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SEA Essay

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How far was the success of the nationalist movements in SEA dependent on the personalities of their leader?

The success of the nationalist movements was widely due to the personalities of their leaders, the conservative and religious natures of the leaders as well as the charisma of the leaders. Nationalist movements refer to movements which aim to preserve a nation’s identity, tradition, culture or language. The success of nationalist movements refer to the advancement in independence for the country as well as the creation of an identity for the locals which are different to their colonial masters.

Firstly, the conservative and religious natures of the leader’s personalities contributed to the success of the nationalist movements in SEA. Due to the leaders’ strong religious beliefs, they were able to garner support from those who shared the same beliefs as them which can be seen through numbers and protests. This led to the success of the nationalist movements, as they were able to not only garner support but also be united under the same beliefs, working towards a common goal.

In Burma, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) was formed in 1906 and by 1916, it had become a national organization with branches throughout

Burma, which shows that it had garnered a lot of support through numbers from the Buddhist youths all around Burma. The common goal of the people in this organization was to assert their Burmese identity and to “rescue” it from being tarnished by the British. The most famous incident of a clash between the Burmese Buddhist and the British was when the British refused to remove their shoes before entering Buddhist religious buildings even though the Burmese Buddhist were persistent in their attempts to get the British to comply to their request. In response, the members of the YMBA held a protest against the British’s actions and this led to the British being more mindful of the cultural issues in Burma. Therefore, the religious and conservative nature of the personalities of the leaders of YMBA led to the success of the nationalist movement in Burma.

In British Malaya, Kaum Muda began in 1906 with the aims of giving Malays the proper understanding of and submission to the law and the spirit of Islam. This purified the society as the Malays properly practiced Islamic practices. This resulted in the purification of Islam which in turn accelerated the social and economic improvements within the Malay society. Therefore, the religious and conservative nature of the personalities of the leaders of Kaum Muda led to the success of the nationalist movement in British Malaya.

Secondly, the charisma of the leaders led to the success of the nationalist movements. Charismatic leaders are usually good speakers at rallies and are thus able to influence more people. This is important for nationalist movements as more people will be motivated to support the movements. With this support, the nationalist movements would then be able to carry out various nationalist activities which leads to the movement being able to achieve its aims and objectives. Thus the charisma of the leaders is important in helping the nationalist movements to be successful.

In Dutch Indonesia, Sukarno was a charismatic leader who was able to inspire people through his speeches by showing his passion in implementing his movement’s ideas and giving the locals a better livelihood. Sukarno’s party, the Perserikatan Nasional Indonesia (PNI), was the first major political party which was ethnically Indonesian and through Sukarno’s gift as a charismatic leader, he was able to create a national flag, anthem and language for the Indonesians and the support the party got led them to gain independence for Indonesia. This and other reforms led to the PNI to unite the diverse ethnic groups in Indonesia. Therefore, through Sukarno’s charisma, the PNI was able to gain success in Indonesia.

Also in Burma, the Thakins were able to attract people to support their movement through their charismatic leaders. These leaders rallied students to go on strike in 1936 in protest against the university’s curriculum that the colonial masters had set in place for them. This was only possible with the charisma that the Thakins had in motivating the students to go on strike with the movement. The Thakins were also able to appeal themselves to the poorer groups of the Burmese society and essentially became the “voice of  the voiceless”, which led them to succeed in gaining independence for Burma. Therefore due to the charismatic leaders of the Thakins, their nationalist movement was a success.

However, there are also other reasons for the success of the nationalist movements. One important factor is the mistreatment of the locals by the colonial masters. The colonial masters disregarded the power of local elites, losing much of their power to the colonial masters, the elites gave their support to the Nationalist groups. Meanwhile, the peasants supported the nationalist groups because the colonial masters were not successful in improving their welfare as they promised, leading to great resentment against the colonial masters. This led to the success of the nationalist movements.

In Burma, the British colonial masters disregarded the locals leading to the gained support for the Nationalist Movements from various groups of Burmans; namely the local elites and peasants. For the local elites, the abolishment of the Burmese monarch system of government due to political reforms caused the reduction of power of the traditional elites; this led to resentment towards the colonial masters as the elites were treated as subordinates. For the Burmese peasants, instead of benefiting under colonial rule, they became beggars in their own homeland; this was because they constantly needed to produce goods in order to earn more money. This unfair treatment by the British toward the local Burmans was the cause of  resentment felt towards the British colonial masters; the peasants and the elites were therefore inevitably on the side of the Nationalist movement. Thus, this paved the way for the nationalist movements and unavoidably their success.

In Malaya, colonial rule was unfair for the locals and they were not in favour of the reforms. They introduced their methods of selecting the leader, this meant that the traditional method of selecting their rulers, based on special lineages, tradition was now abolished and Sultans no longer ruled Malaya. As for the local Malayans, who initially owned land of their own soon became beggars in their own land as a result of not being able to keep up with the economic reforms introduced by the colonial masters.

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