Setapak Declaration 1967

On July 29, 1967, committee members of all D.A.P. branches assembled at Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, and adopted “The Setapak Declaration” reaffirming the basic guiding policy and principles of the Party. The Declaration was unanimously adopted.


We, the Chairman and Members of the Central Executive Committee of the D.A.P., together with Members of Branch Committees of the Party, here assembled on 29th July, 1967, hereby re-state and reaffirm the basic guiding policy and principles of the Democratic Action Party, as given hereunder.

We firmly resolve to continue to be governed in all our activities and in all our approaches to the social, political, economic and cultural problems in Malaysia, by the same guiding policy and principles.

2. Objectives

The D.A.P is irrevocably committed to the ideal of a free, democratic and socialist Malaysia, based on the principles of racial equality, and social and economic justice, and founded on the institutions of parliamentary democracy.

We believe that it is possible to mobilise the support of the big majority of the multi-racial people of Malaysia in the pursuit of this aim, and we shall regard it as our primary objective to mobilise such support.

We are aware that in the pursuit of our aims, we shall meet with serious resistance, not only from the Alliance Party and Government, but also from political forces hostile to the Malaysian nation and inspired by foreign powers and ideologies.

We reaffirm that the D.A.P. intends to be guided by purely Malaysian perspective and aspirations. We shall not allow ourselves to be deflected from our chosen path by either the reactionary and communal right wing, or by the foreign-inspired anti-Malaysia left. Neither shall we lend ourselves to manipulation by either of these two groups.

In order to achieve our primary objective, the most vital condition must be success in the process of nation-building in a multi-racial society. But it is precisely in the vital process of nation-building that the Alliance Government has guilty of a gross and shameful betrayal of national trust.

3. The Correct Principles of Nation-Building in a Multi-Racial Society

We uphold as incontestable the fact that success in the nation-building process must depend on the adoption and implementation of the principle of racial equality at all levels of national life and in all fields of national endeavour – political, social, economic, cultural and educational.

The first thing to do if we are to get our principles of nation-building in a multi-racial society correct is to completely eschew any idea of racial hegemony by one community. Such an endeavour must be doomed to failure, and must be discarded, on the grounds of both desirability and practicability.

Racial hegemony in a multi-racial society is certainly an undesirable principle to be adopted anywhere in the world, but in Malaysia, the very composition of our population also makes it impracticable of realisation, for the good reason that in this country, no single racial group can claim to enjoy an overall majority.

The Malays do not constitute a national majority. Neither do the Chinese, nor the Indians, nor anybody else. In other words, any single community in Malaysia, by itself, is outnumbered by the rest. And thereby hangs the obvious lesson that any attempt to violate the principle of racial equality in Malaysia society must lead to inevitable and catastrophic failure.

All movements aimed at the realisation of racial hegemony by one communal group or another, have failed in the past, and will continue to fail in the future.

For example, one of the major reasons for the failure of the armed insurrection initiated by the Malayan Communist Party in 1948 was the fact that the communists committed the great mistake of thinking that success was possible on the basis of appealing to the susceptibilities of only one section of the one community – the Chinese, while ignoring the susceptibilities or the aspirations of the other communities.

The communists discovered to their cost that in the absence of a multi-racial national base, they were inevitably denied national success.

We see the Alliance Government also failing, eventually, for the same reason – that they show a readiness to pander to the racialist gallery of a particular community, while ignoring, if not actively offending against, the rights, susceptibilities and aspirations of other communities.

Classifying citizens into “bumiputras” and “non-bumiputras”, discriminating against citizens in matters of appointments and promotions, particularly in the public sector and now increasingly in the private sector, on grounds of race, are hardly calculated, in our views, to strengthen the sense of national consciousness and solidarity in our multi-racial nation.

Mere lip-service to the principle of racial equality, mutuality, tolerance and accommodation, will not realise the ideal of national solidarity. The principle must be seen to be clearly reflected in all national policies, and to be faithfully implemented in practice in all fields of national life.

Such implementation of the basic principles of racial equality, mutuality, tolerance and accomodation are clearly absent for example, in the Alliance Government’s policies on the sensitive but nonetheless vital questions of language, education and culture.

4. On Language, Education and Culture

While the D.A.P. will uncompromisingly champion the acceptance, propagation and development of the national language, we cannot accept a language and education policy based on the erroneous premise that the propagation and permanence of the national language can only be finally secured on the basis of the eventual deculturation of two major communities in Malaysia – the Chinese and the Indians.

This is precisely what significant sections of the Malaysian people read into the National Language Act and the education policy of the Government, and in our view, with ample justification.

If linguistic and cultural homogeneity were the vital pre-condition of national existence and consolidation, then several multi-lingual and multi-cultural nations in the world, like Switzerland, Canada or India could never have come into being or succeeded, let alone survived.

