By Abdul Rahmat Omar
IN 1961, the Pathet Lao guerrillas, supported by both the Soviet Union and China, descended upon Luang Prabang in northern Laos.
“Manila had begun to to make a cartographic claim based on some vague historical background,” wrote Ghazali Shafie in his memoir, “(and) the Communist Clandestine Organisation (CCO) in Sarawak with assistance from abroad had begun to show its fangs and claws. Whitehall would never do anything very positive for the people and that colonial territory could not be defended by armed means in the post-World War II period of anti-colonialism.”
The above situations became the catalysts for the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
Thirteen years earlier while on their way to Pekan from Kuala Lipis for the proclamation of the formation of the end of the Malayan Union, Ghazali who was the Deputy Assistant District Officer, asked Ong Siong Teck, the Justice of Peace for Kuala Lipis, if the Chinese would support the Malays in an endeavour to dislodge all British Advisors from all the states of Malaya.
Mr Ong Siong Teck replied, “We Chinese had always been independent. Of course, but we must be given a place.”
Back then, Malaya was just a place for the Chinese migrants to work for money that would be sent home to China – the country the British had encouraged them to remember as their home during the interwar years.
After the war, tens of thousands of Chinese migrants were forced to go back to China by the British, but this was stopped when the Communists under Mao Tse Tung, defeated the Kuomintang.
This gave birth to the concept of inclusivity in the independent Federation of Malaya. The concept of the Federation of Malaysia, albeit a bit more complex, was based on this concept of inclusivity.
During the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association of Asia (CPA) meeting in Singapore on July 23 1961, a conference resolution to establish a Malaysia Consultative Committee led by North Borneo’s Donald Stephens and Sarawak United People’s Party’s Yeo Cheng Hoe. Both would become members of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee and hasten the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
The Committee agreed that its aims and objectives should be to collect and collate views and opinions concerning the creation of Malaysia; to disseminate information on the question of Malaysia; to initiate and encourage discussions on Malaysia; and to foster activities that would promote and expedite the realisation of Malaysia.
While Donald Stephens chaired the meeting, North Borneo was represented by Datu Mustapha, Singapore by S Rajaratnam, and Sarawak by Yeo Cheng Hoe. All of them agreed with the grand plan.
In North Borneo, the main opposition to the formation of Malaysia came from the Chinese community.
The Kadazans, represented by the United Kadazan National Organisation (UKNO) had already expressed its support for the formation of Malaysia as the rights of the “sons of the soil” would be protected under the proposed Federal Constitution, as the then Constitution of Malaya had protected the rights of the Malays.
The British colonials had kept the powers of the natives of North Borneo in check by separating and sowing seeds of distrust between the Kadazandusuns and the Suluks of the east.
UKNO was split into three factions – one following Donald Stephens, another with Abdul Ghani Gilong, while another followed Orang Kaya-Kaya GS Sundang.
Even Datu Mustapha who was a Suluk-Bajau Bannaran from Kudat was offered two million dollars by the Chinese community to stall the formation of Malaysia.
They were left with no choice but to unite in order for the Chinese to capitulate, a task proved difficult with the British policy of divide et impera to keep these two communities apart.
On October 9 1961, both Stephens and Mustapha with a delegation of 30 had dinner in Kuala Lumpur with Tunku Abdul Rahman at Federal Hotel.
It was during the speeches after the dinner that a tearful Stephens and Mustapha declared that they would push aside their political rivalry to become blood-brothers in order for North Borneo to become independent from British colonialism under the Federation of Malaysia.
Three days before the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia, Ghani Gilong recalled that particular trip in an interview with Free Malaysia Today (Pengalaman Lucu Pertama Kali Ke KL, Jurle Sagayong, 13th September 2013).
“We rode on a vehicle that came with a driver. For some members of my delegation, that’s the first time they enjoyed tap water (running water) and flushing toilets.”
“We were taken to several places and villages that have received development such as roads and so on. When I went back to Sabah I campaigned in support of the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia by telling my friends about the existing development in the then Malaya.”
Ghani said that one funny scene was when there were members of his entourage who slept on the floor in their hotel room and not on their comfortable beds.
“When I saw, they told me they thought it was a bed especially for the ‘master’, as if only the white people could sleep on the bed while the local people sleep on the floor.”
“I told them that that was their bed and to sleep on it.”
It is under the Federation of Malaysia that the people of Sabah became the Masters of their destiny, as do other Malaysians from other states.
Sadly, along the way the Sabahans were left out of the overall development of Malaysia for 22 years, a whole generation subjugated by a leader whom had worked against the spirit of Malaysia.
The present government is seen to do its utmost to correct that injustice by giving more towards the development of Sabah.
Slowly but surely, we will see this come to fruition, and the injustice of 22 years will slowly come undone.