Thursday, June 27

The Tunku beat them all!


AU REVOIR: The last Governor Sir Alexander Waddell bids farewell to Tun Abang Openg Abang Sapiee, who would become Sarawak’s first Yang di-Pertua Negeri on Sept 16, 1963.

TOMORROW is the day – the Golden Anniversary of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia of which Sarawak is a vital component – as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

Down with rhetoric, let me wish everybody Selamat Hari Malaysia.

Enjoy the parades, the exhibitions, the dinners and the fireworks, but please spare a thought for the members of the community who are not as fortunate as you are.

At the exhibitions, look at the photographs taken of events and of important personalities who have contributed to the success of the Malaysia Plan and see what or who is missing. Read the texts describing the happenings of the past 50 years and ponder what should have been included in the showcase. Enjoy the fireworks while they last, count the amount of money that goes into smoke in seconds and think of the mounting national debt!

All the same, celebrate and be happy.

As Malaysia is a fait accompli, it is our duty to sustain it and make the dream of the founders come true – a happy Malaysia in which peoples of different and diverse backgrounds continue to live in peace and harmony for as long as possible.

And look forward to the next celebrations, those of its centenary, if you can wait that long.

During those dinners, talk about what could have happened to Sarawak had Malaysia not been formed, instead of fiddling endlessly with smart phones, sending messages and photos to friends while the food is getting cold. Converse with the other guests at the same table or circulate and shake everybody’s hands like politicians do. Do all the texting and the Skyping later at home.

Spend some time reading about what it was that had been planned for us in Sarawak, North Borneo, Brunei, Malaya and Singapore before the then Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, broached the subject of a merger between these countries in 1961.

That’s a less familiar subject, but of tremendous interest to the History buffs and possibly to teachers now that History will be made a compulsory subject in school. There are people who are just curious to know what sort of political game that the colonial rulers were playing before the formation of Malaysia.

Indeed, there were talks, mainly private, among the Brits and some Asian leaders, about some form of union between Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei with the other British Territories on the peninsula.

As early as 1887, Lord Brassey, director of the North Borneo Charted Company which ruled what is now Sabah, had proposed “a scheme by which the British Government should amalgamate its Protectorates in Borneo and Malaya with the Straits Settlements into one large colony”. He also proposed that the government buy his company, or else sell it to the Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Brooke.

Charles was willing to raise up to 500,000 pounds sterling only, no more. But the majority of directors voted down the proposal and Lord Brassey resigned his directorship. Just think – if Brassey had been successful Sabah would now be part and parcel of Sarawak like Lawas!

Then after the Pacific War, the vice-president of the Progressive Party of Singapore, Thio Chan Bee, opposing a potential merger between Singapore and Malaya, proposed instead a Confederation of Singapore, Malaya and the Borneo territories. Thio saw a larger grouping as an important common market in this region.

After the Malayan independence in 1957, there was talk about expanding Malaya to include the Borneo Territories if the merger with Singapore was inevitable. The Borneo states, it appears, had already acquired the status of ‘fixed deposits’ or become vital chips in the strategy by which the Malayan politicians contained the ‘Singapore Problem’.

In the meantime, back in Borneo itself, at a meeting held in Kuching in April 1953, the idea of a federation of the Borneo Territories was on the agenda. Presided over by Commissioner-General, Malcolm MacDonald, the meeting was attended by the Sultan of Brunei, Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin; the Governor of North Borneo, Ralph Hone; and the Governor of Sarawak, Anthony Abell.

Years later, I asked Tan Sri Ong Kee where the venue of the meeting was. He mumbled something that sounded like Talang-Talang. He was invited to that meeting but did not tell me if he went to the turtle islands at all.

Among my friends in Sarawak were Peter Ratcliffe, director of Radio Sarawak, and Austin Coates, District Officer, Kuching. After several glasses of BGA (Brandy and Ginger Ale), they told me what was supposed to be a secret – HE the Governor was all for the federation of the Borneo States, but the Sultan of Brunei was not interested in the project.

A discerning reader would have spotted by now that this meeting was not about granting full independence to the Territories, but to merge them into an enlarged colony along similar lines to what had been suggested by Lord Brassey 57 years before the Japanese War.

It would be a confederation with the Governor General as its Head and each of the components would have a Lieutenant Governor.

Why do you think that Brunei was not on board? Imagine Brunei without an executive Sultan! The scheme would have been similar to the Malayan Union proposed by MacMichael in 1946, and the Malays in Malaya opposed it. It would have meant the end of the Sultanates.

All the other proposals for a merger of the British Territories in Borneo fizzled out for lack of support of the people in those territories. Thio’s suggestion for a merger of all the British Territories in Southeast Asia was not seriously followed up. Any one of these proposals could have materialised into some form of a union, if the British had pushed hard.

But they didn’t.

As it happened, only the Plan mentioned by the Tunku in Singapore during a luncheon of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on May 27, 1961 caught the imagination of many people. Even then, as the Cobbold Commission found out, only one third of the number of people Sarawak accepted the scheme. The rest were either opposed to it, didn’t know what it was all about anyway, or preferred to sit on the fence, waiting to see where the wind blew.

Today, we know where the wind has blown – it’s history. Tomorrow is part of that history.

Quo vadis, Malaysia?

Not being a seer myself, I can only quote Steven Runciman, “History cannot explain the future for us, but it can help explain the present.”

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