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Cobbold Commission Report and the formation of Malaysia

July 2, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Richard Kamalanathan, via e-mail

The formation of Malaysia was set amidst many unresolved  international precedents and  political issues that have remained unsettled to this very day.  On Dec 14, 960, the United Nations General Assembly had had adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

Resolution 1514 declared  that all territories that have not been granted independence be immediately to returned to the people of the territories without any distinction as to race, creed or colour and should not be delayed on the pretext of their inadequacies of political, social, economic or educational preparedness.

The United States insisted that Great Britain upholds its integrity that led to the joint declaration by President Roosevelt and Sir Winston Churchill in Newfoundland on Aug 14, 1941 called the Atlantic Charter:  a) no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom; b) territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned; c) all people had right to self-determination. Hence Great Britain was forced by undue international pressure and by its own close ally to grant in dependence to its colonies.

In Malaya, as the Malays vehemently opposed the formation of the Malayan Union, the British Military Administration (BMA) replaced it with the Federation of Malaya proposition on 1st Feb 1, 1948. After winning the first held general elections in 1955 under the banner of the Aliiance Party comprising Umno, MCA and MIC,  Tunku Abdul Rahman, as Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, that included  the Federated and Unfederated Malay States and the Straits Settlement colonies of Malacca; and Penang and Province Wellesley, led a delegation to London for a speedy independence date. After 172 years of colonisation the Federation of Malaya proclaimed itself independent on Aug 31, 1957.

The Singapore case was not so different.  The British forces returned in September 1945 to regain its prime colony in the region amidst heavy casualties and destruction. The BMA was aggressively keen on making Singapore a self-governing crown colony. On April 6,1955 David Marshall was appointed the island’s first Chief Minister. His failure to successfully negotiate with British led to his resignation and on June 6, 1956 and the then Minister of Labour, Lim Yew Hock succeeded him. In March 1957 Lim Yew Hock leading a delegation to London successfully negotiated the main terms of the independence, and subsequently on May 28, 1959  the Constitutional Agreement was signed in London.

On June 3, 1959 Singapore was proclaimed a self-governing state by its governor Sir William Goode, who also became its first Yang di-Pertuan Negara. On June 5, 1959 he sworn in the new government and  Lee Kuan Yew  became its first Prime Minister. He then led Singapore into the formation of the Federation of Malaysia with the then Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Meanwhile, the political situations in North Borneo and Sarawak had had entirely a different undertone. The North Borneo Federation or Kalimantan Utara comprising British North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and the British Protectorate of Brunei came in as a competitive proposition. The governments of Sarawak, North Borneo  and Brunei called for the  abandonment of the Malayan dollar and a valuation of a  common currency of their own which never was minted.

Sheikh Azahari bin Sheikh Mahmud better known as  A M  Azahari was born in Labuan and educated in Java later fought along with Sukarno against the Dutch for the independence of Indonesia. He along with another nationalist, Ahmad Zaidi Adruce had had conceived the idea of the unification of  the North Borneo States into the North Borneo Federation. As leader of the Brunei People’s Party (BPP) he was determined to reduce the power of Sultan Saifudddin Omar Ali of Brunei to a constitutional monarch and elevate him as the Yang diPertua of the North Kalimantan Federation.

However the BPP though in favour of joining Malaysia insisted on having their own Sultan for the three states of North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei to fence of the domination by Malaya, Singapore, Malay Administrators and Chinese merchants. However, the political concept of the North Kalimantan Federation with a leftist government did not materialise. A M Azahari later sought political asylum in  Indonesia after the Brunei Revolt against the Sultan of Brunei failed.

During this period of political turbulence amidst uncertainty and  agitation on the formation of the Federation of Malaysia from within and without: the main opposition party in Singapore Barisan Sosialis was against Singapore joining the Federation and the pro-Indonesian Malay Nationalist Party led by Dr Burhanuddin Helmy was more concerned about a broader unification with Indonesia; the Philippines claim for  Sabah and President Sukarno’s rejection of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty signed in 1824;  Tunku Abdul Rahman on May 27, 1961 called for a merger of the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore.

On July 22, 1963 Sarawak moved towards self-government with Stephen Kalong Ningkan as its Chief Minister.

In North Borneo the issues pertaining to merging with the Federation of Malaya was more complex. After the visit of Tunku Abdul Rahman, on July 1961 A M  Azahari of BPP, Donald Stephens, the editor of North Borneo News and the Sabah Times and also a member of the North Borneo Legislative Council with Ong Kee Hui, Chairman of the Sarawak United Peoples Party called for elections in the three territories proposing a constitutional association amongst them instead of Malaysia. After this Azahari-Ong-Stephens communique the Malaysian Consultative Solidarity Council (MSCC) was established under the leadership of Donald Stephens.

The Committee held meetings in Jesselton, Kuching, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur between August 1961 and February 1962. The Borneans wanted assurances that they would not be swamped either in number or in voting power by the more developed Malayan states and Singapore and that their state administrations would not be monopolised by the Malayans.

Despite the campaign of the MSCC seeking a constitutional agreement amongst the three territories, in September 1962, the North Borneo and Sarawak Legislative Councils accepted in principle the proposal to set up a Federation of Malaysia and appointed their representatives for an inter-governmental committee formed by the British and the Malayan governments to discuss the details of the Federation of Malaysia Lord Lansdowne, Secretary of State for  the Colonies chaired this committee.

