The 1969 race riots of Singapore were one of the two riots encountered in post-independence Singapore. The seven days of communal riots of 1969, a result of the spillover of the May 13 Incident in Malaysia, resulted in a final toll of 4 dead and 80 wounded. Singapore would not experience a major riot until 44 years later (2013 Little India Riots).
The precursor of the 1969 race riots can be traced to the May 13 Incident in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya in Malaysia. It was triggered by the results of the General Election, that were marked by Sino-Malay riots unprecedented in Malaysian history — 196 people were killed and over 350 injured between May 13 and July 31. The real figures could be much higher than officially revealed. The Malaysian government declared a state of emergency and suspended Parliament until 1971.
The disturbances had nothing to do with Singapore but there was an inexorable spillover of the communal violence in Malaysia into Singapore. The 1969 riots occurred not long after the earlier communal riots in 1964. It was said that the 1964 racial disturbances in Singapore contributed towards the eventual separation of Singapore from Malaysia in August 1965. The hysteria that United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) itself generated over its desire to assert Malay dominance (Ketuanan Melayu) in Singapore had its effect in heightening the suspicion between Malay and Chinese in Singapore.
Rumours and revengeEdit
Rumours began to spread in Singapore about Malay atrocities against the Chinese in Malaysia. People also talked indignantly about the partiality of the Malaysian Armed Forces in dealing with those suspected of involvement in the rioting; Chinese that were caught were severely punished on the spot and these rumours aggravated tension in Singapore.
Over 500 people were injured and 36 lives were lost in the clashes between Chinese and Malays.
The ISD, together with the Police, helped contain a volatile situation. Sino-Malay tensions surfaced again in Singapore in 1969 following the outbreak of the 1969 racial riots in Malaysia after the General Election. Many incidents of Sino-Malay clashes erupted and the situation was brought under control following security sweeps by the Police and armed forces throughout Singapore. The vigilance of the security forces in Singapore and the persistent efforts of ISD officers in making island-wide coverage contributed to the return of normalcy in Singapore.
After 1971, when all had settled down, the Malaysian government was able to follow an affirmative action policy marked particularly by the New Economic Policy (NEP) favouring the Malays. To this day, there is still an unease about the potential of violence as the power struggles between groups continue. In Apr 1987, four silat (martial arts) exponents were arrested by the ISD for actively spreading rumours of impending racial clashes on or around 13 May 1987 (on the 18th anniversary of the May 1969 race riots in Singapore and Malaysia).