“Was this an inadvertent snub to Mahathir? After all, the British are known to have a wicked sense of humour.
Thatcher and Mahathir had little in common. Their acquaintance started by air-craft landing rights disputes, the dawn raid on Guthrie companies in the London stock exchange, the tin corner scandal and university fee increases for Malaysian students to the UK. Despite Mahathir’s “Buy British Last” call, he conducted secret deals with Thatcher which culminated in the Pergau Dam scandal.
Thatcher, despite her unpopularity, was quick to defend those territories under British control. Her decision to send troops to defend the Falkland Islands in 1982 against an Argentinian invasion, and the subsequent British victory, made her a hero and instilled patriotism.
The same cannot be said of a prime minister who gave out several hundred thousand identity cards to foreigners, in Sabah, in exchange for votes.
British prime ministers like Thatcher, rarely interfere in politics once they have retired from public office. Mahathir has remained active in politics to the detriment of the caretaker prime minister.
Both Thatcher and Mahathir had humble origins with fathers who told them to work hard to succeed. On her resignation, Thatcher made millions, legitimately, from giving public lectures on both the local and international circuits.
Mahathir is allegedly a multi-billionaire and his children have benefited from allegedly dodgy deals emanating from his time as prime minister.
During Thatcher’s funeral, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, gave a sermon in which he related the story of a nine-year-old boy, David Liddelow, who had written to Thatcher about Jesus. David asked Thatcher, “Last night when we were saying prayers, my daddy said everyone has done wrong things except Jesus. I said I don’t think you have done bad things because you are the prime minister. Am I right or is my daddy?”
Thatcher was known for her ability to reach out to the young and she replied to say that David had posed a “difficult question” but that she would “try to answer it”.
In a handwritten letter she said, “However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus. There will be times when we do or say something we wish we hadn’t done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again…
“As prime Minister, I try very hard to do things right and because Jesus gave us a perfect example I try even harder. But your father is right in saying that we can never be as perfect as He was.”
Contrast this with a letter written by another 10-year-old English boy, Darrel Abercrombie, to Mahathir in 1987. The letter has been mentioned in articles in “The Star” and “Sin Chew Jit Poh”. Darrel had requested Mahathir to stop logging activities in Malaysia because he wanted to study animals in the tropical rainforests when he grew up.
In a lengthy three-page typed document, Mahathir said: “It is disgraceful that you should be used by adults for the purpose of trying to shame us because of our extraction of timber from our forests.
“The timber industry helps hundreds of thousands of poor people in Malaysia. Are they supposed to remain poor because you want to study tropical animals? Is your study more important than filling the stomachs of poor people? Are Malaysians expected to lose millions of pounds so that you can study animals?
“If you don’t want us to cut down our forests tell your father to tell the rich countries like Britain to pay more for the timber they buy from us… I hope you will tell the adults who made use of you to learn all the facts. They should not be too arrogant and know how best to run a country…”
141 years ago Perak became the first sovereign state in the Malay peninsula to come into a treaty with the British for the latter to provide the former with protection, while the former has the “right” to interfere in the internal administration of the state – by the appointment of a Resident or Adviser to the Sultan, on the payroll of the Sultan, and whose “advice” must be asked and “acted upon” in all matters other than the ones affecting the Malay religion and custom (C.D Cowan, 1961; Emily Sadka, 1968; Eunice Thio, 1969). Between 1874 and 1930, similar but not identical treaties were signed with the other Sultans and Head of States. The treaties notwithstanding, the Sultans and Head of States remain the sovereign ruler of their respective sovereign state. De facto however, the British assumed the unstated “right” to administer the states as well with the exception of Kelantan through the Kelantan Treaty of 1910 (signed in Kota Bharu on 22 October 1910) when the government of King George V undertook not to interfere in the “internal administration” of the state or to curtail the “administrative authority” of the Ruler.
