primary school education for all children, protecting the rights of the Malay rulers as constitutional monarchs, ending the Communist emergency, and reforming the civil service through the hiring of more Malayans as are opposed to foreigners.
When the results were released, it emerged that the Alliance had won 51 of the 52 seats contested, with the other seat going to PAS (the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party, a group of Islamists that split from UMNO). The Tunku became the first Chief Minister of Malaya.
In 1956, the Tunku led a group of negotiators, comprising Alliance politicians and representatives of the Malay rulers, to London. There, they brokered a deal with the British for independence. The date of independence was set as August 31, 1957 on the condition that an independent commission is set up to draft a constitution for the country. The Alliance government was also required to avoid seizing British and other foreign assets in Malaya. A defence treaty would also be signed.
The Reid Commission, led by Lord William Reid, was formed to draft the constitution. Although enshrining concepts such as federalism and a constitutional monarchy, the proposed constitution also contained provisions protecting special rights for the Malays, such as quotas in admission to higher education and the civil service, and making Islam the official religion of the federation. It also made Malay the official language of the nation, although the right to vernacular education in Chinese and Tamil would be protected. Although the Tunku and the Malay rulers had asked the Reid Commission to ensure that "in an independent Malaya all nationals should be accorded equal rights, privileges and opportunities and there must not be discrimination on grounds of race and creed," the Malay privileges, which many in UMNO backed, were cited as necessary by the Reid Commission as a form of affirmative action that would eventually be phased out. These measures were included as Articles 3, 152 and 153 of the Constitution.
As expected, independence was declared by the Tunku in Merdeka Stadium on August 31, 1957, marking a transition into a new era of Malayan and Malaysian politics.
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