‘Even in ’63, we were Umno’s fixed deposits’
The federation of Malaya’s reason for wanting Sarawak to join them in 1963 was because the Chinese and the “other non-Malays” outnumbered the 4.8 million Malays in the peninsular.
He said the Chinese, Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP) and the non-Muslim community’s opposition to the agreement was largely based on three arguments.
“Firstly they wanted Sarawak to attain independence first. Secondly they felt that the people of Sarawak were still politically “too immature” to make a proper contribution to the proposed federation, and thirdly there was a fear that eventually the federation would result in the domination by Malays as had happened during the Brunei domination in the past,” he said.
He added however that after the initial opposition, most political parties in Sabah and Sarawak changed their positions and supported the proposal.
“They decided to go with the agreement after realising that neither Sabah, then known as neither North Borneo. nor Sarawak could stand on its own especially in light of prevailing communist and Indonesian threats,” he said.
He added that apart from providing protection against those threats, the formation of Malaysia was also seen as a positive step for economic development.
“The people saw how development progress had been carried out in Malaya and wanted the same to be brought over to the two states.
“We also bargained hard to ensure that our interests would be protected. Sadly, what was eventually agreed upon and subsequently enshrined in the constitution of Malaysia had often been ignored by the Barisan Nasional governments.
“I wish to highlight three issues namely immigration, religion and the position of the indigenous people,” he told a forum themed, ‘We Must Know’, held here in conjunction with Sarawak’s 50th Independence Day today.
Sarawak was an independent nation for 56 days before it went on to sign the Malaysia Agreement in 1963.
Loss of religious freedom
According to Nuek both Sabah and Sarawak had fought hard to retain controld of immigration.
“But sadly, when it suits its purpose the Federal Government would have no hesitation to act as if no such agreement and constitutional provision existed. Look at Sabah where tens of thousands of foreigners had been given Malaysian identity cards and hence allowed to stay in Sabah,” he said.
Nuek said: “On the question of religion the negotiating teams agreed to adopt Article 3(1) of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya which states that ‘Islam is the religion of the federation, but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation.’
“It is also interesting to note that the Malaysian Solidarity committee in its memorandum dated Feb 3, 1962 states ‘it is satisfied that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of the Federation would not endanger religious freedom within Malaysia nor will it make Malaysia a state less secular.’
“But where are we now? Can we say that we can practise our religion in peace and harmony when the government even disallowed non-Muslims to use the word ‘Allah’, detained the importation of bibles and allowed religious fanatics who desecrated and burnt places of worship go unpunished?” he asked.
Nuek also gave his views on why the government of the United Kingdom and the government of the federation of Malaya were so keen on forming Malaysia.
“Each had its own reasons. For the UK, the main reason was to speed the decolonisation process in Sarawak and North Borneo (now Sabah).
“It should be realised that at that time the UK and other colonial powers were under increasing pressure particularly from the Third World and the Eastern Block to speed up their decolonisation process.
“For the UK in particular the Labour Government had committed itself to its policy to pull out from East of Suez with the exception of Hong Kong, the gateway to China. Britain regarded Sarawak as just a financial burden to the UK.
“Sarawak had at that time a total revenue of RM67 million. In view of this, the formation of Malaysia would provide a very convenient way for the UK to get rid of Sarawak and North Borneo from her control,” Nuek said.
Malays outnumbered in peninsular
He said that for the federation of Malaya, their reason for wanting Sarawak was two-fold:
- to improve the racial balance between the Malays and Chinese in favour of the former, and
- to help check the threat of communism.
“It should be noted that in 1963 the total number of Chinese and other non-Malays in Malaya and Singapore together outnumbered the Malays. There were 4.8 million Malays, while the Chinese and other non-Malays constituted 5.4 million.
“The Malays, therefore, felt that the inclusion of the indigenous peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak would help improve the racial balance in their favour. In view of this, we can say in the current terminology that we were ‘fixed deposit’ for Umno even then,” he said.