Sovereignty of the Rulers
Although the Rulers had divested much of their independence, both they and their state remained sovereign. Independence is not equal to sovereignty. As a principle of international law, sovereignty denotes, in its purest form, the concept of a ‘supreme authority’ be it an individual or a collective unit and implied power to exercise independence both internationally and domestically. Paradoxically, inherent in this conception of sovereignty is the possibility that the sovereign state could also impose limits on its own independence without suffering a diminution of its inherent sovereignty (L Oppenheim, 1928 pp 135 and 250; Albert Lau, 1991). In other words, the Anglo-Malay treaties in no way compromised the de jure sovereignty of the Malay Rulers.
There were three test cases to determine the sovereignty of the Rulers and the State they ruled:
The infamous Mighell v Albert Baker a.k.a Mighell v The Sultan of Johore (1894) which I have also covered in a previous article when the issue of the Ruler’s immunity as a sovereign was raised in an English court, it was ruled that, although the Sultan by treaty had bound himself not to exercise some of the rights of a sovereign ruler, this did not deprive him of his character as an independent sovereign.
In Duff Development Company Limited v The Government of Kelantan (1924), the House of Lords similarly upheld the sovereignty of Kelantan and its Ruler was not intended to be qualified by the terms of the treaty.
In Pahang Consolidated Company Limited v State of Pahang (1933), the Privy Council summarised the constitutional position in Pahang as follows: subject to the limitations which the Sultan had from time to time imposed upon himself, he remained ‘an absolute ruler in whom resides all legislative and executive power.’ (See, 1894; Q.B 1924; A.C and M.L.J)
The above implied that Britain could do nothing in these states contrary to the terms of the existing treaties. W. Ormsby-Gore, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies put it in 1928:
“Our (Britain’s) position in every State rests solemnly on treaty obligations….We neither have the right nor the desire to vary this system of government or to alter the type of constitution or administration that now obtains.”(W Ormsby-Gore report, 1928).
This was later echoed by Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister, the 1st Earl of Swinton and a prominent British Conservative politician, on 14 July 1933:
“There is no question at all of altering in any degree, even by a comma, the Treaties which bind us…and which are charters of the agreements with the Rulers both of the Federated and Unfederated Malay States.”
Interesting, however, is that the Colonial Office came close to discussing the deposition of two Sultans namely the Sultan of Johore (1906) and the Sultan of Terengganu (1919). In the case of the Sultan of Johore, the Colonial Office was told that unless Sultan Ibrahim of Johore complied with His Majesty’s Government’s wishes, he must “retire from the business altogether.” In 1914, Sultan Ibrahim was brought to task again for allowing conditions in Johore to deteriorate “to that which called for decided action in 1906” and warned that, unless the administration improved, “the only alternative is his removal from the State.” In 1919, Malayan officials, increasingly piqued by the obstructive nature of Sultan Muhammed of Terengganu, similarly recommended that “sufficient pressure” should be put on him to “compel his resignation.” (Minute by Lucas, 30 March 1906 CO 273/324 no. 10619; Young to Harcourt, 19 March 1914, CO 273/406 no. 13282; and report by J. Humphreys, 3 December 1919, CO 537/797 no. 5002).
Having said that, it frustrated the British that they had no jurisdiction whatsoever by virtue of the treaties signed, and a movement was initiated by Edward Gent, to change all that.
Willan’s Mission and the Malayan Union
Among the thorny problems of pre-WW2 Malay States is the question of the Chinese immigrants brought in by the British. In the Strait Settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore, they could be given the status of British Protected Persons. In both the Federated Malay States (FMS) and the Unfederated Malay States (UMS) the British have no jurisdiction to apply the same rule to them, nor are they citizens of their respective host state. As far as the Malay Rulers were concerned, only the Muslim Malays are their subjects, not those who are alien, non-native and are non-Muslims. The British tried to convince the Rulers and also by asking the Chinese to pledge loyalty to the Rulers. However, the Chinese were disinclined to accept the Malay Rulers as theirs.
