by Terence Netto @http://www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT: The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (MBRAS) did well to bring two people who had some engagement with the creation of Malaysia in 1963 to shed perspectives on that event.
Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was a young economist and member of UMNO when Malaysia was formed. He was invited by MBRAS to deliver a lecture in Kuala Lumpur yesterday on the formation of Malaysia 50 years ago.
The MP for Gua Musang used the occasion to remind his listeners what UMNO has chosen to miss out on when the party neglected last week to place him among the contestants for its presidency.
He plunged into the miasma of contention that has in the last decade engulfed the issue of Sarawak’s and, especially, Sabah’s joining Malaysia and emerged with a constructive handle by which to steer matters to a resolution.
This was his proposal to restart a review process that was scheduled to be held in 1973, 10 years after Malaysia’s formation, but did not take place because the person who was to chair the task, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman (right), died in August that year.
Twenty-nine months later, Abdul Razak Hussein, the prime minister who had approved the review, also died. And with that the matter was consigned to a backburner.
(Tun) Hanif Omar, the former Inspector-General of Police, was a young officer who was tasked with assignments connected to Malaysia’s formation immediately prior and long after the seminal event took place.
Chairing yesterday’s lecture by dint of his chairpersonship of MBRAS, Hanif had shards of absorbing information to contribute but these did not cohere the way Razaleigh’s discourse did because, while Hanif’s bits and pieces did inform, they did not enlighten.
No doubt, Hanif’s (left) recall of interesting, even intriguing, minutiae would make for a plum pudding of a memoir on a career that spanned the early decades of Malaysia’s emergence to full-fledged nationhood.
But minus a frame, Hanif’s tidbits generated sparks but there was little illumination to be had. Tidbits can titillate but it is insight that enlightens and charts the way forward.
For that reason, Razaleigh’s paddling was more constructive for he chose to steer by a compass he took from Malaysia’s principal proponent, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Federation of Malaya’s first Prime Minister in 1957 and of the confab that emerged in 1963, with Singapore’s merger with the federation, joined together with Sarawak and Sabah, with Brunei choosing to stay out for nebulous reasons, on which Hanif had some quirky takes.
Broad and generous vision
The Tunku’s vision was broad and generous. He sought to allow Lee Kuan Yew to outflank formidable left wing forces through Singapore’s merger with Malaya and to counterbalance the thereby numerical superiority of the Chinese with the natives of Sarawak and Sabah who had vast tracts of territory but little know-how to develop it, besides having to face an incipient communist insurgency and Sukarno’s adventurism.
In Razaleigh’s recap of the consultations and negotiations that preceded the formation of Malaysia, the breadth and generosity of Tunku’s vision had the redemptive power to overcome the penumbras, crochets and quavers in the Malaysia agreements.
But recalcitrant realities are always baulking ideals, realities like the mortality of pivotal leaders - Ismail’s unexpected death in 1973 - before he could get down to the task of a review of the founding documents that presaged Malaysia’s formation, a review that could have taken cognisance of incubating discontents in Sabah and Sarawak.
Not for nothing did the Tunku, in the last years of his life (he died in December 1990) while staying in Penang, refer to Ismail as ‘that noble one” to visitors who tapped his recollections of past history the elder statesman had witnessed.
Razaleigh did not just steer by the vision the Tunku enunciated in 1961 when he first mooted the idea of Malaysia.
He had opinions of his own, the most telling of which was that Putrajaya should not pass off August 31 as Merdeka (Independence) day for Malaysians, Sabahans and Sarawakians included. The day is only significant for those on the Peninsula, not for the whole of Malaysia.
Razaleigh said only September 16 has historical significance for Malaysians because it was the day on which Malaysia was founded, an opinion that elicited Hanif’s faint demurral.
Clearly, for Razaleigh, the way out of the churning discontent in Sabah and Sarawak that he said posed “unprecedented political and economic challenges” to Malaysia required candid acceptance of the facts of our history that must be taught to the young if they are not to inherit the whirlwind.