By Joe Fernandez
COMMENT Malaysia, it is being written, is celebrating its 53rd year of independence since the departure of the British colonialists. This appears to support the unspoken, unwritten, official line that 1957 is the year of independence for the entire country.
This version of history can only mean that Malaya underwent a name change in 1963 to emerge as Malaysia. Hence the story of 53 years continues.
The old Federation of Malaya and its Federal Constitution was supposed to become defunct on Sept 16, 1963 when a new federation, Malaysia, with the promise of a new Federal Constitution was to emerge on the same day in an alliance of four territories in equal partnership namely, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Brunei stayed out at the 11th hour and look where it is today compared with its neighbouring two sister states in Borneo. That’s another story.
The equal partnership concept never worked out in practice and Singapore left two years later, in 1965, amidst allegations that Malaya was squatting like a colonialist on the former. This is the same allegation being made today by the ad hoc apolitical Hindraf Makkal Sakthi which has a constituency, like the Palestinians, but no territory. Also, in the case of Singapore, as with Sabah and Sarawak, there was no new constitution. Malaysia had the same old constitution as Malaya with some minor additions made to admit the other territories.
It’s Malaya that is celebrating its 53rd year of independence this year. Sabah and Sarawak were independent for only 16 days, that is, from Aug 31, 1963 to Sept 16, 1963 before being colonised by Malaya. But truth and history do not seem to matter in the corridors of power.
Colonisation is the only term that comes to mind when one considers that the results of the United Nations Referendum, announced on Sept 16, 1963, showed that only a third of the people – overwhelmingly Muslim – supported the “new” federation. Another third, mostly Chinese, were completely opposed to Malaysia. The remaining third, mostly non-Muslim natives, wanted a period of independence before re-considering the idea of Malaysia again. They also wanted further information on what Malaysia means.
All this is a matter of historical record but given scant attention in Malaysian schools along with another period, that is, the brutal occupation of the country by Japan during World War 11.
East Timor parallels
The decision to proceed with Malaysia, despite the UN referendum results, were never explained. Instead, the Muslim take and non-Muslim native misgivings were lumped together to deduce that two-thirds of the people in fact favoured Malaysia.
This sheer blatant propaganda by Malaya and the British did not cut ice with the Philippines -- it claims the eastern and northern third of Sabah – and Indonesia. The then President Sukarno of Indonesia thundered that Malaysia was a neo-colonialist plot against the people of Sabah and Sarawak – Kalimantan Utara, according to him – and he vowed to crush it.
As Sabah prepares to play host to the first official celebration of Malaysia this Sept 16, Sukarno’s take on the UN referendum results has caught up with us in the present to haunt our future.
Malayan troops marching into Sabah and Sarawak on Sept 16, 1963 in the wake of the British departure is akin to Indonesian troops marching into East Timor after the Portuguese colonialists left. Twenty-seven years later, the UN kicked Indonesia out of East Timor, now known as Timor Leste.
There are parallels between East Timor, on the one hand, and Sabah, Sarawak on the other. Not a day goes by in these two states when people don’t wonder how they came under the yoke of Putrajaya. The charge of colonialism sticks and can be seen in the fact, for example, that there has been no Borneonisation of the federal civil cervice in the two states. The federal government is also not being shared equally by Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.
Those who preach the philosophy of ketuanan Melayu – Malay political supremacy and dominance – appear to carry on as if the British bequeathed Sabah and Sarawak to them as their colonies.
Indeed, Malaysia was a British idea – backed by their permanent seat in the UN Security Council – to circumvent the 24-nation UN Decolonisation Committee. The committee held that all colonies must be freed within the shortest possible time to prevent a Third World War. The Second World War was fought over the continued existence of the colonial empires with closed markets that excluded Japan and Germany. These two nations then tried to create their own colonial empires by sheer military force.
Forty-seven years later, Sabah opposition strongman Jeffrey Gapari Kitingan is leading a mass movement for change in Malaysian Borneo through the ad hoc apolitical Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA) “to reverse the re-colonisation of Sabah and Sarawak”.
The CigMA campaign is based on several issues, namely Sabah and Sarawak Rights, the 20-Point Agreement, autonomy, the Malaysia Agreement and the concept of equal partnership as promised by the Malaysia concept. This is like putting the cart before the horse. This is a debate that has camouflaged the issue.
The UN referendum results of 1963 must first be taken into consideration. The ghosts from the past must be laid to rest. There is no better way than to hold another UN referendum in Sabah and Sarawak on Malaysia.
Justice must be done this time to the non-Muslim natives and the Chinese in Sabah and Sarawak. Their voices need to be taken into account. Non-Muslim native opposition to Malaysia has been captured by former Sabah state secretary Simon Sipaun at a forum in Kota Kinabalu on July 31, “Formation of Malaysia, a Promise Re-visited and the Way Forward”.
It’s unlikely that these two communities have changed their mind on Malaysia. If anything, they have decidedly become even more hostile to the idea of Peninsular Malaysians calling the shots in Sabah and Sarawak from Putrajaya. Interestingly, they have been joined by local Muslims who feel increasingly neutralised, marginalised and alienated from the mainstream by the continuing influx of illegal immigrants who enter the electoral rolls with MyKads issued through the backdoor.
The idea of another UN referendum in Sabah and Sarawak is not something new. It has been there ever since 1963 and voiced over the years by various quarters. The latest demands are from Kitingan himself and former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh. Kitingan echoed Harris Salleh at the July 31 forum organised by CigMA in association with another NGO, the Borneo Heritage Foundation (BHF).