The problem arose when in 1929 the Chinese government passed the Chinese Nationality Law stating that all persons of the Chinese race, wherever born, were considered as subjects of China. As such, the Chinese government could intervene in cases where the Chinese are not being fairly treated.
In 1911, the Malays made up 53% of the population. By 1931, they were already outnumbered and in 1941 formed only 41% of the population. The Chinese community was at 43%, displacing the Malays as the dominant racial group. The Malays were in a disadvantageous position and this proved explosive in 1946 during the Bekor tragedy. The Malays remained as the minority until 1970.
The only solution out of this is for the Chinese in the Malay states to be declared as British Protected Persons, but such move is against the treaties. To put this into effect, Malaya has to come under a federation or a union where power is central, and the Anglo-Malay Treaties be reviewed and replaced by a new one.
Following the Fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, the British saw that it was no longer possible to return to the pre-war system as they had failed to provide the Malay states the protection from the Japanese. Edward Gent saw this as an opportunity to streamline all the Malay States and the Strait Settlements excluding Singapore under one administration to be based in Kuala Lumpur. A month after the Fall of Singapore, he set up a team to quickly work out a solution and framework even though it was still not known then how the war would end.
When the war ended, this plan was quickly put in place. Between 8 to 29 September 1945, the Deputy Chief Civil Affairs Officer of Malaya, HC Willan, accompanied by the Senior Civil Affairs Officer for Johor, Colonel MC Hay, made his way to the Pasir Pelangi palace and interviewed the Sultan Ibrahim. Having studied files and found proof of Sultan Ibrahim collaborating with the Japanese, his task was to assess the Sultan’s reception of the British. Not once, noted Willan, did Sultan Ibrahim hinted that the British had let him down by losing Johor. More remarkably, Sultan Ibrahim wrote to Colonel Hay the very next day intimated his willingness to “serve under the British Military Administration.” Willan opined that Johor would sign the new treaty.
Of all the Malay Rulers, only the Sultan of Perak proved difficult. Willan proposed that Johor, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang should be approached in that order to sign the revised treaty. Once the rest have signed, there would not be any reason for Perak not to sign. When Harold MacMichael arrived in Johor, Sultan Ibrahim offered no resistance although he produced a memorandum containing points relating to the Sultan’s personal prestige and the status of Johor reproduced as Annex I in MacMichael’s report – Albert Lau, 1991). This is the “1946 agreement” made in conjunction with the signing of the Malayan Union agreement between the government of Johor and the British Military Administration that has been played up in the social media of late as the Federated Malay States agreement of 1948 had yet to be formulated. Johor was the first state to submit to being colonised by the British.
As expected, Sultan Abdul Aziz of Perak became the stumbling block. For Sultan Abdul Aziz, the central issue was still sovereignty. He wrote:
“It is true that under the Treaties I was bound to accept the advice of the British Resident, but nevertheless I was a Sovereign in my State having power to assent or withhold assent to legislation. I am now invited to sit as a member at an Advisory Council with the Governor assuming the function which rightly belongs to me. Being a member of the Advisory Council with authority over the other States is a doubtful honour. I neither desire to have any influence over the other States nor welcome any other Ruler to have influence within my State.”
The Sultan was also further incensed that under the new agreement the Malays in Perak would no longer swear allegiance to him but to the Malayan Union, thus in effect reducing him to the position of a Sultan without subjects:
“All these facts tend to show that my sovereign rights are in real danger. You can well imagine my feelings. I have no status, no State and no subjects.”(Sultan Abdul Aziz to Alexander Newboult, 20 February 1946, CO 537/1548 no. 50823/34 Pt.1)
By the latter half of February 1946, there was more cohesiveness amongst the Rulers in going against the Malayan Union. The Rulers had tactically rallied behind an informal united front presided by the Sultans of Perak and Kedah. In a concerted display of solidarity, the Rulers of Perak, Kedah, Pahang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan jointly petitioned to defer the implementation of the new Malayan Union constitution until an independent commission had first visited the country and consulted local opinion. (Newboult to Hall, 22 February 1946, CO 537/1548 no. 50823/34 Pt.1).
