One country, three histories

Great promise: Signatories of the Malaysia Agreement arriving in London on July 12, 1963.

The leaders should accept the fact that Malaysia’s MA63 is a loosely structured federalism, says don.

OVER some teh tarik, Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin had a chat with a 40-something geography PhD graduate from Peninsula Malaysia. The subject was what was happening in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, especially over MA63 (Malaysia Agreement 1963).

MA63 set out the terms and conditions in which North Borneo (as Sabah was called), Sarawak and Singapore agreed to merge with the Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

“Can you please explain to me what is MA63,” said the PhD graduate.

“Don’t you know that there was a Malaysian agreement in 1963 when Malaysia was formed and over the years the agreement has been changed and redefined?” the political analyst replied.

Prof Shamsul Amri was quite surprised that someone with such qualification did not have a broader knowledge on the subject.

“It made me realise that if this person doesn’t know or is not clear about MA63, can you imagine what the man on the street knows about the subject.

“Probably they know more, I don’t know. It begs the question that generally people from Peninsular Malaysia don’t know much or don’t care about MA63,” he said.

MA63, according to Prof Shamsul Amri, is a very critical issue that Malaysians have to understand. He said we couldn’t take the AirAsia view, which is you fly there (to Sabah and Sarawak) and therefore you know the two Bornean states.

“That is not enough. Because the word in English is ‘you touch down’ and ‘you go off’. How much do you know during that turnaround period? You can’t learn much,” he said.

The political analyst argued that the reason many Malaysians do not understand it is because historically, these three areas called Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak have a different trajectory. Malaysia, he said, was one country with three histories.

History, he said, created structures that were frozen the moment MA63 was created. “So, therefore, Sabah remains in the form of the British North Borneo Company ethos (the company that owned North Borneo), Sarawak by the Rajah Brooke ethos and Peninsular Malaysia by the complicated and unresolved ethos (where some states were ruled by Sultans, some by Yang diPertuan Besar and others by governors before 1948),” he said

“Why is Umno not in Sarawak? Why is it in Sabah? It reflects the reception related state holding ethos (North Borneo Company) in Sabah and the family ethos (Raja Brooke) in Sarawak,” he said.

Not only does Malaysia have three histories, Prof Shamsul Amri noted, it also has three tiers of Federation – Federation of Negeri Sembilan (1773), Federation of Malaya (1948) and Federation of Malaysia (1963). The significance of MA63, he said, becomes more important because it gave an idea that each construction of the Federation, there was an agreement.

“If you don’t understand this layering, you will not understand the complexities we have, you won’t understand Kitingan’s concept and you won’t understand what Mahathir is trying to say. They are talking about a different narrative. This narrative was informed by the historical experience they have,” he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Sabahans and Sarawakians to think as Malaysians after he was asked whether Putrajaya consulted Sabah and Sarawak over several issues. The “Sabah for Sabahans” and “Sarawak for Sarawakians” mentality was not unhealthy, the Prime Minister said. Everyone should think of themselves as Malaysians, he said.

In response, Keningau MP and Tambunan assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said the “Malaysia” promoted and agreed by our forefathers did not exist as the “Malaysia” that exists today is not what was agreed prior to MA63. What was agreed, promised and assured were, he said:

(1) independence through the formation of Malaysia which even Tunku Abdul Rahman promised was “absolute independence in the Federation”.

(2) equal partners through a merger and that a new nation would be created, a confederation, with the Borneo Territories retaining their individualities.

(3) freedom of religion with no official religion for Sabah and Sarawak with a promise by Tunku that Malaysia would be secular and not be turned into an Islamic state.

(4) English as an official language.

(5) the political franchise in Sabah and Sarawak will belong exclusively to the people of Sabah and Sarawak.

(6) promises of development and security for the Borneo Territories.

(7) Sabah and Sarawak natives would be protected.

(8) the people of Sabah and Sarawak shielded by immigration powers.

(9) there would be Borneonisation and that Malayans would not be the new “expatriates” replacing the British.

(10) revenues derived from Sabah and Sarawak to be returned with Sabah specifically provided 40% of the revenues.

“Instead, it turned out that Malaysia is only a change of name for Malaya and Malaysia is still Malaya. There was no new nation or new Federation. The Federation that is now called Malaysia is actually the Federation of Malaya created in 1957,” said the Sabah Star president. “The independence celebrated by Malaysians every August 31 is the independence of Malaya and the age of Malaysia dates from August 31, 1957, instead of Malaysia Day, September 16, 1963.”

The voice of Kitingan is the voice of difference not the voice of opposition, Prof Shamsul Amri said, and noted that “we must differentiate that.”

As for Dr Mahathir, Pro Shamsul Amri said, the Prime Minister was expressing a hope that we can see ourselves as Malaysian first.

But, Prof Shamsul Amri believes the reality was that not everyone feels happy.

“Everyone feels that they are not given a chance and equality. And most important is for Sabahans and Sarawakians, the Federal government takes all its oil money and only give back five per cent,” he said.

The most important evidence Prof Shamsul Amri uses again and again that Sabah and Sarawak have their history is the fact that he has to carry his passport (identity card will suffice) when he enters the two states.

“They don’t want to be bullied by the Federation. They want to be recognised as having the ability to manage themselves,” he said.

“When Sabah and Sarawak came together with Malaya to form Malaysia, the agreement was I keep mine and you keep yours. The best example is the passport. It means that they were already born a state with their own identity,” he said.

“Why do I have to carry my passport (or identity card) there? It is because they don’t want to be dominated. MA63 is an issue about domination and they refuse to be dominated.”

Prof Shamsul Amri said it was not that Sabah and Sarawak refused to be Malaysian, it is because they refuse their history to be erased.

“They don’t want Malaya to take over. Especially when it comes to religion because Sabah and Sarawak have a strong Christian bastion. They don’t speak loud about it but the undertone in both states when there is no dominating influence from outside, they just keep quiet but the moment Malaya come in to influence them, they make noise,” he said.

The professor, who is a government consultant on national unity index, said it was the same with English language and education which Sabah and Sarawak want to control.

“They are saying don’t take this away as we have our autonomy. What I look at Sabah and Sarawak is they want to maintain the way their nation was created before they formed Malaysia,” he said.

Prof Shamsul Amri said we must accept the fact that Malaysia was a country separated by sea. “But we also decided to live together but we also decided to live on our own because that is how we were before,” he said.

He said the wise thing to do in this country was for leaders to accept the fact that Malaysia’s MA63 is a loosely structured federalism to allow people pre-existence state to maintain their identity.

“That is what Malaysia should be. For that Malaysia will be a model to the rest of the world. This is what new Malaysia should be,” he said.

“We must exploit our diversity to our advantage and not make it a negative reason.”

As a Sabahan, I feel that Malaysians should celebrate unity in diversity. Kita kita juga baini (we are all one).

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