MAY 13 — Malaysia has its origins from the Malay states of the Peninsula, the Straits Settlements and the former British crown colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak. There have however been debates on the actual year of the birth of this nation.
In fact, some Malaysians have also claimed that August 31, 1957 is not the actual independence day of this country. Many of these claims were reported in a number of online media and blogs.
Is Malaysia a reconstruction of Malaya or a completely new nation established in 1963?
The Federation of Malaya
The Federation of Malaya has its roots from the Federated Malay States, Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlements. When British rule was reinstated in Malaya following Japanese defeat at the end of World War II, the British came up with the Malayan Union. The Malayan Union paved the way for a stronger, united Malaya at the expense of the sovereignty of the Malay sultans threatening the position of the Malays as “sons of the soil” by providing flexible Malayan citizenships to the non-Malays.
Due to strong opposition by the Malays, the Malayan Union was short-lived and replaced with the Federation of Malaya in 1948. The nine-year period between 1948 to 1957 was to prepare Malaya towards self-governance and eventually independence. Singapore was not included in the Federation and was made a crown colony. According to Sir Zelman Cowan, an Australian legal scholar, direct British jurisdiction on states within the Federation of Malaya was restricted mainly to external affairs and defence. In other words, self-governance of Malaya gradually began when the Federation of Malaya came into being in 1948.
Malaya had its first election in 1955 with great triumph on the side of Perikatan Alliance. Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first Chief Minister of Malaya and was restyled as the Prime Minister when Malaya became an independent sovereign State in 1957.
The Federation of Malaysia
Malaysia was the brainchild of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who proposed the idea to federate independent and sovereign Malaya with British crown colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore as well as Brunei, a British protectorate. Brunei opted not to join in to form the Federation. Singapore was a strong supporter of the Malaysian Federation as this was the way for it to achieve total independence. Singapore was only granted full internal self-government in 1959. Singapore gained independence within Malaysia and became a separate State in 1965 upon expulsion from the Federation. Meanwhile, the Cobbold Commission was sent to North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak and reported that two-thirds of the population of these two states were in favour of the formation of Malaysia.
Sabah Self-government Day is now celebrated on August 31 while Sarawak’s Self-government Day is on July 22 and both are often referred to as “ndependence Day”. According to “British Documents on the End of Empire” edited by AJ Stockwell, this notion is strictly speaking incorrect, since British legislation on Sabah and Sarawak self-government did not provide for its independence prior to these states joining the Federation of Malaysia.
Therefore, the allegation that Sabah and Sarawak gained independence from the British prior to the establishment of Malaysia in September 16, 1963 is a misapprehension of the nation’s history. Sabah and Sarawak achieved independence within the Malaysian Federation in 1963.
1957 or 1963?
It is a well-accepted historical fact that Malaysia was formed in 1963 when independent Malaya merged with British colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. However, questions may arise as to whether Malaysia really was a new country or a successor State of the Federation of Malaya.
Despite the formation of the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963, Malaysia’s membership to the United Nations (UN) remained on 17 September 1957 — right after the independence of Malaya. The formation of Malaysia did not move the capital of the Federation from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, despite Singapore being a well-known international port and a more developed city with better facilities in comparison to the former at that time. The Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman was restyled as the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Yang DiPertuan Agong remained as the King of Malaysia.
The currency, national anthem and national language of the former Federation of Malaya remained largely intact. In fact, the Federal Constitution of Malaya, ratified on August 27, 1957 was reconstituted as the Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia with some modifications to accommodate the inclusion of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.
Having said this, is Malaysia really a new country formed on September 16, 1963 or a mere reconstitution of the Federation of Malaya that gained independence in 1957?
Even though Malaysia has achieved independence for 59 years, Malaysians are still confused with their own national history and identity. The never-ending debate between 1957 and 1963 may not do good as it may disrupt national harmony. The misapprehension of the so-called independence day of Sabah and Sarawak outside the formation of the Federation may also hurt nation-building.
Be that as it may, Malayans should be thankful to Sabahans and Sarawakians that have sacrificed a lot towards the formation of Malaysia, a stronger, larger nation than the former Malaya. Likewise, Sabahans and Sarawakians should also remember that without the Federation of Malaysia, these two states would not be able to achieve total independence, at least not in 1963.
To promote national unity, we should stop labelling ourselves as Malayans, Sarawakians or Sabahans. This is immaterial as we are all Malaysians. Let us stay united for Malaysia. As long as Malaysians stand strong for the country, the Federation may continue to prosper towards becoming a successful high-income nation in the near future.Dr Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli The Malaymail Opinion What You Think Friday May 13, 2016 06:06 PM GMT+8