The movement against the Malayan Union was born and so was UMNO. The discussions on the formation of the Federation of Malaya began with the British, the Rulers and UMNO taking part in the discussions.
The Anglo-Malay treaties were left relatively intact with more power given to the people to effect some degree of self-governance, the Rulers continued with their ceremonial roles and duties. The Federation of Malaya came into effect on 1 February 1948, replacing the Malayan Union.
On 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya became independent, not from colonisation, but from feudalism. Executive powers that were given to the British have been given to the people of Malaysia to determine how they are to be governed and by whom. All agreements and treaties made between the Rulers and the British since 1874 became void. Professor Datuk Dr Ramlah Adam said all agreements inked during the British colonial period are considered void automatically after Aug 31, 1957.
“These issues are over. The powers of the Malay royalty are now included in the Federal Constitution.”
There is no more “state citizenship” but only “federation citizenship,” which makes Malaysians who they are irrespective of where they were born. The Federal Constitution too does not provide for any state to secede from the Federation. This was further enhanced in Sabah where the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 specifically says the state cannot secede.
Unsolicited remarks should not be made and the spirit of history has to be understood in order to understand why are we where we are, and why are we who we are. Such talks only put the sacrifices of our predecessors in vain.
I blame the skewed understanding of history among Malaysians, as well as attempts to rewrite history, on the Malaysian education system. The best way to get the nation together is to say that Malaya was colonised. The only times Malaya was wholly colonised was between 1942 and 1945, then again in 1946 until 1948. The Portuguese colonised Malacca, so did the Dutch. The rest of the Malay Peninsula were divided into various sovereign states.
Let me give you a brief history lesson on the MALAY peninsula:
The British came here for want of economic materials, and as a result of the various treaties with the respective states’ Sultan and Raja, the various states in Malaya became protectorates, administered by British Residents who were employed by the various Sultans and Rajas. Save for the Strait Settlements, the rest of the Malay Peninsula were never British colonies. Initially, the states of Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan all had their own Resident, but decided to have a common Resident as mentioned in Clause 4 of the Treaty of the Federation, 1895:
The above named Rulers agree to accept a British officer, to be styled the Resident General as the agent and representative of the British government under the government of the Straits Settlement. They undertake to provide him with a suitable accommodation with such salary as determined by Her Majesty’s government and to follow his advice in all matters of administration other than those touching the Mohammadan religion. The appointment of the Resident General will not affect the obligations of the Rulers towards the British Resident now existing or hereafter to be appointed to offices in the above mentioned protected states.
In return for the access to economic gains, Britain promised the states protection against threats. The protectorate over the Malay states does not amount to colonisation and sovereignty but prevents occupation or conquest of the protectorate by other nations (as evident during the Japanese invasion of Malaya). This differs from a colony in that the protectorates do not form an integral part of the territories of Great Britain.
As mentioned, the Malay states were made up of nine sovereign states, headed by the Sultan/Raja, and advised by a British adviser, with Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Pahang and Perak forming the Federated Malay States, while the rest were termed as the Unfederated Malay States with individual treaties with the British. Malacca, Penang and Singapore became part of the colonies as part of the Straits Settlement. Three legal cases became the test for the independent-nature of the sovereign states, namely the Mighell vs Sultan of Johore (1894), Duff Development Co. Ltd vs Kerajaan Negeri Kelantan & Anor (1924), and the Pahang Consolidated Co. Ltd vs State of Pahang (1931-32).
Therefore, on 31st August, 1957, the independence we gained was from feudalism, and not colonialism as we were brought up to believe in. On that day, the Sultans and Rajas were removed of their British advisers who administered their state on their behalf, and were now advised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (Chief Minister and Executive Councillors on state level). The constitution of rulership was continued but modified to include parliamentary democracy.
