A broken deal: The Borneo States after 1963

Singapore’s People’s Action Party initiated a merger with Malaya, but was resisted by it’s most dominant political power, UMNO, including Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR). The Malayans feared the possibility of left wing radicalism taking over the Singapore government in the elections as PAP suffered losses and rifts after an internal struggle in 1962. It is also the opinion of Malay politicians of the need to maintain racial imbalance, the political and cultural predominance of the Malays. In the Malaysia project, it was understood that in electoral and more broadly political terms the combined Chinese population of Singapore and Malaya, which outnumbered the Malays, would be offset by the “Malay” population of North Borneo and Sarawak. So that was TAR’s condition, that with the inclusion of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak must follow suit.

According to Bob Reece, he opines that “a crucial influence on TAR’s ethno-religious calculations was a report made to UMNO by Malaya’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Senu bin Abdul Rahman…. (who) describing all the indigenous peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak as “Malays”… (concluding) that within a federation consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo, “Malays” would remain the… majority.”

Says TAR reported in newspapers dated 24th July 1961,

“From the text-books as the schools and by meeting the Dyaks, I found out that the only difference between the so-called Dyak language and Malay is in the dialect just as there is a difference in the dialects of Selangor Malays and Kelantan Malays.”

In TAR’s major speech to the Malayan Parliament on 16th October 1961,

“From the Federation’s point of view, we are linked to the Borneo territories not only by proximity and close association but also because the Borneo territories have the same type of culture and racial origins as the Malayans ( i.e Malays). We have similar customs – except, of course, in their case, they have some peculiar local customs but they are local affairs – and we have similar problems, economically or otherwise, and we even share the same currency…”

At the time of the Malaysia Project, in Malaya ethnic Malays make up 50%, with Chinese 37%. In North Borneo, 1,645 were ethnic Malays with the majority Islamicized indigenous groups (i.e Bajau, Illanun who do not call themselves Malay) who make up most of the state’s  37.9%. The other largest homogenous ethnic group were the Kadazan-Dusun, mostly Christians and animist who make up 30%, followed by the Chinese (23%).

Datu Donald Stephens, in a major speech in Singapore dated 10th August 1961,

“My people feel that if North Borneo joins Malaya now as a state, it would mean that North Borneo would not become a state but a colony of the Federation of Malaya. As I have said before, these fears are genuine. Not actually fear or suspicion of the sincerity of Malaya to take us on as an equal partner but more the fear that by virtue of our status as a British colony we would automatically become a second-class state or colony of Malaya… We must at least have self-government before we can talk, before we, the people of the country, can decide for ourselves whether we want to become partners in Malaysia. Self government for us is the pre-requisite to final settlement of the Malaysia question.”

However, it is generally agreed by academic commentators that the crucial factor in the changing attitudes of the Borneo states leaders was the Brunei Rebellion and Indonesia’s opposition (which escalated into the Confrontation after 1963).

Leaders of Sabah submitted a document dated 29th August 1962 to the Inter-Governmental Committee (to decide on the constitutional details of the Malaysian Constitution) containing 20 Points, while their Sarawakian counterparts published their 18 Points on 27th February 1963, of which should be embodied in the Federal Constitution.

Point 16 of the 20 Points stated that no amendment or withdrawal of any special safeguards granted to North Borneo can be made by the Central Government without the consent of the State Government and the power to amend should belong exclusively to the people of the State.

The IGCR recommended that the power for amendments to the Borneo States position was better given to Parliament (since to amend they need 2/3 majority, but the Malayan parliamentary seats grew in percentage when Singapore left).

Thus the safeguard was never embodied into the Federal Constitution.

Malaysia came into being on 16th September, 1963.

Then, within 2 years of the signing of the Malaysian Agreement, a series of events took place that demonstrated the new Malaysian Government in KL had not accepted the principals relating to the special standing of the two Borneo states, gradually treating them as unitary states needing strong centralized government control. The signs were:

1. The dramatic separation of Singapore in 1965

2. The expulsion of Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Sarawak’s 1st Chief Minister in 1966

3. The replacement of Tun Mustapha’s USNO-led government in Sabah in 1976

4. Creation of new parliamentary seats that favour Peninsular Malaysia

5. Certain amendments to the Federal Constitution (relating to the special position of the Borneo states).

Which brings us to the issue of the 20 Points and 18 Points Agreement that highlights the special position of Sabah and Sarawak. It had no legal/constitutional standing, but it was clearly looked upon by Borneo’s political leaders as a charter of state rights and the basis of the Borneo states future relationship with the Federal Government.

12th September 1991

PBS’ Datuk Monggoh Orrow asked Dr. Mahathir (then PM) for a referendum on the issue of remaining in Malaysia, to which he replied that it has been done and Sabah and Sarawak had decided to “swim or sink” with Malaysia and there are no second chances, when there has never been a referendum, except for the Cobbold Commission, which wasn’t.

January 1987, TAR

“All I can remember is that the Cobbold Comission headed by Lord Cobbold had drawn up the constitution which was accepted by Sabah. If I am not mistaken, Sabah readily signed the Malaysia Agreement and had accepted the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the head of Islam in the State.”

November 1992

Ghafar Baba, DPM issued challenges to the PBS to debate the 20 Points issue. The Kitingan brothers have been asking for the debate for the past 6 years, and by December 1992, Jeffrey Kitingan was detained under ISA, showing how hypocritical UMNO is.

There you have it. That’s what happened to the Borneo states’ 20 and 18 Point Agreement which guarded its special standing as equal partner to Malaya. Any demands to debate the Agreement has been viewed by Malaya as desire to secede and branded as traitors. In the course of the events leading up to today, the Federal Constitution has been amended to facilitate greater power and control over the two States. That is what 1Malaysia is all about, an attempt to salvage something beyond repair. We are the products of systematic destruction of our rights and our standing as equal humans and partners.

Because now, the sentiment is US against THEM. And we all know who THEY are.


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