The Road to Malaysia: Part 4 – Merdeka & Malaysia Day

Children in different costumes holding the Malaysia flag - BERNAMA
Children in different costumes holding the Malaysia flag – BERNAMA
This article is the last installment in a series on the Formation of Malaysia, and is a continuation from The Road to Malaysia: Part 3 – The Cobbold Commission.

“… there is no doubt about the wishes of a sizeable majority of the peoples of these territories to join the Federation of Malaysia.” (UN Secretary-General U Thant, 13th September 1963]

After World War 2, the British was economically and financially strained to maintain its colonies especially those east of Suez.  It would be a matter of time before Britain would have to give up all of its colonies abroad, save for some of the smaller ones.  The Cobbold Commission’s report agreed unanimously that a decision in principle should be taken by governments as soon as possible; that the new state should be called Malaysia; that the constitution of the Federation of Malaya should be adapted for Malaysia, instead of drafting a completely new one; that there should be no right to secede from Malaysia after merger.

Although the Tunku had asked the Malayan Commissioners to sign the report, he was still apprehensive about what “Malaysia” would do to his political position, and what kind of repercussions “Malaysia” would have on Malaya’s relationship with Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Malaysia Agreement was signed on the 9th July 1963.  Although not sovereign nor self-governing, the leaders of both North Borneo and Sarawak were invited to sign it. Annexed to the Agreement were a number of Constitutional instruments that included admission to the federation of the three former British dependencies; state constitutions for Sabah (as North Borneo would be called), Sarawak and Singapore; a scheme to compensate officers retiring from government service in North Borneo and Sarawak.

A separate legislation ending British jurisdiction in North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore was enacted at Westminster. It did not provide for the separate independence of the three territories but transferred sovereignty to the new Federation of Malaysia (Commonwealth Relations Office and Commonwealth Office Briefs for Malaysia Bill, 1963 – Dominions Office DO 169/329).  Therefore the self-rule given by the British to Sarawak on the 22nd July 1963 and the declaration of independence by Sabah on the 31st July 1963 were not a recognition of the independence of either Sarawak or Sabah, but an independence of the states in adherence to Malaysia (Ghazali Shafie’s Memoir on the Formation of Malaysia, p438). For all intents and purposes, both North Borneo and Sarawak remained as Colonies of Great Britain until the coming into operation of Malaysia.

If the appointment of a Chief Minister is to be taken as the point when independence had been achieved, Malaya would have been independent in July of 1955!

The late President Wee Kim Wee of Singapore, then a young Straits Times reporter, covered Sabah’s Merdeka Day and filed a report that, from all the obvious evidence, it was a declaration of independence within Malaysia.

The Malaysia Agreement referred to North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore as Colonies.
The Malaysia Agreement referred to North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore as Colonies.
Malaysia Day was supposed to have happened on the 31st August 1963.  However, several last minute events forced Malaysia Day to be postponed.

 1) a last-minute interference by British officials prevailing upon Iban leaders to demand for the post of Sarawak Governor whilst also keeping the post of Chief Minister, thus reneging on an earlier understanding that for the first two years, the post of either the Chief Minister or Governor should go to a Malay if the other was given to an Iban.  The Tunku was livid and decided that Malaysia would happen without Sarawak. All the cabinet ministers of Malaya except Tun Razak agreed with the Tunku.  Through Ghazali Shafie, Razak negotiated with the leaders of Sarawak and in the end Abang Haji Openg was the Governor designate, Stephen Kalong Ningkan as the Chief Minister, and Temenggung Jugah as a Federal Minister in-charge of Sarawak Affairs.  Had it not been for Razak’s persistence, the Tunku would have had things go his way and Sarawak would not have been in Malaysia.

2) the protest by both the Philippines and Indonesia at the United Nations against the formation of Malaysia. They requested that the UN secretary-general, or his representative, should ‘ascertain’ the extent of support in the Borneo territories for Malaysia, that observers from all three governments should accompany the UN mission, and that the formation of Malaysia should be postponed until the completion of the UN report.

Led by Lawrence Michelmore (the American deputy director of the UN Office of Personnel) the mission consisted of Argentinian, Brazilian, Ceylonese, Czech, Ghanaian, Pakistani, Japanese, and Jordanian members of the UN Secretariat. It was accompanied by observers from Indonesia and the Philippines—an arrangement which the British government grudgingly accepted. From 24th August to 4th September they held public hearings in widespread locations and reconvened in Kuching on 5th September, past the 31st August 1963 deadline.  This forced Malaya to change the date for Malaysia Day to 16th September 1963.