The Malaysian Constitution does indeed recognise the multi-lingual and multi-cultural character of the nation, and guarantees the free use of the languages of the other major communities in the nation.

This constitutional guarantee is, however, rendered sterile by an educational policy which does not permit the free use of the Chinese and Tamil languages as media of instruction and of examination in national-type secondary schools. This restriction must lead to the steady deterioration of levels of attainment and of proficiency in these two languages, as well as to the inevitable decline in their usage and to their eventual elimination.

We re-affirm our contention that the Alliance Government’s education policy has the effect of rendering null and void the constitutional guarantee with regard to the free use of the other languages in the country, and we shall deem it as one of our objectives to secure a correspondence between education policy and constitutional guarantee.

We also reiterate our belief that while the national language should, by virtue of its status, become ultimately the chief language of administration in the country, this should not preclude the use for necessary official purposes, of the Chinese and Tamil languages, in addition to the English language. This would contribute to the fitness of things, as well as to the purposes of rational and intelligent administration.

5. The Removal of Economic and Educational Imbalance as the Correct Means to Achieve National Integration in a Multi-racial Society

Communal divisions and dissensions are, at bottom engendered and aggravated by economic causes. The intelligent and effective way of dissolving communal barriers, and transcending communal sentiments in our multi-racial society, and to expedite the process of national integration, would be to implement a policy aimed at the eradication of the existing economic imbalance between the communities.

This imbalance reflects the slower pace of socio-economic processes in the rural areas, and the disparity as between rural incomes and productivity on the one hand, and urban incomes and productivity on the other hand.

These are phenomena which are not peculiar to Malaysia among the developing countries. Similar social, economic and cultural disparities as between rural and urban areas also confront other developing countries.

What renders the problem more acute and dangerous for Malaysia, however, is the fact that class divisions in our country appear very often to coincide with communal divisions.

The rural peasantry are largely Malays while the bourgeoisie in the towns and the professional classes are largely non-Malays. This fact has been effectively exploited in the past, and continues to be so exploited, by communal-minded politicians who play on Malay sentiments of insecurity and backwardness in order to justify the political dominance which they exercise in the name of Malays, but which in fact they really exercise for the minority social class which they represent – that sordid, selfish and curious amalgam of a social class, for whom the best description so far coined is – the “feudal-compradore” class and their hangers-on, which constitute the Alliance leadership.

In point of fact, the coincidence of class divisions with communal divisions is not as straight-forward and as general as it would appear at first sight. No doubt, certain communal politicians find it convenient to give the impression to the Malays that the “haves” are all non-Malays. This is simple not true, for the vast majority of Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origin are workers and wage-earners of various categories.

The truth is that the fraternity of Malaysian “have-nots” are to be found in urban as well as rural areas, and embraces Malaysians of all communities and religions. This is the truth which the communal politicians deliberately ignore, for it upsets the neat and plausible theories which they habitually hawk as their stock-in-trade in order to justify themselves to their followers. But it is a truth which national-minded democratic socialists must incessantly drive home, in order to help expedite the process of national integration on the basis of the common economic interests of the have-nots of all races.

However, the economic and educational imbalance as between the urban and rural areas does lend itself rather easily to being clothed in a communal garb, and it must be part of any enlightened socio-economic policy to remove this imbalance.

The DAP charges the Alliance Government with not doing anything significant towards this end. Indeed, one of the most striking commentaries on Alliance failure in this respect is the fact that the great majority of Malay students in our university do Malay language and religious studies, whereas the crying need is surely for more and more Malays to become qualified in the modern disciplines of science, medicine, technology, economics, etc., so that Malays may be able to compete on equal terms with their fellow-Malaysians of Chinese or Indian origin, who are not in the habit of sending their offspring to centres of higher learning in order to become experts in Buddhism or the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita.

But apart from occasional lip-service, the Alliance leadership has been gravely delinquent in regard to the positive encouragement of Malay students to qualify themselves in the more productive and sophisticated disciplines of modern knowledge.

Again, with regard to the improvement of the rural economy, one would have thought that the primary end in view would be the raising of the per capita income of the Malay peasantry, while the means employed would have been radical land-reform measures to eradicate crude exploitation of the peasantry by landowners and middlemen, and the introduction of modern techniques of agricultural production.

Instead of this, the emphasis has been on the provision of an expensive and outwardly imposing infrastructure in the rural areas, which has largely succeeded thus far only in enriching a few entrepreneurs, middlemen and a favoured elite among the Malays.

The constitutional provision affording certain special rights to the Malays has been used, not with a view to raising the general standards of living in the rural areas, but for the creation of an elite Malay capitalist class who have proved just as rapacious as any 19th century capitalist, but far less efficient in their operations than the 20th century expects of its entrepreneurs.