Since the independence we gained on 31st August, 1957 was from feudalism (the governing of the nation by a government elected by the people as opposed to British-appointed advisers), when did the nationalist movement for this independence actually began? It was upon the formation of the Malayan Union of 1946, an idea conceived during the Second World War and first presented to the British War Cabinet in May 1944 which required the Malay rulers to concede ALL powers to the British Crown, another indicator of the independent nature of the Malay states before the Japanese occupation. That started the ball rolling for the independence we now have.
Characters such as Burhanuddin Helmi, Ibrahim Yaacob, Hassan Manan, Mokhtaruddin Lasso, Ahmad Boestamam, Shamsiah Fakeh all fought for an independent Malaya under Javanese rule under the banner of Melayu Raya. You can read more on this in my posting The Road to Merdeka: Persekutuan Tanah China dated 6th September 2013. There you can read more about the characters mentioned, and also how that movement is linked to Chin Peng’s attempt to turn Peninsular Malaysia/Malaya into a communist state aligned with China.
The question whether Chin Peng was a contributor to the independence does not arise at all; he only assumed command of the Communist Party of Malaya when his predecessor, Loi Tak a.k.a Loi Tek a.k.a Lai Teck absconded with the movement’s funds in 1947. Why would the staunchly anti-communist British regard the Communist Party of Malaya as brothers-in-arms fighting the Japanese? Loi Tak, the Secretary-General of the CPM was a spy for the French colonial authorities in Vietnam to penetrate the Vietnamese freedom fighters and communists. You can read more in British Intrigue & The CPM: Some Characters.
And the remark made by Mariam Mokhtar that without the CPM, the Japanese in Malaya would not have been defeated is a feeble and shallow attempt to rewrite history. On 13th August 1945, Sukarno and Drs Hatta met up with Burhanuddin Helmi and Ibrahim Yaakob in Taiping to discuss the independence of Malaya under Javanese rule. In attendance was Major General Hirokichi Umezu of the Imperial Japanese Army. Ibrahim Yaakob was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Japanese Volunteer Army (Giyuugun). That effectively says that from that date, until the formal surrender of the Japanese military on 2nd September 1945, the Imperial Japanese Army remained undefeated.
Chin Peng fought against a collectively independent Malaya in 1948, a Malaya that was not colonised. Therefore, what was he fighting for? Was he planning to drive out the British advisers and become advisers in turn to the Malay rulers? According to Prof Dr Cheah Boon Kheng, the ratio of Chinese to Malays in communist-front organisations was 15:1, and as high as 50:1 in the CPM itself (The Star, Red Star Over Malaya, Sunda, 29th November, 2009). Do we honestly think they had the support of the whole population of Malaya? Whose interests would have been protected or preserved had they gotten their way then? Therefore the label “Chinese communists” as mentioned by Mariam Mokhtar is an apt description.
Mariam Mokhtar should also get her facts right (Chin Peng Has The Last Laugh, Malaysiakini, 23rd September 2013). Because of the ratio above, the Emergency was in essence a battle between the Malays who were trying to preserve their identity and religion, and the non-Malays who were against the CPM, against the Chinese-majority CPM that was bent on setting up a satellite communists state here. Mariam mentioned that atrocities were not just committed by Chin. Peng, but by both sides because “Malaya was on a war footing”. Since when was Malaya on a war footing? Who committed the first atrocity in 1948? Why was he fighting against an independent Malaya? And why did he not stop after the Tunku had announced our independence in 1956?
Chin Peng betrayed the people of Malaya. At the Baling talks, he promised the Tunku that the CPM would lay down their arms immediately if the British agreed to transfer power over internal security and defence into the hands of the Tunku’s Umno-MCA-MIC Alliance Government. Did he do it? No. He continued to kill Malayans/Malaysians for a further 34 years after the talks.
Chin Peng may be gone. And on every 16th September, Malaysia Day would be more meaningful – the day the man who butchered 10,000 of the people he had wanted to liberate, finally kicked the bucket on foreign soil.
Good riddance to bad rubbish!
In the final instalment, I will cover non-Malaysian Chin Peng’s request to be allowed to visit Sitiawan.