Malaysiakini News

Malaysia - substance over form

Yap Yok Foo  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Let us hark back to the early 1960s. Singapore, under the People’s Action Party (PAP) headed by Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), was under stress. Two crucial by-elections in Hong Lim and Anson were lost to Ong Eng Guan and David Marshall, respectively.

The left wing of PAP under Lim Chin Siong had left to form the Barisan Sosialis and LKY had to make almost weekly trips to the Federation to beg Tunku Abdul Rahman to rescue him from almost certain defeat in any next election.

But the maths did not add up. Taking in Singapore with its one million Chinese people would upset the racial equation of the Malay majority in Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.

In the meantime, Britain, effete from the disastrous World War II with its depletion of manpower and other resources, had to embark on a policy of abandoning far-flung non-strategic possessions such as Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo - and suddenly the maths became right - there was no Chinese majority and they were all parked in the safe, friendly hands of Tunku's Federation.

The speech by Tunku in May 1961, alluding to the possibility of a larger entity called Malaysia was the culmination of intense British pressure on Tunku.

The substance was for Tunku's Federation to take in the four entities, Singapore, Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo as additional states to the 11 already in hand; more points to the star and more stripes on the Malayan flag and this was all to happen on Aug 31, 1963.

A few slips happened in the process. Brunei, with its autocratic sultan, opted to stay out, using the excuse that he must become the Agong as primus inter pares. LKY feverishly made preparations and outplayed the startled Barisan Sosialis out with his merger referendum.

The two backward states of Sarawak and North Borneo were quickly put on the fast track with self-rule (a period of limited autonomy before the umbilical cord to Whitehall is severed).

Not equals, certainly

Certainly, transitional provisions were agreed upon, such as control over immigration to safeguard locals from being overwhelmed by the more progressive people from Singapore and Malaya... and this self-same provision was subsequently shamelessly misused and abused to prevent the entry of politicians deemed unfriendly to the powers-that-be.

Whatever the form, the substance was for the Federation of Malaya to take in Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo as additional states to the 11 already in hand and resolutions were passed in the various legislative assemblies for the union to happen coterminously on Aug 31, 1963.

In the meantime, President Sukarno (photo) of neighbouring Indonesia threw in a spanner, labelling the union as "neo-colonialism".

To appease him, a UN-sponsored task force was charged to ascertain the wishes of the people of Sarawak and North Borneo (Singapore had answered loud and clear through the 1962 merger referendum that they agree for Singapore to join the Federation as another state, with certain provisos like having four official languages and autonomy in education and labour issues).

Thus it can be seen that Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo needed Malaya more than Malaya needed them. Tunku was arm-twisted to accept the additional responsibilities; of course, there was always the threat of withdrawing the Commonwealth Armed Forces to bring Tunku in line.

So it pains me to hear every year that Sarawak, and now Sabah, “... joined Malaysia as equal partners with the Federation of Malaya". This is untrue. In fact, in 1963, the Federation of Malaya was already a six-year-old member of the United Nations.

Another thing that pains me every year is the rejection of Aug 31 as National Day. The intended date for the formation of Malaysia was Aug 31, 1963, but for the postponement to allow the UN to complete its fact-finding task to ascertain the views of the people of Sarawak and North Borneo, Sept 16 would have been moot.

Be that as it may, after Alaska and Hawaii joined the US in 1959, they celebrated their Independence Day on July 4 like the other 48 states.

Why can't Sarawak and Sabah do likewise on Aug 31?

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!


YAP YOK FOO is a retired chartered accountant and author of Grandfather Stories.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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