Musings about ‘Sarawak Independence Day’

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

Charlotte Bronte, English novelist

In two days, we in Sarawak will be celebrating a special public holiday for the sixth time.

It was in April of 2016, that our then chief minister, the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced his intention to declare July 22 as a public holiday for Sarawak.

He was referring to July 22 in 1963, when Sarawak was granted self-government by Britain.

Many considered this date as Sarawak’s Independence Day because it was on this day that the governor appointed Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan as Sarawak’s first chief minister and the formation of Sarawak’s first ministerial cabinet.

Adenan also stated that the declaration of Sarawak Independence Day was meant to improve its historical awareness among locals and Malaysians.

Subsequently, on May 26 2016, the Chief Minister’s Department announced that there will be an additional public holiday in Sarawak on July 22 to be known as ‘Sarawak Independence Day’ which was in the Sarawak Government Gazette. 

Despite some comments by sceptics, this declaration had in one stroke further elevated and revived the calls for Sarawak’s promised autonomy as a condition of its partnership and participation in the formation of the Malaysian Federation on September 16 1963.

Personally, putting aside the extra public holiday, I do think that the introduction of this public holiday has overall done a great deal of good for Sarawak. 

The significant increase in awareness among Sarawakians about our rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 alone is of great benefit.

This increase in awareness has created a ‘watchdog’ type of awareness among the citizenry here who are ever alert about any further erosion of our rights.

This keeps our elected representatives on their toes as the people are ever ready to highlight any erosion of rights, be it real or perceived.

Individuals via social media also constantly remind our politicians about the reclaiming of our lost rights, aspects of which they were not aware previously.

Some detractors would dispute the term “Independence”. They would point out that it was merely an interim self-government rule status while we waited pliably for 57 days to be absorbed by Malaya on September 16 1963.

After all, Sarawak was a British colony between 1946 and 1963 when the Brooke government ceded Sarawak. Therefore, the cessation of colonial status can be said to be independence.

But then again, there are always people who are ever ready to criticise new initiatives. Whatever the interpretations and arguments, we did achieve de facto independence on July 22 1963.

However, I would still keep blowing the trumpet for the declaration of a ‘Sarawak Day’ on September 24 as I do in my mind rationalise that Sarawak came into existence as a fully-fledged nation on this date.

As I have stated previously in one of my columns, it was on this date in 1841, when Brunei ceded Sarawak to Sir James Brooke. 

Consequently, the rationale is that we should recognise September 24, 1841 as the date when Sarawak took on its own independent identity and thereafter became a separate legal entity and therefore a nation. 

This would mean Sarawak would be 180 years old this year, signifying that we are indeed an old, historic and matured established entity with a nation status within a federation. 

Having said all of the above, it is important to realise that the present Sarawak government has done much to continuously regain Sarawak’s rights. There are of course always calls for faster actions.

While the gains in various areas such as oil rights and administrative rights have been laborious and incremental, it provides for overall stability.

The achievements and progress in this area are already well documented.  

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and his team’s twin-track parallel emphasis on reclamation of rights and rapid development of Sarawak is the more pragmatic approach to ensuring our standard of living and the associated benefits that come along with it.

Ultimately, it is better to be realistic that the achievement of more autonomy and reclamation of our rights is a work in progress, due to the nature of politics, especially Malayan politics. 

Even, when one day once we finally achieve the aims and objectives as envisaged originally and by MA63, there will be a constant need to be vigilant. 

Despite being in the midst of the pandemic, I wish you all a very Happy ‘Sarawak Independence Day’.

Stay safe and remain ever vigilant to stand up for Sarawak’s rights.

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