The UN report, which was published on the 14th September, was generally favourable to Malaysia. In his assessment of the mission’s findings, U Thant was in no doubt that ‘a sizeable majority of the peoples’ wished to join Malaysia, although he also rebuked the Malayans for fixing a new Malaysia Day before the mission had completed its work. Even before the survey was finished, however, Indonesia and the Philippines were attempting to discredit it and, on its publication, they rejected the report and refused to be bound by its findings.

3) was of the PAS Government in Kelantan wanting the Malaysia Agreement and Malaysia Act to be declared ‘void and inoperative.’  Kelantan argued that the Act would abolish the Federation of Malaya, thereby violating the Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1957; that the proposed changes needed the consent of each state of Malaya and that this had not been obtained; that the Sultan of Kelantan should have been a party to the Malaysia Agreement in the same way as the Malay rulers had been signatories of the Malaya Agreement of 1957; that constitutional convention called for consultation with the rulers of individual Malay states regarding subsequent changes to the constitution; and that the federal parliament had no power to legislate for Kelantan in this matter.

On the 14th September 1963 the Chief Justice ruled that both the Malaysia Agreement and the Malaysia Act were constitutional (Tan Sri Mohamed Suffian bin Hashim, An introduction to the constitution of Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, 1972) pp 13–14).

By 16th September 1963, we are all Malaysians.

Looking back, I remember an article quoting Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Gilong relating his experience visiting Kuala Lumpur on the invitation of the Tunku, he said:

“Kami naik kenderaan yang dipandu. Bagi sesetengah anggota delegasi saya, itulah kali pertama mereka menikmati air paip dan tandas berpam.” 

“Kami dibawa ke beberapa tempat dan kampung yang sudah mendapat pembangunan seperti jalanraya dan sebagainya. Saya sendiri apabila balik ke Sabah telah berkempen menyokong penubuhan Persekutuan Malaysia dengan memberitahu kawan-kawan mengenai pembangunan yang ada di Malaya ketika itu.

Katanya satu kejadian lucu ialah apabila ada anggota rombongannya tidur di lantai dalam bilik hotel mereka dan bukan di atas katil yang empuk.

“Apabila saya nampak, mereka memberitahu saya mereka ingatkan katil itu adalah untuk ‘tuan’, seolah-olah hanya orang kulit putih boleh tidur di atas katil dan anak tempatan tidur di atas lantai sahaja.”

“Saya beritahu mereka katil itu mereka punya untuk tidur di atasnya.”

(“We rode on a vehicle that came with a driver. For some members of my delegation, that’s the first time they enjoyed tap water (running water) and flushing toilets.”

“We were taken to several places and villages that have received development such as roads and so on. When I went back to Sabah I campaigned in support of the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia by telling my friends about the existing development in the then Malaya.

He said that one funny scene was when there were members of his entourage who slept on the floor in their hotel room and not on their comfortable.

“When I saw, they told me they thought it was a bed especially for the ‘master’, as if only the white people could sleep on the bed while the local people sleep on the floor.”

“I told them that that was their bed and to sleep on it.”) (Free Malaysia Today – 13th September 2013).

Such was how inferior the people of Sabah and Sarawak felt of themselves before Malaysia existed, and it was not that long ago.


I believe that there has been progress that has been made in both Sabah and Sarawak although there should be more.  When I was working offshore, most of my drilling and marine crew are from Sabah and Sarawak, especially the Ibans.  My last Chief Mate is a Kelabit from Bario, while one of our vessels’ Captain is a Kedayan from Limbang.  In my opinion, both the Merdeka Day on the 31st August and Malaysia Day on the 16th September are equally important to us.  Without the 31st August 1957 event, Malaysia would not have happened and I shudder to think what ill-fortune would have befallen the people of Sabah and Sarawak, especially with China, Indonesia and the Philippines staking a claim in both the states.

I also believe that the current Federal Government is doing all it can to fulfill the promises made back in 1963, an uhill task given that previous Prime Ministers, especially a particular former Prime Minister for 22 years, did not do much for the people of Sabah and Sarawak.

Let us concentrate on nation-building, and put aside state-nationalism as that brings about nothing beneficial to any of us.  And let us not let hatred destroy us.  Our forefathers who agreed to form Malaysia did so following the democratic system, and not through violent nor nonsensical demonstrations or coups.

And let us remember the famous words by the great Temenggung Jugah ak Barieng:

“Anang aja Malaysia tu baka Tebu, Manis di pun, tabar Di ujung”

(Let’s hope Malaysia does not end up like a sugarcane. Sweet at the beginning, bland at the end)

SELAMAT HARI MALAYSIA

The Road to Malaysia: Part 2 – Consultations

The Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee
The Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee

This article is a continuation from The Road to Malaysia: Part 1 – The Malaysia Concept.

