Some people may talk about referendum; a few of them may carry posters and banners to catch attention or hold small gatherings to mark some occasions, but they do not represent the general populous, who remain steadfast with their decision to stay as a founding member of Malaysia.
Generally, the people, after more than half a century of Independence, are more convinced that their decision to be part of the new Federation of Malaysia in 1963 was a wise one. From the backwater of forests, with GDP too ashamed to mention, with per capita too poor to mention, the GDP and the per capita have multiplied by leaps and bounds. From a backwater of the 60s, Sarawak is on the verge of industrialization today.
After more than 50 years, the Malaysia Agreement (MA63), by which Sarawak agreed to become the founding member of the new Federation in 1963, has not been followed 100%. Instead, the Federal Government has taken over some of the autonomous powers and responsibilities, which the State wants back.
The fifth Chief Minister, the late Datuk Patinggi Adenan Haji Satem, during his tenure of office, repeatedly said not that the people of Sarawak don’t agree with the Federation, no. Sarawak will stay in the Federation forever but wants more of its autonomous power back because they, with a good knowledge of their own situation and environment, can enforce them better than the Federal Government.
He was of the view that Sarawak relationship with the Federal Government was unique and it must be constitutionally correct as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963. Essentially, the relationship must be conducted in a constitutionally way, clearly defined rights and privileges, knowing the boundaries where State and the Federal powers are. This must be conducted correctly.
The operative word is Sarawak was an equal partner of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore and Sabah in the formation of Malaysia. For this very reason, the State has and will continue to safeguard its rights and autonomy.
Sarawak did not join Malaysia because at that time there was no Malaysia to join. Malaysia came into being as a result of an agreement between the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak and the British Government as the Colonial power.
It is widely understood the issue pertaining to Sarawak’s autonomy within the Federation of Malaya and how Sarawak’s constitutional rights should be safeguarded must be fully understood by the people.
For example, the new generations, being flooded with lots of information in particular, must know that the people, comprising their parents and grandparents, made three critical or landmark decisions prior to Independence in 1963.
The first decision one was that the people were no longer content to be subject people or they were no longer content to be a colony in the British Empire. They wanted the country back and wanted to rule ourselves.
Then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Harold Macmillan made a decision that England would withdraw from the East of Suez. They were prepared to give up their colonies East of Suez. Everybody knew that was the decline of and coming to the end of the British Empire.
They could not resist any longer the forces of Nationalism and the forces of Change. After India gained Independence in 1947, the British more or less lost the jewels in the crown. That was a clear signal for them to withdraw; they were prepared to leave but how to leave smoothly.
So Great Britain granted Internal Self-Government to Sarawak on July 22, 1963. Then the people, comprising about 30 ethnic groups with diverse religious beliefs and customs and traditions became sovereign people.
The actual day was marked with swearing of the members of the first post – Independent State Cabinet, who comprised Stephen Kalong Ningkan, as the Chief Minister, James Wong Kim Min, Teo Kui Seng, Pengiran Hipni Awang Anu, Abdul Taib bin Mahmud, Dunstan Endawie Enchana and three ex- officio – Shaw, Pike and Hayward.
Later, during a meeting chaired by Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the members agreed that Sarawak should be a party to the formation of Malaysia and that Malaysia should come into being on August 31, 1963.
The second decision made by the people through the Lord Cobbold Commission of Inquiry was deciding in favor of the formation of a bigger Federation called Malaysia. Hence, Sarawak was a party to the formation of Malaysia by virtue of Malaysia Agreement 63 signed in Lancaster House in London by Harold MacMillan for England, Tunku Abdul Rahman for Malaya, Lee Kwan Yew for Singapore, Donald Stephen/Mustapha Harun for North Borneo (Sabah) and Abang Openg, Ling Beng Siew, Jugah anak Barieng and Datu Bandar Abang Haji Mustapha for Sarawak.
The third landmark decision was, though the people supported the formation of Malaysia, they must have special consideration over their rights and privileges over and above those states in the Federation of Malaya. Those were acceded to.
Then the demographic pattern was about 80% rural and 20% urban. The people in rural areas, some in remote and inaccessible areas, were looking forward for the operations boot straps in Malaya to be extended to Sarawak to release them from the clutches of poverty and generally improve their standard of living.
The operations boot straps were symbolized more by rural development programs, which were being spearheaded by the late Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein, then the former Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development, who was a driving force in implementing the rural development programs for the benefits of the Rakyat.
