“The NEP was launched to remedy the socio-economic inequality that led to the May 13, 1969 racial riots.”
Well, that’s patently incorrect!
While socio-economic inequality regretably did exist, what had led to the May 13 racial riot was not that. It was true that the Malays grew disenchanted with then Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman’s Perikatan (Alliance) party, resulting in massive losses for his coalition.
The true reason leading to the riots was the ruling Perikatan party, or to be more specific, its dominant component, UMNO, losing so many seats that it was on the verge of surrendering Selangor to the DAP, and very nearly losing Perak to the PPP of the Seenivasegam brothers.
That was what caused the riots!
The Selangor UMNO could not cope with the thought of losing Malaysia’s premier state (at that time) to the Chinese-Indian parties. When the Selangor State election results became more obvious, there was already discussion of how to accommodate a non-Muslim Menteri Besar (MB or Chief Minister) in Selangor, because one of the principal roles of a MB is to advise the Sultan of the State on religious affairs. Those issues would undoubtedly have infuriated some Malays.
The Perikatan had already lost Penang to the new rising star, the (then) mighty Gerakan Party. But, unlike Selangor, Penang had always been a Chinese-majority state, so its loss was not so sensitive to Malay pride. Also, judging by the (1969) voting trend, UMNO perceived that by the next election, it would probably lose Perak as well.
The UMNO members’ anger was further aggravated by some thoughtless jeering by the DAP-Gerakan party victors in Selangor as they conducted their jubilant victory motorcade around Kuala Lumpur (though the leaders of the Gerakan Party made a public apology the following day). That anger at the unthinkable loss of Malaysia's premier State to a Chinese-dominated party and the jibes and jeerings by an insensitive DAP-Gerakan were what lit the racial fire, and not the socio-economic inequality.
After-note: since then, recent facts revealed by Prof Khoo indicate that it was not the DAP but the Gerakan Party which did the provocative jeering
The racial-political tension in Selangor then was like, to use a cliché, sitting on a powder keg of explosives in tinder dry conditions while attempting to light a cigarette. Two days after the final results were determined, the riots started in Kampong Baru, Kuala Lumpur, right in front of the MB's official residence after incorrect (or fabricated) rumours that Chinese gangs in Setapak had attacked Malays.
Apart from UMNO losing support from its Malay constituencies, how did the opposition do so well?
In the 1969 election, the opposition parties comprising DAP, Gerakan, PPP, and PAS (yes, PAS) developed a joint double-prong strategy where (1) they avoided running against each other in order to prevent vote splitting, and (2) campaigned for each other, asking their supporters to vote for anyone other than the Perikatan. Many Malays had voted for the Gerakan because (at that time) it was truly a multi-ethnic party.
Digressing for a while, compare that opposition unified election strategy and discipline in adhering to the plan with the 2004 opposition debacle, where an overconfident PAS wanted to go it alone while a wishy washy PKR wasn't sure where to put its best foot forward. To make matters worse, the Chinese-Indian component of PKR tussled with the DAP for Chinese seats.
I believe the DAP was actually sincere in wanting a coalition with PAS and PKR because Lim Kit Siang was (still is) obsessed with denying the Barisan Nasional its two-third majority, and that could only be achieved if the opposition parties are united. But with a runaway PAS that was frightening the shit out of its supporters, an annoying Chinese section of PKR trying to wrestle traditional DAP seats away, and remembering its painful lesson in 1999, it wisely (for that election) decided to stick to its usual standalone strategy which of course had a limitation in terms of winning seats.
Anyway, this posting is to set the facts correct about the real cause of the May 13 racial riots in 1969. Even the National Security Commission in its official report on the riots did not attribute the cause to the socio-economic disparity, but to 'the Malayan Communist Party and illegal Chinese gangs'. We need to bear in mind this was a Government report so we shouldn't expect it to say some losers were bloody unsporting.
It resulted in a
I suppose one could argue through a tenuous chain of cause and effect that at the root of it, the socio-economic disparity led to Perikatan's loss of Malay support, which led to UMNO's massive losses of Federal and State seats (even Dr Mahathir lost his Kota Setar Selatan parliamentary seat to PAS), which led to fear and anger among UMNO members, which coupled by insensitive provocations by the DAP members, led to the outbreak of the riots.
But that would be stretching it. Let’s keep our eye on the fact that it was the pending loss of Malaysia’s premier state of Selangor that triggered the fear, hatred and consequential rioting. In other words the cause was UMNO's inability to tolerate an erosion of its dominant political position. Addressing the socio-economic disparity through the NEP was merely to avoid further loss of its political powers.