During the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association of Asia (CPA) meeting in Singapore on the 23rd July 1961, a conference resolution to establish a Malaysia Consultative Committee led by North Borneo’s Donald Stephens and Sarawak United People’s Party’s Yeo Cheng Hoe. Both would become members of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee and hasten the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

We see today how some foreign plenipotentiaries act in contravention of Article 41(1) and (2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 where the diplomat should not interfere with the internal affairs of the Receiving State and all businesses by the mission of the Sending State must be coordinated with the Foreign Ministry or any other relevant ministries of the Receiving State.  However, we see today various anti-government NGOs being courted by these foreign missions, even to the extent of having the number one diplomat attending and participating in the programs executed by these NGOs.

Things were not much different back in 1961 – especially for Singapore, although Singapore was still a Crown Colony with self-rule.  George Douglas Hamilton, the 10th Earl of Selkirk (Lord Selkirk) was often observed by Lee Kwan Yew to be making special efforts to court left-wing politicians especially PAP’s left-wing politician Lim Chin Siong, who are opposed to the Malaysia Concept.  This relationship grew stronger and especially after the Hong Lim by-election in April 1961 where an Independent thumped PAP’s candidate by a 4,927 majority, and later the Anson by-election in July 1961 where the Worker’s Party’s David Saul Marshall trounced PAP’s Mahmud Awang by a 546 majority.  Because of Lim Chin Siong’s ties with the communist-oriented Anti-British League, the PAP leadership began to be openly challenged by the pro-communist members of the PAP and were now prepared to assume leadership.  Tunku’s grouse with PAP is not that it is a pro-communist party, but that it is not anti-communist.

For the British, they did not mind if Singapore was governed by a pro-communist government as long as they are allowed to keep their base for use by the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO).  To the communist, it was a good rallying point for the British to continue keeping Singapore as a colony and a base in order to attract more anti-colonial supporters to Singapore and the Borneo territories, and intensive anti-merger campaign was undertaken by the communists in Singapore.  Lee Kwan Yew believed that the British authority in Singapore had encourage the communists in the PAP to revolt against the non-communist leadership in PAP.  Kuan Yew coud not take action by imprisoning the communists for fear that he would be branded a British stooge and that would exacerbate the revolt by the communist against the PAP leadership. Merger with the Federation of Malaya was now central in his struggle against the communists.

The mood for Malaysia in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) however was very good. When Ghazali Shafie arrived there, Sir William Almond Condrington Goode, the British Governor for North Borneo who was leaving for Sandakan told Ghazali to use his car to get around Jesselton for the Commonwealth Committee meeting.  As he got into Goode’s car, Ghazali noticed that the driver had not removed the state pennant from the car and asked the driver to do so, so he (Ghazali) could travel correctly in the car.  The driver turned around and replied that because of “Malaysia” he would drive Ghazali with the state pennant flying, and drove off with policemen saluting.

The Committee agreed that its aims and objectives should be to collect and collate views and opinions concerning the creation of Malaysia; to disseminate information on the question of Malaysia; to initiate and encourage discussions on Malaysia; and to foster activities that would promote and expedite the realisation of Malaysia. While Donald Stephens chaired the meeting, North Borneo was represented by Datu Mustapha, Singapore by S Rajaratnam, and Sarawak by Yeo Cheng Hoe.  All of them agreed with the grand plan.

William Goode was not happy with Donald Stephens’s statement on Malaysia, in particular the latter’s target date of 1963 for the formation.  Lord Selkirk had prior to this expressed that the people in British Borneo were not ready to govern themselves as they were still headhunters twenty years earlier.  Therefore, Selkirk opined that it would be better for the people of British Borneo to come under a Federation of North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak for five to ten years before they could decide whether or not to merge with Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia. Sir Alexander Waddle, H.C White and Sir William Goode, the Governors of Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo respectively made mention on how the idea of Malaysia is being received warmly by the people of the respective states; however they were worried that the Singapore Chinese especially, would swamp them.

On the 26th and 27th August 1961, Ghazali Shafie met with Kadazan leaders as well as leaders from the United Kadazan National Organisation (UKNO) to explain to them the Malaysia Concept, and after hearing about the special position accorded to the Malays in the Federation of Malaya Constitution, they all agreed that Malaysia would be the best solution to protect especially the interests of the Kadazans.

Later at night on the 27th August 1961, the British District Officer had invited Ghazali for drinks with British, European as well as Chinese leaders.  Ghazali had suspected that it was more of an exercise to intimidate him.  True enough some asked what was the advantage that the Federation of Malaya would get from Malaysia to which Ghazali replied saying that the question of advantage to Malaya would not arise as Malaya would simply cease to exist with the formation of Malaysia.  Another pointed his finger at Ghazali and poked him in the chest asking why is Malaya in a hurry to form Malaysia since the people of British Borneo were not yet ready and to let the states of Borneo form their own Federation first?  Ghazali pointed his finger back at the person and reminded him that the Tunku had merely made a mention about the Malaysia Concept once in Singapore and one or two more statements after that, and if the person felt that he was being pressured it was not because Malaya had pressured him but that he had been caught in a new political whirlpool within the Borneo territories and he had little knowledge of and was not keen on adjusting himself to the new order.

