The nationwide hartal of 1947

Posted on September 14, 2008


It is a fascinating story culminating in the 1947 drafting of the People’s Constitution by this coalition of the left as an alternative to the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya, and a nationwide hartal (general strike) that saw significant parts of the country stop working for a day in a potent show of political dissent when the British refused to acknowledge the alternative constitution. (Who says protesting isn’t part of our nation’s make-up?).

The People’s Constitution was an amazingly progressive document that demanded independence, with equal political rights, a new nationality of “Melayu”, equal citizenship rights and an inter-ethnic council with the job of getting rid of all racially discriminating laws.

It was a truly Malayan document designed to create a nation consisting of Malayans.

The concept of a Bangsa Malaysia existed in 1947.

The hartal which scared the British into taking harsh measures like declaring an emergency and imprisoning and deporting the men and women involved was also an eye-opener.

It was embraced by the people of the country across ethnic lines and goes to show that ordinary Malaysians of the time were politically courageous and willing to accept the progressive, liberal and inclusive People’s Constitution….

…At the end of the day, Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka is more than a simple history lesson, for the struggle of the left in 1940s Malaya has a resonance today in 21st Century Malaysia. – Azmi Sharom commenting in The Star.

The unity we talked about never mention the racial aspect as is emphasised nowadays. All we wanted was that all the trade unions, all the workers, all the women, all the organisations to join in, in a broad front to oppose the British return of the Governor to rule the country.” — Lim Kean Chye in ‘Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka’


If you have not watched this documentary before, now is as good a time as any to watch. If you have already watched it, watch it again as I hope it will help to get you primed to consider what I am going to ask of you in my next post. It comes in four parts ( the documentary, not what I’m going to ask of you )

Posted in: People Power