Thursday, September 16, 2010

Burning issues left over from British rule

COMMENT For the first time in 47 years since the new Federation of Malaysia came into being on Sept 16, 1963; Malaysia Day is being officially celebrated today as a national public holiday.

This is 47 years too late say critics. Others like Sabah opposition strongman Jeffrey Gapari Kitingan say “better late than never”.

Jeffrey has been waging a long and lonely battle to get recognition for Malaysia Day. As recently as last year, police stormed a Malaysia Day function within the compound of a house in Kota Kinabalu. Jeffrey was scheduled to speak at the function. They ordered the assembled crowd to disperse but left Jeffrey, an ex-Internal Security Act detainee, alone after advising him “not to create trouble”.

Malaysia Day was a taboo subject until Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in a belated recognition, declared late last year that Sept 16 would henceforth be a national public holiday from this year.

But it’s by no means clear that the official line on Malaysia has changed. This year, according to Putrajaya, the country celebrated 53 years of independence. Peninsular Malaysia, formerly British Malaya, became independent on Aug 31, 1957.

Sabah and Sarawak never tire of pointing out that they became independent much later on Aug 31,1963 and, therefore, independence for them means 47 years this year.

Not so, point out official historians in Putrajaya and cite the United States of America as an example. The US became independent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on July 4, 1776 with just 13 colonies along the eastern seaboard of the North American continent. Although the great majority of the 52-odd states joined the US much later at various dates, 1776 is still held to be the year of independence for the US.

Sabahans and Sarawakians beg to differ and argue that there’s no basis for comparison between the US and Malaysia.

The US, stress Sabahans and Sarawakians, did not change its name or its Constitution.

In the case of Malaysia, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak came together on 16 Sept 1963 as equal partners to form a new Federation known as Malaysia. Malaysia, it is further pointed out, is not a name change for Malaya and the admission of new territories to the existing Federation of 1957.

Patently, Putrajaya is not an accurate rendition of the nation’s history but this is hardly surprising if we glance at the books used in schools these days.

The history of the country is being completely re-written with a heavy political slant, the colonial British depicted as villains; former villains, thieves and murderers hailed as freedom fighters; the contributions of many non-Malay personalities blotted out, the harsh Japanese occupation glossed over and the role of the communist movement in the struggle against Japanese occupation and for freedom denied.

There are two aspects to the story of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia.

Firstly, the United Nations Referendum of 1963 discovered that only a third of the people in both territories favoured the idea of Malaysia. These were mostly the local Muslim minorities who perhaps felt more secure in the new Federation. This was especially so when Kuala Lumpur leaders indicated to the local Muslims that they would be the rulers and proxies for the Federal Government.

Today, the local Muslims have cause for regret in Sabah where the influx of illegal immigrants entering the electoral rolls with MyKads via the backdoor have effectively disenfranchised them and robbed them of many opportunities made available by the government under the Federal Constitution to Natives.

Despite the other Natives and the Chinese overwhelmingly voting against Malaysia, the British and the Malayan Government pushed ahead with the idea of Malaysia.

The other Natives wanted a period of independence and further details and clarification on Malaysia before considering the idea of the new Federation. Many of them were keener on a Federation of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei but the 1962 Azahari Rebellion in Bandar Seri Begawan killed the Sultanate’s interest in both Malaysia and a North Borneo Federation.

The commercially-minded Chinese were mainly against Malaysia, both in Sabah and Sarawak.

Many independent historians today liken the march of Malayan troops into Sabah and Sarawak on Sept 16, 1963 as equivalent to Indonesian troops invading East Timor as the colonial Portuguese pulled out.

Twenty-seven years later, the UN Security Council kicked out Indonesia from East Timor, now known as Timor Leste. They predict that the same thing will happen to the occupation of Sabah and Sarawak by Malaya. Malaysia was among the few nations in the world to vote against the idea of Indonesia getting the boot in East Timor, and for obvious reasons. At the same time, Malaysia recognized Kosovo when the Muslim-majority province unilaterally pulled out from Serbia.

The other aspect of the story of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia is that both territories are not equal partners with Malaya as initially envisaged – Singapore was booted out in 1965 – but virtually colonies of Peninsular Malaysia. This was something that was feared in 1963 by the people of Sabah and Sarawak. Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman gave numerous assurances in public that there won’t be any recolonization of the Borneo territories by Malaya in the wake of the British departure.

The “colonies of Malaya” theory has credence for a number of reasons.

For starters, the non-Muslim majority in both states are hindered from occupying the Chief Minister’s post and denied the opportunity to be Governors.

Elsewhere, Petronas and its numerous subsidiaries worldwide doesn’t have even a single person from Sabah or Sarawak on their governing boards; there has been no Borneonisation of the Federal Civil Service in the two states; and the Federal Government is not being shared equally with Sabah and Sarawak by Malaya.

Jeffrey, meanwhile, is flogging a long list of issues viz. Malaysia Agreement 1963; 20 Points; Sabah Rights; autonomy; equal rights; equal share of the Federal Government; Borneonisation; the meaning of Federation in the Malaysian Constitution; and that Sabah and Sarawak helped form Malaysia and did not join it.

These are burning issues left over from the brief British colonial occupation of Sabah and Sarawak, from after World War 11 to 1963, and needs to be settled by Putrajaya in consultation with the United Nations, the British Government and the governments of Sabah and Sarawak.

* The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysian Mirror and/or its associates.

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