The crucial criticism, however, is that it is impossible to see how the per capita income and the standards of life of the Malay peasantry can be significantly raised by the creation of an elite group of Malay capitalists, who operate in conjunction with an elite group of Chinese compradores and tycoons.

Lest it be charged that we oppose Malay participation in business and commercial fields, we might declare categorically that we welcome the equalisation of opportunities for Malays to participate in all fields of national life.

Our contention is simply that no major onslaught can be made against peasant poverty in the rural areas by creating a few rich Malays, any more than the social and economic problems of the Chinese and Indian workers in the urban areas can be solved by enrolling a few more members in the “Compradores Club”, or the even more restricted club of the big business tycoons, both presided over by the M.C.A.

Problems of general social and economic development in urban as well as in rural areas can only be tackled on the basis of the application of more meaningful economic policies, aimed at improving the lot of the many, and not of enhancing the gains of the few.

6. International Perspectives of Malaysia

The first thing for Malaysians to understand and appreciate, as we look at the rest of the world, and particularly at the rest of Asia, is that we are a very small nation, by any standards, with a population of about 8 million people.

Indeed, the only nation smaller than us in this part of the world is Singapore. For the rest, we are surrounded by larger countries with far bigger populations and resources.

One of our closest neighbours in South East Asia is Indonesia, with more than a hundred million people, whose recent political and military confrontation we managed to meet and survive, not on our own, but because of the protective British defence umbrella spread over us and Singapore.

A second stark and naked fact that we have to face is that this British defence umbrella, which we have taken all along for granted, and behind which we had confidently sheltered, is now in the process of rapid contraction, leading to eventual total withdrawal. The grim fact is hat by the mid-seventies, present British plans envisage the complete withdrawal of the British military presence in Malaysia and Singapore.

This means that as a small nation, living in an extremely troubled and unsettled part of the world, surrounded by huge neighbours with far larger standing armies, Malaysia must increasingly depend on her own more slender resources, for both internal and external defence. We must swim alone in a hostile sea full of predatory sharks and man-eating piranhas.

The fact that both Malaysia and Singapore are relatively better off economically than any other country in Asia (apart from Japan), and provide a better living for their people, does not make our problems of survival as small, but separate and distinct political entities in the years ahead, any easier.

It is dangerous to be small, defenceless, but relatively affluent if you are surrounded by larger countries with bigger and hungrier populations. Historically, such a situation has always provided the classic recipe for aggression.

One of the strongest indictments of the lack of foresight of the Alliance leadership has been its proved inability to envisage and prepare for the dangerous defence vacuum that would be created if and when the British do decide to effect a total military withdrawal, as they have already decided to do.

There was no appreciation over the last decade that the process of decolonisation of Asia and Africa had finally and irrevocably deprived Britain of her status and role as a world power, and left her as yet another small European nation, far more interested in her survival in Europe as a member of an European economic fraternity, than in any kind of presence in distant South East Asia.

In spite of this, British public opinion might have been persuaded into continuing British defence commitments in this part of the world over a longer period, at least until such time as Malaysia could have safely secured alternative defence arrangements, if the Alliance government had not gone about trying to twist the tail of the aged British lion in a fit of juvenile heroics.

Alliance backbenchers indulged in anti-British tirades in Parliament, while the Alliance government itself, obviously playing up to a thoughtless gallery, slapped down on a whole range Commonwealth preferences.

The stupidities of the Alliance government have finally come home to roost, in the shape of the recently published British defence White Paper, and we had to witness the humiliating spectacle of the two Alliance Government leaders visiting London, and appealing to the very same people they had only lately insulted and reviled, to retain their military presence in the country.

Be that as it may, Malaysia must now seek to survive in a rapidly changing world, and particularly in a South East Asia in which the potential dangers and threats to our national survival and territorial integrity are likely to be aggravated rather than diminished in the years ahead.

Since we are neither a super-power nor even a medium-sized one, it is clear that we are too small to defend ourselves, and that we must seek alternative defence arrangements for ourselves in conjunction with friendly powers, and look for whatever international guarantees and co-operation we can obtain to safeguard our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

If public confidence, which has already been rudely shaken, is to be maintained, it is imperative that the government be seen to be working intelligently and diligently towards credible and dependable arrangements to ensure national defence and security.

It is in this new context that the DAP hopes that the governments of Singapore and Malaysia will finally see it as the  better part of wisdom to cease their perpetual feuds and interminable squabbles, and to establish new relations of trust, confidence and co-operation to ensure their common economic democratic development and prosperity, defence and survival.

7. Certain Vital Conditions for Malaysian National Survival in an Unstable South-East Asia

It is not always true that small nations cannot hold their own, either militarily or politically, in the international power game. Several small nations have distinguished themselves in history by showing a capacity for national survival and progress out of all proportion to their geographical size or to the size of their population.

