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Independence of Malaya and the Formation of Malaysia

Independence of Malaya and the Formation of Malaysia


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Published by: man_dainese on Dec 06, 2008
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Malaya consists of a ‘"plural society" which was formed by different races with various backgrounds and customs. In The Malaysian Development Experience, Changes and Challenges book that published by INTAN, states that Malaya is "a colonial creation with ethnic groups living side by side but never mixed". Many factors have caused this situation. The first can be traced back to the "divide and rule" policy during British colonization. This kind of administration greatly limited interaction and communication among the different ethnic groups and segregated them according to their economic functions. The Malays were known to be farmers and fishermen and lived in the rural areas or kampung. Since there were also Malays who were involved in the government sector as ordinary officers and clerks, they were perceived to be dominant in politics and the first group of people that the British negotiated with. Most of the Chinese were involved in the commercial and mining sectors and were found mainly in urban areas. The Indians, on the other hand, worked as labourers in estates and plantations. Hence, these two races were perceived to be more dominant in the economics of the country. The education system, as it was long before we know it today, also varied according to the different ethnic groups in terms of syllabus, curriculum and methods of dissemination. There was no such thing as a standardized education system back then. While the Malays and Indians felt that a minimal amount of literacy was sufficient, the Chinese were vying to strengthen their bond with China through education, since most of the teachers and textbooks were imported from China. The same concept was practiced in Tamil schools. Since these vernacular schools comprised a single race, lessons were conducted in its respective language, such as Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Due to the inconsistencies and differences in the education system, there existed barriers and gaps among the different races in Malaya. The Japanese occupation only widened the rift between the races, especially the Chinese and Malays. While the Malays were given better treatment by the Japanese who were in need of their support, the Chinese were tortured and brutally mistreated. This led to the formation of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) to fight the Japanese. To ward off attacks from resistance groups which comprised mainly Chinese, the Japanese instigated the anti-Chinese feeling by forming paramilitary units which consisted mainly of Malays, and thus, further widened the gap among the two races. When the Communists began their violence in the 1948, the British were forced to declare a state of Emergency throughout Malaya. It was during this period that inter-

racial relations became worse since the British had formed forces, comprising mostly Malays, to fight the guerilla groups led by the Communists, who were mainly Chinese. All of these factors caused a great division in the Malayan society and much effort had to be taken to resolve the problem. 3.1.1 Efforts Towards Racial Unity In 1949, the Inter-Racial Relations Committee (Jawatankuasa Hubungan Antara Kaum) was formed, to enable leaders of various ethnic groups to find a solution to the existing racial problems. The committee, comprising Dato’ Onn bin Jaafar, Tan Cheng Lock, E.E.C Thuraisingham and 12 other members proposed that non-Malays be involved in local politics and more opportunities be given to the Malays in the business and industrial sectors. The committee also proposed that greater racial tolerance and understanding be fostered in the hope of achieving racial unity. In 1951, the British government formed the Member System, with the hope of achieving racial unity. The member system was similar to the Cabinet system as we know it today, and enabled people from various ethnic groups to get involved in the administration of the government and hold portfolios in areas such as Home Affairs, Agriculture, Land, Mines and Communication, Education, Health, Forestry, and Works and Housing. Although the more important portfolios in areas of finance and defense were still dominated by the British, the involvement of leaders of various ethnic groups enabled cooperation among the different races. Education also played an important role in paving the way towards racial unity in Malaya. In 1949, the Central Advisory Committee took form with the main purpose of unifying the local education system and implementing it. However, the committee failed to achieve its goal and its proposal that English be made the sole medium of education in schools in the Holgate Report was vehemently opposed by the Federal Legislative Council. Although the committee did not achieve much, it was a clear indication that the British were indeed making an effort to unify the multiracial society through education with one medium of instruction. Another committee which was established one year later, produced the Barnes Report, which recommended in 1952, that the syllabus of all primary schools be standardized and taught in English and Malay, while secondary schools retain English as their mode of instruction. Led by Dr W.P.Fenn and Dr Y.T. Wu, the British formed yet another committee to study the status of Chinese vernacular education in Malaya to incorporate it into a unified education system. The result was the Fenn-Wu report, which agreed to a national education system, but at the same time, proposed that Chinese medium schools be maintained.

