North Borneo was granted its Independence on 31 August 1963(1). Sixteen days later it formed Malaysia with Sarawak, Singapore and the Federation of Malaya i.e. on 16 September 1963.
Donald Stephens, Tun Fuad as he was known then, was appointed Sabah's first Chief Minister while Datu Mustapha was appointed her first Head of State. Datu Mustapha had expected that as Head of State, he would retain many functions previously in the purview of the all powerful Governor. When he realized that contrary to his expectations, it was the Chief Minister who wielded power, he became frustrated and refused to co-operate with Stephens. It got so bad that the government was unable to efficiently go about conducting the business of governing. The Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, mediated and the solution was for Stephens to step down. Stephens stepped down on 31 December 1964 and took up the position of federal minister for Sabah Affairs and Civil Defense. Replacing him as Chief Minister was Peter Lo who previously held the position as Federal Minister without portfolio.(2)
In June 1965, Lee Kuan Yew who had been championing Malaysian's Malaysia, challenged the capability of federal leaders to govern and suggested that Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak as recent entrants to Malaysia, and perhaps Melacca and Penang as well in view of the high presence of Chinese in their populace, as well as being former Straits Settlements themselves, formed a partition. He said these states could form a new nation. He said those states that preferred a Malay's Malaysia could stay on their own. In mid-July, there were racial clashes between the Chinese and Malays in Singapore which led to the Tunku to decide that Singapore should be booted out. On 9 August 1965, a resolution was passed in the federal parliament to separate Singapore from Malaysia.(3)
Stephens, now a Datuk, claimed that he was not consulted upon with regard to the booting out of Singapore and he should had been consulted since he was the Federal Minister for Sabah Affair. Together with Peter Mojuntin, the Secretary General of United Pasok Momogun Kadazan Organization (UPKO), he toured the state telling the people that Sabah should re-examine the Twenty Points, the conditions of Sabah's entry into Malaysia. Recalcitrance in Sabah was the least that the Tunku wanted because during this period, the Konfrontasi was ongoing, the Tunku was afraid that this might give President Sukarno of Indonesia, the excuse to step in and annex Sabah into Indonesia.
There was also speculation that Stephens was going to pull Sabah out of Malaysia and link up with Singapore. If this happened, Sarawak would had followed suit. Hence on 13 September 1965, the Tunku flew into Jesselton and fired Stephesn as Federal Minister for Sabah Affair and Civil Defence. This, the Tunku hoped, would limit his activity in state level. At the same time, the Tunku was already thinking of ways to neutralize Stephens and Tun Datu Mustapha bin Datu Harun became his prime candidate. Tun Mustapha was in Tunku's opinion, the only politician in Sabah with the stature to challenge Stephens. During this time, Tun Mustapha was still the Head of State.(4)
The Tunku encouraged Tun Mustapha to re-enter politic. Tun Mustapha was initially reluctant but agreed later when Tunku agreed to his requests for a fair degree of autonomy, logistical and economical assistance from the federal government and the help of a politically trained lawyer. Three days later, Tun Mustapha stepped down as Head of State to challenge Stephens in the incoming first election of an independent Sabah. Syed Kechik was sent to Sabah to help Tun Mustapha to neutralize Stephens.(5)
Syed Kechik engineered the coup to get Datuk Donald Stephens to step down as President of UPKO and retire from politic. He was also to convince UPKO members to force Peter Mojuntin into retirement and that his paper, The Sabah Times would run articles suggesting that USNO and UPKO should merge in the interest of bumiputra unity. In the book, The Politics of Federalism, it insinuated that Tun Mustapha would have sought alternative arrangement to save the face of a long-standing colleague. A passage from the book aptly described the situation, “The two were unwitting actors in a drama written by the federal government, and both felt compelled to play out their roles, however reluctantly”. The book further went on to say that had the encounter was between Stephens and other parties in the Sabah Alliance, he would have emerged unscathed, given his powers of articulation and pursuasion but this encounter was with Kuala Lumpur(6)
I will not go into detail on why Stephens agreed to these(you will have to get a copy of the book for more details), suffice to say that he was outmaneuvered. Meanwhile, Syed Kechik was aware that even with Stephens departure from politics, UPKO still posed a danger. Ganie Gilong, now the President of UPKO, was still calling for a re-examination of the Twenty Points and UPKO enjoyed popular support from the people. Syed Kechik cornered and coerced Ganie Gilong into making a public statement that UPKO would refrain from talking about the Twenty Points publicly but instead would discuss it internally. UPKO's apparent rapprochement with USNO made headlines throughout the country.(7)
Fast forward, Sabah had its first General Election and UPKO had a few Assemblymen elected. The following are a few excerpts from the book which painted the author's opinion of our early politicians:
“For them, to join up with the ruling government could be construed as a patriotic gesture in the interests of the nation. The real motivation for defection, however, was the accorded status of becoming a minister, the accompanying benefits of a line of credit with local banks, and the possibility of a timber concession. These were to be decisive. Neither Sabah politicians nor their public were noted for fidelity in the political arena, where personalities were more important than issues. And in the mind of a poorly-educated and essentially amateur politician, crossing over to USNO was not perceived as that treasonous a political act.
