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The fundamental implications of Malaysia’s age
Published on: Saturday, September 02, 2017

By Datuk Stan Yee
OVER the years I have heard many tall tales, and have shared some hearty guffaws with many a joker.

But I find this latest one not funny at all. It says that a baby born in 1963 was six years old before the first nappy change, had a 50th birthday extravaganza in 2007 and a big 60th bash just last Thursday.

Which is why many rolled their eyes on last Thursday’s supposedly 60th “National Day” celebration.

To begin with, it was a mistaken identity, albeit deliberate. It was not Malaysia whose birthday we celebrated, but one that would have turned 60 last Thursday, Malaya.

That’s strange. People of my generation recall that the Federation of Malaya moved over to make room for Malaysia on 16 September, 1963 nearly 54 years ago and was not expected to hang around still, let alone blow the nation’s birthday candles year after year.

I said “nearly” because we should be very particular about accuracy. I read somewhere a long time ago that whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

Two weeks may be a small matter but 6 years off the track is serious.

Historical revisionism and disinformation Regrettably, the practice of disinformation (which is more sinister than misinformation) in counting the nation’s age from 1957 has gone on from day one of Malaysia’s birth in 1963 and pursued relentlessly to this day.

It defies historical chronology and simple arithmetic. Many thinking people in Sabah and Sarawak are convinced more than ever now that there is a deliberate attempt to rewrite history in order to reinstate the Federation of Malaya that was superseded by the new Malaysian Federation that came into being on September 16 1963.

This is a clear case of historical revisionism, and it has gone on for sixty years with little respite, interrupted only briefly last year when some publicity posters heralding the Merdeka events seemed to buck the trend by omitting the country’s age. That apparent oversight would have been a decent thing to do from the point of view of Sabah and Sarawak that are adamant in their belief that Malaysia was a brand new federation on 16 September 1963, and was not in any way a continuation of or renamed version of the Federation of Malaya it replaced.

I can appreciate that folks in Malaya are still very sentimental about their Merdeka of 31st August 1957, conceivably more so than us in Sabah and Sarawak. Many still want to wax nostalgia every year.

A Merdeka Day we call our own I respect Malaya’s Merdeka Day, too, but not to the extent of seeing it as our own in preference to what we have, which happens to fall on the same date six years later. I am not at all sure if folks on the other side of the South China Sea are at all aware that we have a Merdeka day too, or so we like to think.

They may be forgiven if they aren’t aware, because for as long as I can remember our Merdeka Day comes and goes every year unheralded and more often than not unnoticed, obscured and rendered non-existent by the state-level “National Day” celebration, post-dated 1957, which we fuss over instead.

Blame the British for the ill-chosen date for Sabah’s “independence”, and our successive state leaders for what appears to be our total submersion in things Malayan and our lack of pride of things Sabah, including our peculiar lingo. But that’s another matter.

A “Sabah Day” to unite us all While we repose in deep slumber, folks in Sarawak have woken up and rediscovered their Hari Sarawak (22 July), which they celebrated recently with a vengeance and hyped-up gusto rarely seen before.

I ­heard that they no longer bother with August 31st. I am not at all surprised. Reputed to be more vocal and more self-willed than Sabahans, Sarawak’s rhetoric in their recent Sarawak Day rallies resonated with many in Sabah who feel that here, in our home state, our own Merdeka Day should also serve to bring our folks together regardless of race, religion and politics, to reconnect and rediscover ourselves as a people.

If we must fuss over the KL-designated national day we should add our own Sabah Day on a date that does not clash, so we can celebrate our statehood together on our own. We can then forget about or reboot Sabah’s supposed Independence Day on 31st August.

Malaysia’s national day A country’s national day has much to do with the nation’s identity and sense of belonging – if the national day itself is above dispute. The one and only historic day that qualifies to be Malaysia’s National Day is none other than Malaysia Day itself.

Created by the Malaysia Act, 1963 it falls on 16th September, a day designated by an Act of Parliament to be the birthday of Malaysia.

