It was like a breath of fresh air to see Sarawak remind the country that 56 years ago, our pioneers brought together two regional entities straddling the South China Sea at a great cost.

Carried live on national TV from Kuching, the Malaysia Day celebration was a colourful show on the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963.

The Malaysian story cannot ignore the fact that independence was initiated by our founding fathers from across the South China Sea — the likes of Kedah’s Tunku Abdul Rahman Al Haj, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Johore’s Onn Jaafar, Malacca’s Tan Siew Sin and VT Sambanthan from Perak.

It started with Merdeka Day on Aug 31, 1957 when Tunku Abdul Rahman dreamed of a greater Malaya comprising neighbours with a common interest.

Despite the communist threat, he felt it was prudent to bring together the British colonies of Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak together, and two years later in 1961, he mooted the idea of a federation called ‘Malaysia’.

Malaysia was born at a time of uncertainty. Brunei had survived a December 1962 rebellion supported by the North Kalimantan Communist Party and decided to stay out of the federation and rely on British protection. Singapore later followed suit.

But Sabah and Sarawak decided to stay. In Sabah, a Suluk-Bajau leader Datuk Mustapha Harun and British-Kadazan Eurasian Donald Stephens led the way. Mustapha became Sabah’s first Governor while Stephens, its first chief minister.

Sarawak also had a wide array of seasoned politicians to guide the people — Abdul Rahman Yakub, Abdul Taib Mahmud, Tuanku Bujang, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Dunstan Endawie Enchana, James Wong Kin Min and Temenggong Jugah Barieng.

Others were Dominic Dagok Randan, Temenggong Oyong Lawai Jau, Racha Umong, Tajang Laing, Datuk Bandar Abang Mustapha and Datuk Abang Openg Sapiee.

Abang Openg was declared the first local Governor of Sarawak replacing Sir Alexander Waddell, who was Sarawak’s fourth and last colonial Head of State.

Interestingly, Sarawak’s first local political party SUPP, formed on June 4, 1959 under its founding president Ong Kee Hui, opposed the formation of Malaysia.

Despite this, the Communist-influenced party did well in the June 1963 local district elections but was left one-seat-short of a majority to form the government.

On July 22, Sarawak nominated its first cabinet comprising Ningkan, Teo Kui Seng, James Wong, Endawie, Taib and Awang Hipni Pengiran Anu.

In June 1965, following an attack on the Siburan police station in which Chief Minister Ningkan’s brother Simon was killed, Operation Hammer was launched, forcing 10,000 pro-communist men, women and children under daily curfew from 6pm till 6am.

Four years after the tragic May 13 racial riots of 1969, Ong Kee Hui and SUPP secretary-general Stephen Yong Kuet Tze decided to join the Barisan Nasional coalition.

None of this was mentioned at the Malaysia Day celebration in Kuching because it has been a long and arduous journey.

Just after 9pm on Sept 16, 2019, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and several members of the federal cabinet waited eagerly for the celebration to unfold.

Together with the visitors at Stadium Perpaduan were GPS cabinet members as well as key members of the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Yes, the focus was on two pioneers — challenges faced by Dr Mahathir and his Sarawak counterpart Taib to transform the country into a developed one.

The story was told in the dances — the gyrating movements of veteran singer M Daud Kilau, a performer dressed as an astronaut, a Proton Saga and the ‘Malaysia Bersih’ slogan.

But it could have added to the glamorous occasion had Sarawak introduced a ‘lemambang’ bard chanting Iban poetry chronicling the Malaysian journey.

One of the film footages showed a picture of Ningkan reading the Malaysia Day Sarawak proclamation on Sept 16, 1963, sadly without a caption.

On that day, Ningkan declared:

“Whereas one of the nine cardinal principles of the Rule of the English Rajahs was that the goal of self-government shall always be kept in mind and that the people of Sarawak shall be entrusted in due course with the governance of Sarawak.”

This was the punch line which would have impacted the federal government and some forgetful leaders to be reminded that a pledge had been made more than 50 years ago to free them from the shackles of colonialism.

But, as an afterthought, are we now a free people?

Dr Mahathir’s Malaysia Day ‘shared prosperity’ message was loud and clear — East Malaysia will be restored equal status as partners in the federation, as provided for in the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

Speaking off the cuff, he said, “We want this shared prosperity to be passed on to all citizens … eliminating the income and wealth gap between the people … ”

Indeed, the path is clear for sharing of the country’s wealth and prosperity in the name and spirit of a ‘New Malaysia’.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.