In the international arena, the concept of the Federation of Malaysia was not well received.
The Philippines claim for Sabah was debated in the United Nations, which the British Government rejected. Indonesia’s aggrievement had now become hostile and had sought a confrontation with Malaya supporting the Brunei Revolt. President Sukarno called it a neo-colonialist threat while the Philippines warned against increased communist threat in the region.

In the light of the weary and turbulent political environment in the region; in January 1962, the British and Malayan Governments appointed a Commission of Enquiry for North Borneo and Sarawak to determine if the people supported the proposal to create a Federation of Malaysia. The Commission was chaired by the former Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Cameron Cobbold, with a four member Commission namely Wong Pow Nee, Chief Minister of Penang, Mohammed Ghazali Shafie, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaya, Anthony Abell, former Governor of Sarawak and David Watherston, former Chief Secretary of Malaya.

Conspicuously though, there were no representatives from Singapore. The Commission released its findings, report and recommendations on Aug 1, 1962. It was generally called a 20- point Agreement.  Lord Cobbold himself summarised the Commission’s findings and recommendations:

About one-third of the population of each territory strongly favours early realisation of Malaysia without too much concern about terms and conditions. Another third, many of them favourable to the Malaysia project, ask, with varying degrees of emphasis, for conditions and safeguards varying in nature and extent: the warmth of support among this category would be markedly influenced by a firm expression of opinion by Governments that the detailed arrangements eventually agreed upon are in the best interests of the territories. The remaining third is divided between those who insist on independence before Malaysia is considered and those who would strongly prefer to see British rule continue for some years to come. If the conditions and reservations which they have put forward could be substantially met, the second category referred to above would generally support the proposals. Moreover once a firm decision was taken quite a number of the third category would be likely to abandon their opposition and decide to make the best of a doubtful job. There will remain a hard core, vocal and politically active, which will oppose Malaysia on any terms unless it is preceded by independence and self-government: this hard core might amount to near 20 per cent of the population of Sarawak and somewhat less in North Borneo.

– Lord Cobbold, Cobbold Commission

Looking back on the day when the Federation of Malaysia was formally proclaimed on Sept 16, 1963 the people of North Borneo and Sarawak leaving Brunei to continue to remain a British ‘Protectorate’ may have  mixed feelings of their independence with the merger. Added questions may linger as to why Singapore on Aug 9, 1965 left the Federation to be an independent state. The proclamation by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia however may or may not over rule all such sentiments as they continue to battle their own future within the concept of the Federation of Malaysia.

Proclamation of Malaysia, 1963

In the name of God, Lhe Compassionate, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe, and may the benedicüon and peace of God be upon Our Leader Muhammad and upon all His Relations and Friends.

WHEREAS by an Agreement made un lhe Ninth day of July in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-three between the Federation of Malaya, the United Kingdom, North Bnmeo. Sarawak and Singapore it was agreed that there shall be federated the States of Sabah. Sarawak and Singapore with the Federation of Malaya comprising the States of Pahang, Trengganu, Kedah, Johore, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Selangor, Perak, Perlis, Penang and Malacca, and that the Federation shall thereafter be called “Malaysia“;

AND WHEREAS it has been agreed by the parties lo the said Agreement that as from the establishment of Malaysia the States of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore  cease to be colonies of Her Majesty the Queen and Her Majesty the Queen shall relinquish Her sovereignty and jurisdiction in respect of the three States;

AND WHEREAS there has been promulgated a Constitution for Malaysia which shall be the supreme law therein;

AND WHEREAS by the Constitution aforesaid provision has been made for the safeguarding of the rights and prerogatives of Their Highnesses the Rulers and lhe fundamental rights and liberties of subjects and for the promotion of peace and harmony in Malaysia as a constitutional monarchy based upon parliamentary democracy;
AND WHEREAS the Constitution aforesaid having been approved by a law passed by the Parliaments of the Federation of Malaya and of the United Kingdom has come imo force on the Sixteenth day of September in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-three;

Now in the name of God thc Compassionate, ihe Merciful, I, TUNKU ABDU1.RAHMAN PUTRA  IBNI ALMARHUM SULTAN ABDUL HAMID HALIM SHAH, Prime Minisier of Malaysia, with the concurrence and approval of His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation of Malaya, His Excellency The Yang  Pertuan Negara of Singapore, His Excellency the Yang  Negara of Sabah and His Excellency the Governor of Sarawak Do HEREBY DECLARE AND PROCLAIM on behalf of the peoples of Malaysia that as from the Sixteenth day of September in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty­three, corresponding to the Twenty eighth day of Rabi’ul Akhir in the year of the Hijrah one thousand three hundred and eighty-three, that MALAYSIA comprising the States of Pahang, Trengganu„ Kedah, Johore, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Selangor, Perak, Perlis, Penang. Malacca, Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak shall by the Grace of God, the Lord of the Universe, forever be an independent and sovereign democratic State founded upon liberty, and justice, ever seeking to defend and uphold peace and harmony among its peoples and to perpetuate peace among nations.

Kuala Lumpur, Sixteenth day of September, 1963.


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