April 5, 2010

Interference and Political wrangling in the early years of Sabah and Malaysia

I stumbled upon this old book tucked away in a book shelves at my late grandfather’s home. My late uncle’s initial was scribbled on it. $12/- was also handwritten in the same page. The book was all dusty, the cover was not interesting at all (I confess, I usually pick up a book only when I fancy its cover) but I decided to read it.

The book’s title is “The Politics of Federalism – Syed Kechik in East Malaysia”. It is a biography of Syed Kechik by one Bruce Ross-Larson, published in December 1976. Printed in Singapore by Times Printers Sdn Bhd.

I think most Malaysians and even young Sabahans do not know who Syed Kechik is, nor did I. However, he apparently yielded tremendous influence in the politics and policies of the Sabah state government, to a point that there was a stage when West Malaysian leaders became wary of him.

Syed Kechik was a West Malaysia Malay, a lawyer by profession. In late 1965, Kuala Lumpur’s top leadership instructed him to go to Sabah to do what he could for the cause of federalism. What was suppose to be a short stint became an indefinite stay for Syed Kechik. He became heavily intertwined with the politics of Sabah and her politicians. He was not a politician and he was always in the background. Perhaps you could say that he was the one actually running the state.

Syed Kechik was both a shrewd player of the game called Politic and businessman. He became one of the most powerful and richest men in Sabah in his time.

The book gives an insight of what went behind the scene in the implementation of policies, the ‘installation’ of political leaders etc that directly influenced the course of our Sabah history and Malaysia as a whole.
You should get yourself a copy of this book. To entice you, let me give some excerpts from the book,
The Malaysian government, in the wake of the separation of Singapore, was concerned about solidarity in East Malaysia. Datuk Donald Stephens, then the federal Minister for Sabah Affairs, claimed that he had not been consulted on the separation decision and that as a member of the cabinet he deserved that courtesy. In fact, until the cabinet meeting held immediately before the parliamentary session in which the separation bill was tabled, Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and Home Minister Tun (Dr.) Ismail were the only Kuala Lumpur leaders the Tunku consulted about his decision. At this meeting, the Tunku outlined the course chosen, explained the reasons, and put up the bill as a fait accompli to his cabinet ministers, all fo whom endorsed it. This notwithstanding, Stephens returned to Jesselton, feigning outrage at having been ignored in a major federal policy decision and expressing apprehensionover the implications ths might have for Sabah’s relationship with the federal government. Together with Peter Mojuntin, the Secretary-General of his United Pasok-momogun Kadazan Organization (UPKO), he toured the state clamouring for a re-examination of the Twenty Points, the condition of Sabah’s entry into Malaysia which protected her interests within the federal framework.
The thing least wanted at this time was recalcitrance in the Borneo states. Indonesia’s Confrontation of Malaysia continued, and President Sukarno would doubtless have been delighted at the opportunity to step in and annex the potentially rich states that were tied geographically to Kalimantan. The Philippines were still pursuing their claim to Sabah in the international courts, and discontent in Sabah might have encouraged President Diasdado Macapagal to abandon diplomatic channels for more direct methods. Stephens himself was thought to be actively pursuing the possibility of a link-up with Singapore. He presumably felt slighted by the solution to the December 1964 crisis in the Sabah cabinet, which resulted in his being relegated from the most influential post in Sabah to a position of considerably less importance in Kuala Lumpur. The handling of the separation of Singapore added fuel to his federal dissatisfaction, leaving him with greater sympathy for Singapore than Kuala Lumpur. And as far as the still-influential British community in Sabah was concerned, their future was tied to Singapore’s, and Stephen was their link.
The Tunku saw Stephen’s activities not only as a breach of faith, but as a threat to the federation. A link-up between Sabah and Singapore would have been a severe emotional blow to the nation, and Sarawak probably would have followed suit. Moreover, the disintegration of Malaysia, the brainchild of the Tunku, would have damaged him politically. His thinking went beyond this, however. He believed Sabah and Sarawak went natural parts of the larger Malaysia, and having been instrumental in drawing these states into the federation, he felt a responsibility to their governments and people. The spectre of conflict for control of the Borneo states loomed large, and the only thing that could counter this was a solid demonstration of support for the remaining in Malaysia.
For the uninitiated, Donald Stephens or Tun Mohd Fuad Stephens was the first Chief Minister of Sabah. He was also the first Huguon Siou or Paramount Leader of the KadazanDusun community.

Datuk Peter Mojuntin was another prominent KadazanDusun leader.

Both were killed in a plane crashed which came to be known as the Double Six Tragedy on 6 June 1976. For better or worse, had fate not cut them down at their prime, Sabah would have been a different Sabah.
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