KUCHING: Former president of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) and the state’s first Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar James Wong Kim Min, passed away at Normah Medical Specialist Centre here at 2pm yesterday.
His son-in-law Dennis Liew said Wong’s remains would be flown to his hometown Limbang, either on Thursday or Friday.
Until then it will lie in state at his home at Jalan Temgah here. Wong had complained of feeling unwell and was brought to the hospital around 10.30am.
He is survived by his wife Datin Amar Valerie Bong, eight children and many grandchildren.
Born on Aug 6, 1922 in Limbang, he received his primary and secondary education at St Mary’s School and St Thomas School here before going for further studies at Serdang College of Agriculture in Selangor but his tertiary education was interrupted by the Second World War and he had to return to Limbang.
He became the pioneer of the hill logging industry in Sarawak in 1949 and in 1953 began his long and distinguished political career with his appointment as member of the Limbang District Council.
He was appointed a member of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee which negotiated and formulated the terms for Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak in the formation of the new nation.
When the first state cabinet was formed Wong was appointed Deputy Chief Minister, a post he held from 1963-1966.
During that period he was the deputy leader in the Malaysia Goodwill Mission to Africa (to gain Afro-Asia support for the new Federation of Malaysia) and a member of Malaysia’s delegation to the 1st Session of the UN General Assembly.
Wong’s political career was fraught with controversy and challenges when SNAP pulled out from the Alliance government later and became an opposition party.
He stood as an opposition candidate for the parliamentary seat of Miri-Lubis in the 1969 general election and won.
He was appointed opposition leader in Parliament in 1974.
Wong also won the Limbang state seat on a SNAP ticket in 1969 and subsequently, served the constituency for seven terms. He did not seek re-election in the state election in 2001.
As opposition leader, Wong was arrested under the Preservation of Public Security (Detention) Regulations on Oct 30, 1974 for allegedly plotting to cede Limbang to Brunei. Five months later, on March 10, 1975, Wong was released under a writ of habeas corpus but was immediately re-arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA). He was subsequently released on condition that he be restricted to Limbang district for two years.
When asked about his detention during an interview, he said in jest: “You know, I graduated from the Kamunting Camp after three years.”
He showed his resilience by bouncing back after his incarceration to re-enter the state cabinet until he retired from active public service in 2001.
From 1956 to 2001, he was a member of the Sarawak Council Negeri and holds the record for being the longest serving assemblyman in the State Legislative body which is the oldest in the nation.
Wong often aptly referred to as the grand old man of politics was an avid reader and writer and authored several books on his life, birth of the nation and collection of poems.
His last two books were ‘Memories of Speeches Made at the Council Negeri’ and ‘The Birth of Malaysia’ (Third Edition) which were officially launched at the Sarawak Club on Nov 12 2010.
On his book entitled ‘Memories of Speeches Made at the Council Negeri’ which was a collection of extracts of his speeches from the state legislative assembly Hansard during his tenure as assembly member and as Cabinet member, Wong said it would be very useful to the current or future elected representatives.
“By reading the book you will get to know more about the history of the Council Negeri as the book is considered historical in genre because it also covers many years prior to the formation of Malaysia and the early years after Malaysia came into being,” he said.
Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing said Wong would be sadly missed by all Malaysians.
“He was one of those persons who had made the formation of Malaysia possible.
“Even though I was never part of SNAP, I admired and respected his leadership. He had a very colourful history. My deepest condolence to his family,” said the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president.
Chief Political Secretary to the Chief Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah also said Wong’s demise was a very big loss to Sarawak.
“He is the last remaining signatory for the Formation of Malaysia Agreement.
He has contributed tremendously to the development and politics of Sarawak and he will always be remembered as a true son of Sarawak.
Sarawak National Party (SNAP) secretary-general Stanley Edmund Jugol said SNAP members will always see him as man of honour, man of principal with high integrity.
“He always gave his best in fighting for causes he believed in. He has been detained by ISA once, for two years from March 1974 to 1976 due to his persistence in fighting and for what he believed in.
“He was a deputy leader in the Malaysia Goodwill Mission to Africa — to gain Afro-Asia support for the new Federation of Malaysia — and a member of Malaysia’s delegation to the 1st Session of the UN General Assembly,” Jugol said.
Jugol said the late Wong should be commended for his book on formation of Malaysia.
“He encouraged youths to read the book as it contains valuable information and insights on the formative years of our country,” said Jugol.
State DAP secretary Chong Chieng Jen described the late Wong as a true statesman.
The Bandar Kuching MP and Kota Sentosa assemblyman noted that under the leadership of Wong, SNAP was once the strongest political party in the state.
“During his days, SNAP was the strongest party in Sarawak. His political struggles and sacrifices for the rights and welfare of Sarawakians are exemplary for generations of politicians to come,” he said through SMS.