Finally, in 1952, the Education Ordinance based on the Barnes Report was approved. The Chinese and Indians were not in the least bit happy and resisted the new ruling. However, the long-awaited decision on the national education system was only seen in the Razak Report after much deliberation and ethnic bargaining. The report was subsequently approved by the Federal Legislative Council on 16th May, 1956. (Details of the Razak Report can be read in Chapter 6)

3.2.1 United Malays National Organization (UMNO) UMNO was formed on 11th May 1946 and led by its first President, Dato’ Onn bin Jaafar. Its sole purposes were, at that time, to unite the Malays and lead the opposition against the Malayan Union, to protect the interests of the Malays and to gain independence from the British. Several years later, a conflict of interest occurred between Dato’ Onn and his party members. In his belief that an inter-racial nation was essential to achieve proper independence, Dato’ Onn had proposed that non-Malays be allowed to join the party. Due to this conflict, Dato’ Onn resigned and was replaced by Tunku Abdul Rahman, who later became the first Prime Minister of Malaya. 3.2.2 Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) MCA was formed by Leong Yew Koh and Lee Hau-Shik on 27th Feb. 1949. Its first president was Tan Cheng Lock. The objectives of MCA were to unite the Chinese and protect their interests, to propose more liberal citizenship, and to co-operate with the government and oppose Communism during the Emergency years. The party received much respect from the rest of society due to their efforts against communism, which involved the recruitment of the Chinese into the police and armed forces, and the resettlement of the local community into "new villages". 3.2.3 Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) MIC was formed in August 1946 by John Thivy, who sought to protect the rights of the Indian community in Malaya and voice their opinions to the government. In the earlier years of its formation, however, the party did not receive much support from local Indians since it was dominated by Indians from the upper class, while most of the Indians in Malaya at that time, were labourers who hailed from the lower class of society. The MIC received full support from the Indian people of Malaya only when the Tamils took over the party in 1954.

3.3.1 The elections In 1952, UMNO and MCA combined forces, formed the UMNO-MCA Alliance, and took part in the local government and town council elections. The results were overwhelming. They had won 9 out of the 12 seats contested. Realizing their potential as a joint coalition, both parties decided to take their efforts a step further – the general elections in 1955. This time, the MIC joined forces as well, and together the Alliance became a representative of the three main ethnic groups in Malaya. Another major victory was won in the 1955 elections when the Alliance bagged 51 out of the 52 seats contested. Tunku Abdul Rahman was elected the first Chief Minister, while 10 members from the Alliance were elected ministers. The majority of the Legislative Council was Alliance’s members, but the Executive Council was still dominated by British officials. Simultaneously, the High Commissioner held ultimate authority over any bill. As it was, Malaya still hadn’t been granted full independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman wasted no time and flew to London on his "Merdeka Mission" in January 1955 to coax the British to grant independence to Malaya. The British agreed and subsequently fixed the date for independence - 31st August 1957. 3.3.2 The Reid Commission Before independence could be attained however, some details needed to be taken care of, the most important being a new constitution for an independent Malaya. Hence, the British government appointed Lord Reid to head the Commonwealth Constitutional Commission to chart a new constitution for Malaya. Known as the Reid Commission, the committee was given the task of preparing a constitution that would serve a united and democratic Malaya with a firm government foundation, bearing in mind that the Sultans and the Malays were to retain their rights and special privileges. After much hard work, 131 memorandums were received from individuals and various organizations in Malaya. However, the draft of the constitution submitted by the Reid Commission was not to the liking of the Alliance, in particular, the proposals on religion and citizenship. Another delegation went to London, led again by Tunku Abdul Rahman to clarify certain matters and amend the draft of the constitution. The final amendment involved ethnic bargains. The MIC and MCA agreed to give special rights to the Malays and maintain Malay as the national language. UMNO, on the other hand, agreed to allow Chinese and Indian participation in politics and be awarded citizenship. After much discussion, the constitution was finally agreed upon and became known as the Merdeka Constitution.