Regrettably, Malaysia Day was locked away in the closet for a very long time. For 47 years it had not seen the light of day outside of Sabah and Sarawak, until Malaysia’s Prime Minister declared it as a national public holiday in October 2010.

Whatever prompted him, it was better late than never.

But he should not just leave it there. Looking ahead, unless and until Putrajaya agrees to proclaim 16 September to be the country’s National Day, which it alone qualifies, the country’s top leadership has an unfinished duty to perform. And until they do, the yearly controversy about the nation’s age will not go away.

A renewed impetus to seek the true facts of history It should come as a warning to some and good news to others that efforts to seek the facts of history long obscured for ignoble reasons has gained fresh impetus in Sabah and Sarawak in recent times.

This is linked to an attempt to reinstate rights provided in the Malaysia Agreement, 1963 that many think have been overlooked or short-changed.

The recent research visit to London by a group of officers from Sarawak, and a similar visit by Sabah’s own researchers earlier are a clear indication that the two states are serious about putting things right and fending off historical revisionism.

Significantly, those who are revisiting MA63 have indicated that they will not only focus on certain rights deemed to have been reneged, undermined, or conveniently forgotten, such as the 40pc share of the state’s revenues, and possibly the controversy over the two Borneo states’ 1976 status-downgrade in the Federation, but will also shed light on and resolve some of the other issues, among which are subjects this article is trying to highlight, i.e. the continued existence of the country once known as the Malayan Federation that still pre-empts our country’s places of honour.

It is important to resolve this issue because it bothers the minds of many who have half a century of memory span to recall the time when Malaysia as a country did or did not begin.

It is senseless to try and make it appear as if the Malaysia of 1963 and the Malaya of 1957 were one and the same.

There is no justification to conflate the 1957 Merdeka with the formation of Malaysia six years on, although the latter might have been mooted as part of Great Britain’s de-colonisation agenda at that time, a plan that may have cast a long shadow beyond 1957.

The right to self-determination Perhaps it is worth to repeat a little. Malaysia was created by the Malaysia Act, 1963.

I believe the legislative process to table the Malaysia Bill was initiated at the behest of the British.

But before that it was the Malaysia Agreement that enabled, circumscribed and legitimised the Bill before the Malayan Parliament.

That Agreement was signed on 9th July, 1963 between the United Kingdom and an already fully independent country called the Federation of Malaya on one side, and Sabah and Sarawak and Singapore on the other, still colonies but enjoying territorial stature in the signing, and anticipating self-rule that was thought to be imminent.

Whatever their status current on 9th July 1963, even as colonies, the right to self-determination enshrined in the United Nations Charter applied.

It applied then and still does now. Their status as colonies did not vitiate this fundamental human right to self-determination.

Taking a participatory path to nationhood It is important to remember that in 1963 the participatory path to Malaysia was what the people of Sabah thought we would take. An active participatory involvement was stressed repeatedly by Malayan and local campaigners, and by British officers as well, when they presented the idea of the Malaysian federation to the people.

The signing of the Malaysia Agreement that I mentioned earlier is part of this participatory involvement.

Lest it be misconstrued, the Malaysia Agreement was not a Sale and Purchase agreement.

The participatory involvement leading to the formation of Malaysia precluded any idea that the two Borneo states (and Singapore) were passively pulled into, co-opted, incorporated or admitted to an existing federation that began in 1957, but were clearly territorial partners in the creation of a new one on 16 September 1963, whereupon the Federation of Malaya ceased to exist.

Also, intentionally or unwittingly, any suggestion that Malaysia was deemed to have begun on 31st August 1957, could only imply that the two Borneo states were not regarded as partners in forming Malaysia, but were incorporated, absorbed, admitted or simply annexed by the Federation of Malaya in 1963, like Hawaii was annexed and made a state of the USA following the ouster of the island kingdom of Queen Liliuokalanin in 1893.

That was not what we had agreed to when we teamed up to create a new nation.

