Viewpoint: Sarawak And The Federation - By Professor Michael Leigh

Pesaka leader Temenggong Oyong Lawau Jan, Chief Minister of Sarawak Datuk Stephen Kalong NIngkan and Minister of Sarawak Affairs Datuk Temenggong Jugah clasp hands in sibu to affirm their solidarity within the Sarawak Alliance

Once the Sarawak Alliance had secured a clear majority of seats in the Council Negri, the next questions were who would form the cabinet, who would be the chief minister and who the governor.

Each of the successful parties had their own idea as to who should lead, as did the colonial authorities and the Malayan Alliance leaders.

Abdul Rahman Yakub was amongst those Barisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak (BARJASA) members favoured by Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Ghazali Shafie.

However, electoral law had required candidates to stand in the council districts in which they resided.

In and around Kuching the more highly educated BARJASA leaders, including Rahman Yakub, had been soundly defeated at district level by Parti Negara Sarawak (Panas) and Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) candidates, so they could not become elected members of Council Negri.

British officials put forward the idea that, after the election, there should be a broad coalition of all parties, and that inclusion of moderate SUPP leaders in government would undermine the hard left of that party.

Malayan and Sarawak Alliance leaders immediately dismissed that idea, insisting that the Sarawak Alliance had won, had defeated both Panas and SUPP, and that the Alliance would govern and would not compromise their principles by any dealings with Panas/SUPP.

The ruling Sarawak Alliance Government had 23 elected members in the new Council Negri: Pesaka had 11 elected members, SNAP 6, BARJASA 5 and SCA 1.

Three new faces were then nominated to the Council Negri, the most notable being a bright young lawyer, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Three expatriate officers remained ex-officio members of the legislature: the State Secretary, the State Financial Secretary and the Attorney-General. After lengthy discussions Sarawak Alliance members agreed that SNAP leader Stephen Kalong Ningkan would be the state’s first chief minister, and Pesaka leader Temenggong Jugah to be the first Governor of Sarawak.

Both those choices upset the top leadership of the Malayan Alliance who believed that a chief minister should be chosen after consultation with the leader of the Alliance, as was the practice in the peninsula.

Tunku was angry that his advice was not taken, and the decision announced on July 22 before he could “talk sense to Sarawak Alliance”.

KL leaders thought Ningkan was an unsuitable choice for chief minister “now we are in control”, to quote Malayan minister and former Special Branch head, Senator Khaw Kai Boh. In Sarawak, the British governor refused to delay the swearing-in, even by a day, offering his immediate recall if overruled by London.

After that rebuff, Tunku made clear that there was no way he would agree to Temenggong Jugah becoming governor. The London agreement stipulated that the first Sarawak governor would be nominated jointly by the Malayan Agung and British Queen, so Tunku had veto power over who would fill that position.

In the correspondence that ricocheted between Kuching, London and Kuala Lumpur, Tunku was quite disparaging toward Temenggong Jugah, suggesting instead that he be appointed to head some newly-created “Council of Chiefs”.

The British shot back that Dayak support was vital to the formation and success of Malaysia. It was Dayaks who populated the border regions subject to Indonesian attacks. With the imminent arrival of the United Nations secretary-general’s mission to assess whether the local population had voted in favour of federation, Dayaks could not be seen to withdraw their support for Malaysia, as the Temenggong had suggested in an angry outburst, hearing of his rejection.

Should Temenggong Jugah’s lack of formal education be the issue, the British governor suggested the names of three other Ibans: Edward Jerah, John Nicol and Edward Brandah. However, Razak responded with the observation that if you were worried about security, “Malays were a greater risk, being more open to exploitation by Indonesians”.

In early September, Tunku wrote that the first governor would be either Datu Abang Openg Abang Sapiee (recommended by the Malay National Union) or Mohamed Noah Omar from Johor, who was a founder of Umno and Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat.

Tunku was absolutely insistent that the positions of governor and chief minister could not be held by someone of the same race — that if a Dayak held one position, a Malay must hold the other, and that Chinese were already represented in government by Deputy Chief Minister James Wong. Years later, Tunku held to that position, cabling Rahman Yakub in 1970, stating that it was best that he not try to become chief minister, as a Malay should not hold both top positions.

Regional tension between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaya steadily rose as the formation of Malaysia came closer and closer to reality. On July 31, 1963, President Sukarno, President Macapagal Arroyo and Tunku had a quite difficult meeting that did nothing to resolve the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, but did address Indonesian concerns on de-colonisation. Professor George Kahin travelled from Jakarta with the Indonesian president. According to Kahin, Sukarno wanted Tunku to acknowledge Indonesian concerns and accord him respect. For the Tunku, and his British advisers, that was the last thing they would do.

Jakarta and Manila argued strongly for a referendum to determine the wishes of the populace, which would have delayed or derailed the formation of Malaysia, a proposal that Kuala Lumpur opposed. The final compromise was expressed in clause 10 of the Manila accord that stated:

The Ministers reaffirmed their countries’ adherence to the principle of self-determination for the peoples of non-self-governing territories. In this context, Indonesia and the Philippines stated that they would welcome the formation of Malaysia provided the support of the people of the Borneo territories is ascertained by an independent and impartial authority, the Secretary-General of the United Nations or his representative.

Thus the plan to form Malaysia on Aug 31, 1963, was delayed for only a couple of weeks. A rushed mission toured Sabah and Sarawak. The UN secretary-general then concluded that the 1963 elections in Sabah and Sarawak had indicated majority support for Malaysia. The new nation was born on Sept 16, 1963.

About the Author: Professor Michael Leigh was appointed Professor of Contemporary Asia and Director of the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne (2004-6) and is now director of the Aceh Research Training Institute (2007-9). He is the immediate Past-President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. His previous positions include director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at University Malaysia Sarawak 1997-2003, head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Sydney 1989-1991 and Director of the International College Penang 1992-6. He has published articles and monographs on elections in Malaysia and Indonesia. His most recent publication is Transformations in Eastern Malaysia University of New England Asia Centre, 2007.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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