Back in Kuala Lumpur, Lee Kuan Yew was in absolute hurry for Singapore to be merged with Malaysia.  The threat of the communist was real.  In a discussion, he agreed with the Tunku that the rights of the Malays in Singapore would take precedence as the Malays in Malaya and Singapore, together with the “sons of the soil” in North Borneo and Sarawak, would form the single largest entity in the new Federation. The Tunku lamented to Kuan Yew that Malaya was very short of effective Chinese leaders. Tan Siew Sin of the MCA was a very sincere and clever man but could not speak any Chinese dialect to be really influential among the Chinese masses. It was no secret then that the Tunku would prefer to have Kuan Yew to assist him in managing the politics among the Chinese in the new Malaysia.

Back in North Borneo, trouble was brewing. The British Government had sent Donald Stephens to the UK to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting, while colonial officials in North Borneo worked on to split the Kadazan by saying that Donald Stephens was not a real Kadazan.  As a result, UKNO was split into three factions: one following Donald Stephens, another following Abdul Ghani Gilong, while the other following Orang Kaya-Kaya GS Sundang. Datu Mustapha himself was offered two million Ringgit by a wealthy Chinese to form a political party that would espouse the Malaysia Concept but at its own pace, prefering to hang on to the colonial administration. On hearing this, Ghazali advised Mustapha to form a firm relationship with Donald Stephens in order to bring together the natives of North Borneo. Once a strong base was established, the Chinese would have no choice but to capitulate.

It was not an easy task.  Donald Stephens was from the Kadazandusun community.  The Kadazans and Dusuns were naturally biased towards the colonial officials and the white rulers who served the North Borneo Company before them.  These white rulers’ laws protected them from pirates and coastal marauders who plundered their homes and treated them with no respect – the Suluks.  Since Mustapha was a Suluk, the Kadazans and Dusuns treated him with fear and distrust though not without awe and respect.  That was how the British applied the divide et impera policy to keep them apart.

On the 27th September 1961, the British High Commissioner to Malaya, Sir Geofroy William Tory, called upon Ghazali Shafie to inform the latter that the Governors of North Borneo and Sarawak reported that the people of North Borneo were thinking along the thoughts of the Governors – that is to form a North Borneo Federation instead. When pressed for further explanation, Tory admitted that the Governors were talking in terms of what the Chinese businessmen said.

On the 9th October 1961, Donald Stephens, Mustapha and with about thirty people in the North Borneo delegation arrived in Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the Tunku who spoke to them both about the need to forget past quarrels and work together for the people of North Borneo. The Tunku also spoke to them about the Chinese community in North Borneo who very much supported the colonial administration there but told them to not be hostile towards the Chinese.

After dinner that night, Mustapha spoke to the attendees about how he and Donald Stephens had decided to form a political movement that would devote itself towards the independence of North Borneo through the Malaysia Concept.  He also confessed to have regarded Donald Stephens as a rival for the leadership of the natives, but must now be brothers for the sake of North Borneo and encouraged the other community leaders in the delegation to do the same to one another.

Donald Stephens was more emotional. Tears were rolling down his cheeks when he admitted he had not trusted Mustapha before and asked for the latter’s forgiveness.  There was a thunderous applause and both Mustapha and Donald Stephens embraced each other and announced to those present that they were now blood brothers and pledged to work together for the well-being of the people through the Malaysia Concept.

A North Borneo Chinese by the name of Chan also spoke in support of the Malaysia Concept and thought the Chinese should also form a political party.  He, Donald Stephens and Mustapha then held hands together with everyone else and shouted Merdeka Malaysia ten times in keeping with the feng shui of the double ten – it was already the 10th October 1961, and this happened inside the Federal Hotel on Jalan Bukit Bintang.

After much deliberation at the second Malaysian Solidarity Consultative Committee meeting in Kuching, as well as some political maneuvering to get the support of Kalong Ningkan and his Sarawak National Party (SNAP) as well as to neutralise the opposition to the PAP within UMNO led by Aziz Ishak, it was decided that an Enquiry Commission, as envisaged by the Tunku and Harold MacMillan, to be appointed to gauge the desirability of the Malaysia Concept among the people of North Borneo and Sarawak.


In Part Three, we shall look into the Cobbold Commission’s work and findings, and reaction by our neighbours.