Now after more than 50 years, the people are even more convinced that the decision to become part of Malaysia has been a good and wise one. From the backwater of forests, the GDP and the per capita income have multiplied by leaps and bounds. The State in 1963 was in the backwater of development and now it is in the mainstream and on the verge of industrialization.
In 1963, Sarawak was under the threat of communist resurrection and it had hostile neighbors. It was defenseless and could not afford to be on its own in those circumstances. Malaysia was the only option open to it to preserve peace, security and racial balance.
The majority of the people, the Natives in Sarawak and Sabah in particular, were convinced that the formation of Malaysia was a natural solution in the search for Independence and the political entity that could be strong enough to look after their security and safety. They were convinced that the Independence of Malaya in August 1957 was a good model of an evolution to become independent.
Sarawak had the first three –tier elections to elect representatives at district, divisional and State levels before July 1963. The people elected the first batch of leaders to form the first cabinet in the internal self- government.
The consensus among all the Native leaders was to have an Iban leader, in the person of Stephen Kalong Ningkan to lead the internal self- government. Admittedly, it was not a very successful experiment but it gave the people a rallying point to have Sarawak’s internal self- government from July 22, 1963 to September 16 that prepared Sarawak to become a founding member of the new Federation of Malaysia.
The State cabinet, with the help of the British Colonial officers, administered Sarawak, more or less as an Independent Government, from July 22, 1963 to September 16, 1963. It got the support of Britain on things that involved international relations.
Undoubtedly, Sarawak has been benefitting a lot by remaining a founding member of the Federation, which should be attributable to good policies for development right from the beginning of Independent plus development. Clearly, the successive governments believed that there was no such thing as Independence without development.
The leaders knew how to build the nation through successive comprehensive development programs. The same kind of the leadership was extended to Sarawak and to Sabah to make people calm right from the very beginning.
Sarawak, with Kuching as the centre of the celebration, celebrated the centenary of the Brookes’ rule on September 1941, just three months before it surrendered to the conquering Japanese Army after a short war.
Always with that in mind, the people of Sarawak had been entrusted in due course to govern themselves and that continuous efforts would be made to hasten the pace of this goal by educating them on the functions and responsibilities and privileges of self government.
The Brookes family declared for the last 100 years they had been holding Sarawak in thrust for the people, who would eventually rule themselves. That was the meaning of the cardinal principal.
Unfortunately, it never came into being. Sarawak, for next three and half years was under the military rule of the Japanese, which brought about scarcity, extreme hardship and suffering to the people, who were rendered miserable.
When Sarawak was liberated by the Commonwealth forces at the end of Second World War, the people began hoping that the Brookes’ promise of eventual self -rule would be fulfilled. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
The Brookes family retracted to the promise of what they would undertake to do. Instead they agreed to cede Sarawak as the British colony in 1946. The decision brought many political differences and controversies to the local people. So for 17 years from 1946 to 1963, Sarawak was a British colony.
But with the British Government’s decision to withdraw their representatives from East of Suez from 1957, the Governor of Sarawak then Sir Anthony Abell was instructed to initiate the proceeding for the self-government.
In the meantime, YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman then the Prime Minister of Malaya made a proposal during a luncheon of Foreign Correspondents’ club in Singapore that there was a good reason for the coming together of Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah), Brunei, Sarawak and Malaya to form a new Federation. .
The wishes of the people of would be assessed by the Cobbold Commission through a plebiscite. The constitution had to be amended to enable Sarawak to become a self-governing State, which means the people could rule themselves.
Admittedly, there were some reservations towards the Malaysia proposal. For example, a prominent Kenyah leader expressed some reservation about it as he was worried that Sarawak could not look after itself. The British Colonial Government ought to stay for some time to help Sarawak to walk properly to towards nationhood.
Of course, the elements of underground Communists’ movement, who had infiltrated a political party with different ambition, opposed it. They opposed the formation of Malaysia as they believed it would thwart their ambition to form a communist government. When Malaysia finally came into being, they went underground.
Indisputably, Sarawak, as a founding member of a striving Malaysia, is emerging to become a successful state due to elements of similarities, good administration and lots of common political backgrounds being offered by the country.
Generally, the people are more convinced that Sarawak has truly been lucky as a State in Malaysia in the sense that it has no fear of being bullied around by adverse international events. The State has been able to follow the growth of ASEAN, which is the feature for the whole region