Tuesday, 17 March 2015

What if Sarawak and Sabah had united with Singapore in 1963?

COMMENT: In September last year figures derived from the e-Kasih government programme (to combat poverty) revealed that Sarawak had overtaken Sabah as the state with the largest number of poor people in Malaysia – more than 100,000 had registered under the programme that month alone!

This also meant that Sabah was the second poorest in a nation of 14 states.

This effectively meant that after 52 long years within the federation of the Malaystates, when once as British Protectorates, both our states had enjoyed relatively abundant wealth, relative independence and a form of self-rule within the limits of the Commonwealth, we have now been relegated to a state of almost bare survival impoverishment and just short of being beggars living with all the wealth surrounding us, but none to our name.

What if during that fateful time in 1963, both the Bornean states of Sarawak and Sabah had decided to unite with Singapore instead?

Singapore had struck out on its own – a small tiny dot of an island, with a population of 1.8 million; Sarawak’s 900,000 and Sabah’s 600,000 would only have added a mere 1.5 million to give it a total of 3.3 million, with an overall slight majority of Chinese balanced by Dayaks, Kadazans and Malays.

At the time Singapore had virtually nothing to speak of, no natural resources, a small island with no basic infrastructure nor industry and no land for agriculture. The Bornean states had all the arable and fertile land, with a small population and no human nor monetary capital to speak of.

With great foresight and planning and a hard working labour force at his command, Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP managed to lead and guide and forge that little red dot of an island republic into the world’s third richest country today – without all those natural resources, without having to ingratiate itself to any world power be it the USA, Russia or China. It had branded itself as “a friend to all, an enemy of none”. A virtual Switzerland in the Far East! 

Today, the population figures have boomed with Singapore having 5.47 million people, Sarawak (1.43 million) and Sabah (2.48 million).

Here’s a comparison of the 2013 GNI per capita out of 199 countries – Singapore was No. 4 with US$76,860 (RM279,885) and Malaysia, No. 53 with  US$22,530 (RM82,042).

In hindsight and retrospectively reviewing the current situation, what had happened?

Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first prime minister, had been troubled by a groundswell of dissatisfaction among his Umno ranks that the number of Chinese in Singapore plus those in Sarawak and Sabah, could have easily tipped the balance of power between the Malays and Chinese if and when it came to the general elections; and eventually the power balance may lie in the votes coming in from a third force, a combination of the Peninsular Indians and Bornean natives of Ibans, Bidayuhs and Kadazans.

This was something that the early Umno politicos could not accept.

So, between having to take this risk or nipping it in the bud, the Tunku did the latter and had decided to “sack Singapore” from the Federation. The rest as they say is history.

If only our forefathers in Sarawak and Sabah had then taken a longer and more insightful look into what the future could have held ... that the Tunku would not be in power forever, that the new Umnocrats in the West would behave more and more chauvinistic and become more racial and more ultra-religious ... and that eventually there will be discord and bad management ... but all these were then only “what ifs”.

Our leaders then – the likes of Stephen Kalong Ningkan, Ong Kee Hui and Donald Stephens – would have had to sit down and negotiate with the likes of a young and tempestuous Lee Kuan Yew and a seasoned politician Goh Chin Chye – but they could, if they would, they might well have negotiated a union ... but again that’s all in the past – the “what ifs and whereforths”.

But if they had and they did and managed to form a Federation of Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah – whatever they might have named it – it would most likely have survived and prospered and done more, much more ... with the later years of discovery, exploration and export of oil, natural gas, some (controlled) timber extraction and immense agricultural exports.

Ah ... yes ... dream on ... yes indeed ... if only!  We can only dream.



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