3.3.3 Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Malaya did achieve its independence as agreed upon on 31st August 1957. The famous Merdeka proclamation by Tunku Abdul Rahman, who became the first Prime Minister of Malaya, took place at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. The Sultan of Negeri Sembilan, Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman ibni almarhum Tuanku Muhammad was proclaimed the first sultan of independent Malaya. The first general election of Malaya was held in 1959, in which the Alliance won 74 seats out of the 104 seats contested.

Sometime in 1955, and later in 1959, Singapore had suggested that it be merged with Malaya. This proposal, however, was rejected by Malaya. At the time, Singapore’s population comprised mainly Chinese and Malaya feared that this would affect its racial composition, which was predominantly Malay. There was also the fear that the Communists, whose activities were still rampant in Singapore, might influence Malaya and impede its struggle to be rid of the threat of Communism. Four years after Malaya’s independence, however, Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman took the region by surprise on 27th May 1961, when he made a speech stating his proposal to merge Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo territories of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. His sudden change of mind was influenced by the state of politics and economy in Singapore and the other territories. 3.4.1 The Factors Leading to the Proposal of a Merger One of the reasons Tunku Abdul Rahman was keen on a merger with Singapore was for economic purposes. Singapore had a large number of industrial firms and a large population, which complemented its position as one of the more important trading ports in this region. The Borneo territories, on the other hand, boasted of richness in natural resources such as oil, natural gas and timber, and fertile agricultural grounds that produced pepper, rubber and much more. Tunku Abdul Rahman believed that a merger with these colonies would be of much value to Malaya. Tunku Abdul Rahman was also seeking to liberate these colonies from colonization. Malaya had already achieved its independence four years earlier. While Singapore practiced to a large extent, a self-governing policy, Sabah and Sarawak were still very much under British control. In Brunei, the Sultan maintained his autocratic powers but was compelled to receive advise from a British Resident. Tunku Abdul Rahman felt that a merger of these colonies with Malaya would speed up independence from the British.

Another factor was the stronghold of Communism over Singapore. As time passed, their activities did not cease. Singapore was then led by Lee Kuan Yew, who, frustrated with the constant disputes and strikes in the mid-1950s, decided to woo some of the Communists into his government, hoping to find favour with them and eventually soften their blows. However, the Communists were adamant about continuing their activities and eventually formed their own party, known as the Barisan Socialis, after they were forced to resign from the government. Fearing that Malaya would be in grave danger should the Communists decide to support their allies in Malaya from across the straits, Tunku Abdul Rahman felt that a merger with Singapore would make it easier to deal with the Communists. Apart from Singapore, Communism was also thriving in Sarawak, where the communists formed an underground association, which exerted its influence on workers’ associations, students and farmers. There also existed cultural similarities between these territories. Singapore comprised a large Chinese population, while Malaya had a mixed array of Malays, Chinese and Indians. The initial fears expressed by some UMNO members about the Malays being outnumbered by the Chinese, were dispelled when they were convinced that ethnic balance would be restored once the Borneo Territories, which comprised most Malays and indigenous groups, merged with Malaya. 3.4.2 Response from Singapore, the Borneo Territories and Brunei Singapore still retained its initial interest in Malaya and was therefore, eager to merge with Malaya when Tunku Abdul Rahman made the proposal in 1961. The only opposition came from the Communist-dominated party, Barisan Socialis. Despite this, Lee Kuan Yew actively campaigned to support the merger. His efforts paid off and a referendum held on 1 September 1962 indicated that 71.1% of the population of Singapore supported the merger. Singapore was promised autonomy in education, revenue and labour while the central government would be operating in Kuala Lumpur. Its free entreport status would also be maintained. Like Singapore, Brunei was equally keen on the merger, since its ruler, Sultan Ali Saifuddin was hoping to gain protection from a larger country like Malaya. A.M. Azahari, the leader of the opposition party, Parti Rakyat, however, strongly opposed the merger and led a revolt against the government of Brunei, in which he was defeated. Azahari had an ulterior motive – to merge all the North Borneo territories and place them under the reins of Brunei. Eventually, Brunei changed its mind after the Sultan realized that he wouldn’t be given special rights above the other Sultans in Malaya and would have only limited oil reserves if Brunei merged with Malaya.