That would also have been a much less dignified way of becoming part of Malaysia and shed our colonial status.

It is sad that some of Sabah’s leaders appear to see little difference between being actively involved in forming and later becoming part of a new country as an equal partner, and being admitted to an existing one as a junior partner or even a colony.

Disinformation So to imply that Malaysia started in 1957 and was 60 years old last Thursday is fundamentally flawed and wrong.

It is disinformation, a blatant misrepresentation of history, an affront to the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak who are passionate about the way we became part of Malaysia, as well as belittling Malaysia itself.

What would have happened… It is sad that federal leaders were not mindful of the feelings of the inhabitants of the two Borneo territories that make up more than half of Malaysia’s landmass and territorial waters and resources.

No doubt, Sabah had achieved much progress since it became part of Malaysia, something that has been stressed repeatedly.

Few would dispute this or speculate how the two Borneo states could have fared, or what the British could have done if we, like Brunei, had held back and refused to be part of Malaysia, other than the certainty that there would not be a Malaysia.

Few in the community of nations would accept the equally flawed assumption that Sabah and Sarawak would have been swallowed up by its neighbours.

If the British and other Commonwealth countries could rush to the aid of Malaysia against Confrontation, it is hard to imagine they would leave these two “babes in the woods” defenceless if threatened.

Malaysia Day as a national public holiday When PM Najib Razak declared Malaysia Day to be a national public holiday in 2010, it was a welcome decision in Malaya as well, but seemingly only to the extent that a public holiday was always welcome.

There was no noticeable awareness of the significance of the holiday. The nation’s capital Kuala Lumpur still treated Malaysia Day at arm’s length.

As far as I am aware, when the country turned 50 on 16 September, 2013 the nation’s capital stood aloof and did not accord the country’s golden jubilee anniversary any shred of recognition.

Its aloofness was a far cry from the way they went overboard with pomp and pageantry when Malaya’s August 31st Merdeka turned 50 in 2007 in the guise of Malaysia’s 50th.

When 16th September, 2013 came around, the Agong graciously attended Malaysia’s 50th anniversary event in Kuching, and the PM in Kota Kinabalu.

As far as I know none of the Malayan states except Penang showed any token recognition.

KL’s aloofness For the record, a public ceremony commemorating national day always takes place on 31st August in Kuala Lumpur.

A ceremony directly relevant to Malaysia was officially held by the federal government of Malaysia only once, and that was when Malaysia was proclaimed on 16 September, 1963.

Malaysia Day has never been officially celebrated by or in the name of the federal government of Malaysia anywhere on the Malay Peninsula, nor, as far as I am aware, abroad.

If the seat of government in Putrajaya does indeed look upon Malaysia as the Federation of Malaya incarnate and has intended to relegate Sabah and Sarawak to the level no higher than any of the Semenanjung states, or worse, as two colonies acquired from the British in 1963, then it would seem that the two Borneo states have yet to shed their colonial status despite the Cobbold Commission, the 20 Points, the UN fact finding, the Malaysia Agreement and the Malaysia Act, etc. etc.

On hindsight, President Sukarno’s ranting about neo-colonialism may not be all nonsense after all.

Gloom For now, the government leaders of the two Borneo territories are aligned to the KL dominated ruling coalition and therefore are not expected to do anything to upset the status quo.

The opposition parties are similarly unlikely to do anything credible beyond fiery rhetoric.

The people seem confused, divided and largely indifferent about these historical issues.

Sadly, historical revisionism and disinformation may have already caused untold damage.

A glimmer of hope But, despite all that, the future is not all gloom and doom. It will take some time for things to work out, to even up, to equalize and even to turn the tables.

In the near term, there is an election coming up. The serious issues, challenges, controversies that occupy the voters’ minds are likely to be tossed up as election issues. I would be surprised if any alignment of parties would ignore the grievances in favour of the status quo.

That holds promise. Who knows, change sometimes comes unexpectedly and from unlikely quarters.

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