The case for bigger Sabah presence in parliament
Published on: Sunday, October 10, 2021
By: Dr Chong Eng Leong
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Credit: ifj.org
IN mid-2020, both Sabah and Sarawak State governments asked for increase of MP seats for both States in the Lower House, asking for one-third of the total. Complete silence from Malaya. Any basis for this request?

Malaysia currently has 222 Parliamentary constituencies – Malaya 165, Sarawak 31, Sabah 25+1 (Labuan). Malaya holds 74pc.

No doubt both Chief Ministers are having Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report 1962 in mind. These two documents contain terms and conditions in which Borneo States agreed to form Malaysia.

Prime Minister of Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman had a vision to include British colonies of Sarawak and North Borneo, and its protectorate Brunei, under one umbrella not long after independence of Malaya in 1957.

Singapore was an afterthought or maybe it was a bait to attract the Borneo States because of their enormous land (50pc larger than Malaya) and blessedly abundant natural resources.

Perhaps the British Colonial Office was looking for means to let go of its post- World War II colonial burden, or because of post war United Nations’ Special Committee on Decolonisation – on granting independence to colonial territories?

Tunku announced in Singapore in May 1961 the proposal to form the Federation of Malaysia.

This was met with much scepticism, doubts, distrust or outright objection by North Borneo and Sarawak. Even Donald Stephens of North Borneo and Stephen Ningkan of Sarawak opposed it. Security and sovereignty of member States were the main concern.

Political parties mushroomed in Borneo States jockeying for acceptance. There was a strong sentiment amongst the local politicians in the three Borneo States for self-government before merger. Ong Kee Hui of Sarawak, Donald Stephens of North Borneo and A. M. Azahari of Brunei issued a joint statement in August 1961 stating that they were in favour of Borneon Federation of the three territories.

Things moved fast. Malaya immediately had a committee formed – Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC). Donald Stephens was named Chairman; reluctantly he accepted; its first meeting was held in Jesselton on 24th August 1961 and its last one in Kuala Lumpur in February 1962. Brunei was not in this Committee.

Before MSCC had its last meeting, Cobbold Commission was founded on 17

January 1962 with British and Malayans only as their members. A Commission of Enquiry was set up to determine whether the people of Sarawak and North Borneo would support the proposal to create the Federation of Malaysia consisting of Malaya, Brunei, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak. (It assumed that Singapore and Brunei would support the proposal, apparently.)

The report of the Commission of Enquiry showed that the people of Borneo States had fears of substitution of one colonisation for another; fears of being taken over by and submersion of the individualities of North Borneo and Sarawak within the then Federation of Malaya.

The Commission completed and submitted to Britain and Malaya confidentially on 21 June 1962 its findings, report and recommendations.

Secretly though, Lord Cobbold (Chairman of the Commission), wrote a personal letter (also dated 21 June 1962) to UK Prime Minister Macmillan that he assumed Singapore would join in and that a Federation between Malaya and the Borneo territories without Singapore might not materialise. (That meant Singapore must be a part in the Malaysia equation.)

On 1st August 1962 the Commission released its findings, report and recommendations publicly. It concluded that the formation of Malaysia should be implemented. But Lord Cobbold also stressed that all parties entered the Federation as equal partners.

The fears mentioned above prompted establishment of IGC in which Britain, Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak Governments were represented. (Brunei Government had two observers but no body from Singapore. It is noteworthy that the “Brunei Rebellion headed by Azahari” happened on 8 December 1962.) Its task was to work out the future constitutional arrangement including safeguards for the special interests of Borneo States relying on the Cobbold Commission report. The crucial point, the ultimate hurdle to be smoothened during the IGC deliberations, before Sarawak and Sabah would assent to the formation of Malaysia, was the proportion of MP seats for each member State. The IGC Report was ready by end of 1962 and signed in February 1963.

The next step was drawing up the MA63 with reference to this IGC Report, (and may be also North Borneo’s 20 points and Sarawak’s 18 points as well but which were not mentioned in MA63). MA63 was signed on 9 July 1963.

Seemingly in a rush, 18 months from Cobbold Commission in January 1962 and IGC Report to MA63 in July 1963, the fate of North Borneo and Sarawak was put in writing.

Brunei pulled out of the merger for reasons beyond the scope of this paper.

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