The response from Sabah and Sarawak was not on par with that from Singapore and the initial response from Brunei, since both territories feared losing authority in the administration of their governments. Apart from this, the non-Malays feared that the Malays in Sabah and Sarawak would be even more dominant should the merger take place. To allay their fears, Tunku Abdul Rahman went to these territories in June 1961 and set up the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) to inform the people of the benefits of the merger. 3.4.3 The Cobbold Commission When Tunku Abdul Rahman flew to London to discuss the formation Malaysia with the British government in November 1961, the British were very much in favour of it, but stipulated that the Borneo territories should agree with the merger. Hence, the British formed the Cobbold Commission led by Lord Cobbold, to investigate the reaction of the people in Sabah and Sarawak towards the merger. Two months later, after receiving thousands of letters, conducting thousands of interviews with the people of Sabah and Sarawak and countless public meetings, a conclusion was reached. Only one third of the population rejected the merger, hoping to join Malaya only after they achieved their independence. The other two thirds either supported the merger wholeheartedly or supported it on the grounds that their rights be maintained. Since the merger won the favour of the majority, it was approved by the British. On 16th September 1963, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak became one nation, known as Malaysia. Once again, an official proclamation was made by Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Merdeka Stadium. Two years later, however, on 9th August 1965, Singapore broke away from Malaysia and formed its own government. 3.4.4 Protest from neighbouring countries When Malaysia was formed, Indonesia and the Philippines disapproved of the new establishment due to their own ulterior motives. The Philippines claimed ownership of Sabah, stating that Sabah came under the Sulu Sultanate which belonged to the Philippines. As such, the Philippines did not acknowledge Malaysia as an independent country or the official declaration that took place on16th September 1963. The president of the Philippines, Macapagal had severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia. It was only sometime in June 1966, that the Philippines gave due recognition to Malaysia and acknowledged it as an independent country. Indonesia, on the other hand, was hoping to merge with Malaya to form "Indonesia Raya" and at the same time, establish an independent North Borneo Federation comprising Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.

The Indonesian president at the time, Sukarno, was heavily influenced by the Communist party in Indonesia and subsequently declared a Confrontation policy of on Malaysia from January 1963 to August 1966 to voice his objection of the formations of Malaysia. During this period, Indonesia put a halt to all diplomatic relations with Malaysia and launched an attack. The first stops the Indonesians made were at Pontian, Labis, Muar and Kota Tinggi. Agents were sent to overthrow the Malaysian government and at the same time, create misunderstanding among Malays and Chinese. The confrontation came to an eventual end when Sukarno was replaced by Suharto as the president of Indonesia. Consequently, a peace treaty was signed between both countries in Jun 1966.

Singapore decided to withdraw from Malaysia on 9th August 1965 to form her own Republic due to some disagreements, particularly about special rights of the natives. Hence, Malaysia today comprises Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Malaysia has now been enjoying independence for 46 years and is known to the world as a sovereign country. We are able to achieve economic, political and social stability and move rapidly towards a developed country. Although Malaysia is a plural society that consists of various races, they are able to live, co-operate and co-exist in harmony to build a strong and developed country. The understanding among the races, which creates unity in the country, plays a very important role in moulding Malaysia to be a politically stable country.

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