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Myths of Malaysia

Revisiting the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, and relating them to the political situation today.

Written by johnleemk on 3:29:56 pm May 27, 2007.

There are a number of interesting stories going around related to the political history and structure of Malaysia. There are two which are often repeated as gospel truth in the alternative media, but which I don't really find accurate.

The first is that Malaysia's independence should be calculated as starting from 1963, and not 1957, because the former is when Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia and gained their independence.

It is of course true that prior to 1963, Sabah and Sarawak were British colonies, so their true Merdeka came in 1963. But if we celebrate our independence day as 16 September 1963, what do we make of the other eleven states which had already been independent for six years?

Also, this concept rests on the presumption that the Malaysian federation and the Federation of Malaya are two completely different entities. Legally, this is probably true (I can't find enough resources on the legal aspects of merger to be certain).

But there is a very good case for a viewpoint I personally support — that the Malayan federation took in three new states (Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak) in 1963, and was renamed Malaysia.

After all, what else was there to distinguish Malaya from Malaysia? Malaysia was not a new state in any sense; Malaya did not have to leave the United Nations and Malaysia did not have to rejoin it. We did not draw up a new Constitution.

This harping on recognising 1963 as the "true" date of Malaysian independence really masks a huger problem — the divide between East and West Malaysia. West Malaysians generally tend to ignore the fact that Sabah and Sarawak are part of our country too.

Thus, eager to seek recognition for themselves, the East Malaysians seize on anything which will aid their cause — and I suppose that includes the specious 1963 independence claim.

There is also another issue, one which I find nearly as ridiculous as the nebulous "social contract". Apparently, there is this idea amongst some that because Sabah and Sarawak merged with Malaya as equals, the country is actually divided into three — West Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

Going by this reasoning, some reasonable requests have been made using faulty logic. For example, I recall one East Malaysian politician saying stating along the lines of that the federal government should split its distribution of revenue equally between West and East Malaysia because we merged as equals.

There are good arguments for asking for more federal aid, folks. But this historical argument just can't be one of them. Relying on this quirk of history is just as silly as some Malay drug addict relying on the quirk of history that some UMNO bigwig told some MCA bigwig that the Chinese wouldn't get citizenship if they didn't let the Malays write things like Article 153 into the Constitution.

It seems Malaysians don't really get how bargaining works. You see, prior to sealing the deal, you can bargain and you can haggle. So the Malays can press the non-Malays to accept certain aspects of a "social contract", and the Malayans and Sabahans and Sarawakians can come to the bargaining table as equals.

But once the deal is sealed — once the Constitution takes effect and once merger is effected — you can't whack people over the head with that "social contract" anymore, nor can you claim to be an "equal", unless the law says you can.

And guess what? The law tells the social contractors and Malay supremacists to shove off, and also does not single out the East Malaysian states for special treatment as subnational units that are more powerful than other states.

To me, East Malaysians trying to press this issue are not really addressing what I've called the East Malaysian Question. At the moment, there is a major imbalance of power — East Malaysians actually hold more power than West Malaysians in some areas, but West Malaysians are dominant in others.

The appropriate solution is obviously to correct this imbalance. The answer is not to make it worse. Sabah and Sarawak are just two more states in the federation of Malaysia — it may not sound pretty, but it's the truth. If they don't like the federation, they can try to secede, but otherwise, they must accept that this is a federation, and not a devolved confederation.