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.

The Bittersweet Alliance – Part 1

The philosopher Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás or George Santayana once said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  The recurrence of history is part of life’s cycle, but always in different forms.  Those who do not remember how certain historical lows were handled are bound to make even bigger mistakes.

 

Recently, there was a furor following the statement made by UMNO’s Ismail Sabri , the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Minister, asking consumers to boycott greedy Chinese businesses.  While it is normal to hear the communal-party-disguised-as-a-non-communal-party DAP lashing out at Ismail Sabri, the call by MCA’s Youth Chief, Chong Sin Woon, for the sacking of Ismail Sabri did not go down well with UMNO and 92 Divisions of the latter rallied behind Ismail asking for Sin Woon to be sacked instead.

 

While I refuse to indulge in a debate over what was said by Ismail Sabri, there is a need for consumers to boycott profiteering businesses who whine about high cost of fuel and pressured the government to allow them to increase the price of their services, but refused to lower prices when the price of fuel has gone down by half.  What I am more interested in is the bittersweet alliance between UMNO and MCA, and how history is repeating itself.

 

While the movement for the independence of Malaya had started decades before, there was no cohesion between races. In 1946 when the Malayan Union was formed, the republican-in-nature Partai Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) and the non-Malay Malayan Democratic Union (MDU) were quick to support the formation.  The PKMM, a spin-off from the Batavia-leaning KMM of Ibrahim Yaacob, was all for a Malaya not ruled by the Malay Rulers, while the MDU liked the idea of automatic citizenship (read more in Seademon’s The Road To Merdeka: Persekutuan Tanah China ) for the immigrants. On 1st March 1946, more than 40 Malay organisations met up and 41 decided to form the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to champion the Malay rights.  The Malays were then a minority in his own land, poor, sidelined from economic development, health care and formal education.  With the help and encouragement of the then-British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) was formed on the 27th February, 1949. Gurney aimed at winning the allegiance of the Chinese community away from the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) (Colonial Office Record 537/773(1) Memorandum by Henry Gurney, 28th January, 1949).

 

There was apprehension and distrust between the Malays and Chinese.  The alienation of the Malays by Chinese mining tycoons and rubber estate owners, followed by the preference of the Japanese of the Malays over the immigrant Chinese, and this in turn followed by retribution against the Malays by Chinese sympathizers of the CPM after the Japanese surrender have had contributed enormously to this animosity between the two.

 

It was since 1950 that Henry Gurney had wanted to introduce some form of democracy to Malaya through elections to satisfy the public’s hunger for democracy versus the communist’s way of winning self-government.  Alas, he was only a High Commissioner and still had to go through the true rulers of the Federation of Malaya – The Malay Rulers.  So, during the 10th Malay Rulers Meeting on the 22nd and 23rd February, 1950, Gurney presented his recommendation, only to be met with reluctance of the Malay Rulers.  In the minutes of meeting, the Sultan of Kedah stated his reservation:

 

The most important prerequisite for democracy is education. Without enlightened public opinion a democratic system of Government will be liable to unsteadiness or even confusion and chaos. One danger is that it may be transformed into a single party government through a few skilled electioneers working among the apathetic population and this will work towards dictatorship.” (Colonial Office Records 537/6025(1))

 

The Malays, as mentioned above, were left behind educationally and may not know what is best for them.  For the same reason the PKMM and MDU were in full support of the Malayan Union four years prior to this event.  And whatever the outcome, the Malays would have ended up the biggest losers if no one champions their rights. Noted William L Holland in “Nationalism in Malaya” (WL Holland, 1953):

 

“There was already Malay discontent in the pre-war period over the poor economic position vis-a-vis the Chinese and Indians. Malay peasants and fishermen, noted S.H Silcock and Ungku Aziz, were dependent on Chinese middlemen while Malays worked as messengers in offices where Chinese and Indians were clerks.”

 

The phrases made bold above by me, still holds true today and became the basis of Ismail Sabri’s main grouse against profiteering businessmen.

 

Gurney had to bring about some form of democratic self-rule that would benefit all races.  Separately he discussed on numerous occasions with both MCA and Dato’ Onn and impressed upon them that self-rule would only happen if there is a closer relations between the communities (The Making of the Malayan Constitution, Joseph M Fernando, 2002, Page 15).  Gurney was all for the promotion of Sino-Malay talks to tackle long-term problems.  Gurney minuted the following:

 

“The outstanding issues at that stage were citizenship and the economic backwardness of the Malays.  The Chinese leaders sought a more liberalised citizenship than those contained in the 1948 Federation of Malaya Agreement.  Onn meanwhile , had approached the Colonial Office to secure financial assistance for the Malays.” (Colonial Office Records 537/773(1))

 

Onn Jaafar, however, was more open towards a better relationship between the Malays and other races if UMNO was to achieve the long-term ambition of self-governing the nation.  In the UMNO annual general meeting in Arau, Perlis, on the 28th May 1949, he said in his speech:

 

It is absolutely important for the Malays to obtain closer ties with the other people in this country.  It is time for us to take the view wider than the kampung view.  I ask of you, which will you choose, peace or chaos, friendship or enmity?” (Straits Times, 29th May, 1949)

 

It was at this meeting that UMNO had agreed to accept non-Malays as associate members.  Two years later, in June 1951, Onn went a step further by proposing that UMNO should open its doors to the non-Malays, and that UMNO be renamed the “United Malayan National Organisation.”  While the top echelon of the party was supportive of this idea, the grassroot felt it was too radical.  The bitterness resulting from the years of resentment and occasional interracial violence were too new for them to accept the non-Malays into their political fold.  As a result, Onn left UMNO to form a new party called the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) despite Gurney’s insistence that the former should remain in UMNO.  Onn gambled that UMNO would fall apart and would rally behind him.  Instead, UMNO rallied behind its new leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who sought to retain and strengthen UMNO’s communal organisational structure.  The Tunku also threatened to expel from UMNO any member that joins or had joined the IMP (Straits Times, 18th September, 1951).

 

The MCA meanwhile remained a loose association of both “neutral” Chinese and the hardcore sympathizers of the CPM.  Gurney had felt that the MCA had not gained much support from the Chinese community and the CPM sympathizers especially to help bring about a speedy end of the First Emergency.  The Perak MCA Chairman, Leong Yew Koh, wrote to Cheng Lock on 1st June, 1950:

 

“Although the Perak MCA membership is 40,000 strong, the branch is a mere basin of loose sand.” (Tan Cheng Lock Papers, ISEAS Singapore, Folio IX)

 

Cheng Lock was quick to suggest that the MCA should become more political in order to better represent the Chinese:

 

“The MCA should not exist only for the limited, though vital, purpose of the meeting the emergency.  It is a living institution which should consolidate itself on a strong and broad democratic foundation, in order that it may be ready to play a part in Malaya of the future as well as the present.” (Colonial Office Records 1022/176)

 

Thus, the stage is set for two political giants to go against each other for political power, after which we will see whether it was the Tunku or not who played the pivotal role in making the alliance between UMNO and MCA come true.

 

Stay tuned.