On 2 November 1967, Payar Juman, the UPKO member for Kiulu, resigned from UPKO to join USNO, accusing UPKO of creating political tension in the state and taking the party into the opposition without first having considered the consequences of this for the rank and file....”(8)
Stephens was by now financially drained because UPKO was practically bank rolled personally by him. By this and other factors, he acceded to Tun Mustapha's demand that UPKO was to be disbanded in the interest of bumiputra solidarity and its members absorbed by USNO.
Stephens was sent to his political exile in the form of a High Commissioner post in Australia. Out maneuvered and cut off from his power base in Sabah.
After the race riot on 13 May 1969, a state of emergency was declared throughout Malaysia. Tun Mustapha was appointed Chairman of the State Operations Committee (SOC) with the power to detain. Tun Mustapha used this power to detain his political opponent. Many opponents were detained including Yap Pak Leong, an independent Assemblyman who was the sole opposition in the Legislative Assembly and Khoo Tao Choon, the brother of Deputy Chief Minister Khoo Siak Chew.(9)
Meanwhile, Syed Kechik felt that the attachment of Sabah Muslims to Islam was more nominal than devoted and he worked on a concept of establishing an organization to promulgate Islam in Sabah. He felt that Islam could be a binding and rallying force in USNO as it is in UMNO in Malaya. There was also concern that if the majority of Kadazan Christians were to allign themselves with the Chinese, they could emerge as a new power base. He mooted the idea of setting up United Sabah Islamic Association (USIA) to Tun Mustapha who readily agreed to it since he had wanted Sabah to be Muslim and Sabah's language to be Malay, in order to bring the state closer to the situation in Malaya.(10)
The book said Syed Kechik did not anticipate the zeal of USIA workers in getting converts even to resort to pressure and intimidation. All he could do was put up with it tacitly. He also did not deny that there were missionaries being expelled in Sabah in that period but explained it away simply as their passes having expired and not renewed. Nonetheless, he admitted that there were instances where passes were simply terminated. He also conceded that there were instances where converts received rewards like money, promotion and timber areas from Tun Mustapha for their conversion.(11)
The Legislative Assembly's five year term was coming to an end in April 1972. Peter Mojuntin, USNO Assemblyman for Moyog, wrote a letter in 1970 addressed to the Prime Minister then, Tun Abdul Razak, accusing Tun Mustapha of persecuting Christians, running a police state and covering dishonesty with dishonesty. Hundreds of copies of this letter were in circulation in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. This was the first salvo initiated by Mojuntin to organize a challenge against Tun Mustapha. In February 1971, Mojuntin announced that he would form a new political party, Union of Sabah People (USAP), however, this did not materialize eventually and Mojuntin bade his time. (12)
Eventhough emergency regulations had been lifted for some months, Tun Mustapha was still wielding the detention powers. The book says this was an indulgence given by Tun Razak who was very well aware how the wealthy Chief Minister could personally play in helping out UMNO. One way to keep Tun Mustapha loyal was to give him the detention power.(128)
By 1974, Tun Mustapha had become an embarrassment to leaders in Kuala Lumpur who found themselves impotent to reign in the wily Chief Minister.
There were also rumour that Tun Mustapha was going to pull Sabah out of Malaysia. The rumour was taken seriously for Tunku Abdul Rahman, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia had issued a public plea to Tun Mustapha not to pursue secession. (A) The secession rumour was probably the final straw for Tun Razak. Tun Razak summoned Datuk Harris Salleh to Kuala Lumpur and told him that should Tun Mustapha declare Sabah's independence, he would declare emergency, send in troops and install Datuk Harris as Chairman of the SOC. Tun Razak also impressed on Datuk Harris that a new party had to be formed to challenge USNO. The book says Datuk Harris told Tun Razak that the only politician with sufficient stature to lead an opposition against USNO was Tun Fuad Stephens. A few weeks later, after a discussion with Tun Razak, Tun Fuad agreed to provide leadership.(16)
On the morning of 15 July 1975, Datuk Harris Salleh, Datuk Ghani Gilong, Datuk Peter Mojuntin, Datuk Salleh Sulong and Mohammed Noor Mansoor escorted by the police, announced at the main lounge of Borneo Hotel, the formation of Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah (BERJAYA).(14)
Source : The Politics of Federalism : Syed Kechik in East Malaysia
(1) Pg 8
(2) Pg 9
(3) Pg 11
(4) Pg 17
(5) Pg 18
(6) Pg 26
(7) Pg 27
(8) Pg 89
(9) Pg 101
(10) Pg 102
(11) Pg 108
(12) Pg 127
(13) Pg 128
(14) Pg 145
(15) Pg 146
(16) Pg 158
(A) Source - The Straits Times 24 July 1975 : Tunku's plea to Tun M: Don't Pull Out