They have done so, invariably, because they enjoyed three vital prerequisites of survival: One a firm sense of national unity, identity and solidarity; two: a highly skilled and dedicated population; and three: social and economic discipline.

We do not see any reason why given the right political leadership, Malaysia cannot acquire all these attributes so clearly necessary to ensure our contention that the present policies of the Alliance government are gravely inimical to the national attainment of the vital attributes.

The first prerequisite of a firm sense of national unity, identity and solidarity can only be established if the principle of racial equality is faithfully observed and implemented in all fields of national life. We shall struggle for this.

The second prerequisite of a highly skilled and educated population can be obtained through the implementation of a modern and dynamic policy of education. The DAP shall strive to achieve such an education policy.
The third prerequisite of social and economic discipline in the national life can be secured by the following measures. One, the formulation and implementation of social and fiscal policies to ensure a fairer distribution of the national wealth. Two, a more scrupulous adherence to the principles and practices of social justice. Three, more realistic planning for economic diversification, and agricultural and industrial expansion, involving the enthusiastic involvement and participation of all sections of the population and four, the creation of an incorruptible and efficient government administrative machinery. All these measure the DAP shall persistently strive for.

8. On the Use and Abuse of the Internal Security Act

One of the unpleasant facts of life that we have to live with is that the general situation in South East Asia being what it is, Malaysia will continue to face grave threats to her security from the activities of the agents and instruments of foreign powers, hostile to our national existence.

The threat of subversion is very real, as the period of Indonesian confrontation so clearly showed, and as the existence of foreign-inspired communist activities in the country continues to show.

In the circumstances, the DAP, as a sober and realistic party, cannot share the enthusiasm of well-meaning but nevertheless starry-eyed and unrealistic persons, who call for the total repeal of the Internal Security Act.
We recognise that it must be one of the paramount concerns of any Malaysian Government, even of a DAP Government, to protect the security and integrity of the nation against the forces of foreign-inspired subversion.

We therefore support, in principle, the need for internal security legislation. We must nevertheless urge the utmost public vigilance in regard to the exercise of the powers vested in the government by the Internal Security Act.

We cannot afford to be blind to the fact that it is not beyond the capacity of the Alliance Government to abuse the provisions of the Internal Security Act for partisan and other purposes, which have nothing to do with the legitimate concern for the maintenance of internal security.

Some examples which come to mind are, 1. the retention by the government of emergency labour laws promulgated in the name of meeting the danger of Indonesian confrontation, long after that confrontation had ended, and 2. the continuance of the requirement for suitability certificates for admission to higher centres of learning, despite the fact that experience has shown that no real security need exists for such a requirement.

The DAP therefore calls for the abolition of the requirement for suitability certificates as being both unnecessary and humiliating, and for the prevention of other abuses committed in the name of the maintenance of internal security.

9. Conclusion – A Choice of National Destiny

Regarded against a broad historical background and perspective, Malaysia must be seen as undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny.

For a stage has been reached in which intelligent Malaysians can discern, on the one hand, the possibility of integration of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious people in a wider, all-embracing Malaysia-centred identity and consciousness, and on the other hand, the equal possibility of the failure to effect such and integral transformation with the inevitable consequences of national discord, dissension and disintegration.

The choice is there, and it is imperative. In the final analysis, it must be the people as a whole who have to make this choice of destiny – either to take the road which leads to an integral national transformation, or the alternative road leading to eventual national decay and disintegration.

We have faith that if this choice of destiny is placed before them in frankness and honesty, Malaysians of all races and creeds will make the right choice.

All that the Alliance leaders have contributed in this direction so far have been an fungus of outdated and reactionary political, social and economic nostrums and notions, a medley of communal and contradictory slogans and panaceas.

The politics of the Alliance have been the politics of communal segmentation and division. We see it as the primary duty of all Malaysians, who desire the survival of their country, to counter the segmenting and dividing politics of the Alliance with the politics of creative and dynamic multi-racial integration at all levels – political, social, economic and cultural.

Those who are communalists in mind and spirit can never hope contribute to the nation-building process. Only those Malaysians can take up this process, who have effected the integral transformation in their own minds and spirits, and who therefore possess a creative and harmonising spirit of national construction. Otherwise, everything must welter in a general confusion and discord out of which it will be impossible to build a greater harmonic life of the nation.

It is to this sacred task of creative and constructive nation-building that we in the DAP dedicate ourselves.

Re-typed into current format by Sdr. Steven Sim of DAP Jalan Tembikai on 18 June 2009. Source: The Rocket, Vol. 2 No. 8 (August 1967): p.6, 7 & 12

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