KUALA LUMUR: Malaysia was officially born on Sept 16, 1963 when Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore formed a federation.
But the road to nationhood began two years prior, on May 27, 1961, when Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed the joining of the four territories. This led to a meeting in Singapore on July 23, 1961 of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Branch of Malaya and Borneo, which agreed to establish the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee.
Chaired by Tun Mohammad Fuad Stephens, the committee was responsible for outlining and articulating the concept of “Malaysia” to the people, including in Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei. The series of meetings ran from Aug 1961 to Feb 1962 in Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
The result saw the setting up of the Cobbold Commission on Jan 17, 1962, which was chaired by Lord Cobbold. Its members were Wong Pow Nee and Mohd Ghazali Shafie who represented Malaya; as well as Sir Anthony Abell and Sir David Watherston, who represented the British government.
The Cobbold Commission’s task was to canvass the opinions of the people of Sabah and Sarawak on the Malaysia concept.
Between Feb and April 1962, the Cobbold Commission met with more than 4,000 people and received 2,200 memorandums from various quarters.
They found that 80 per cent Sarawakians and Sabahans supported joining the proposed Malaysian federation; and accepted the Malaya Federal Constitution of 1957.
The people also accepted the designation of Islam as the official religion of the federation and Bahasa Melayu as the national language.
The Cobbold Commission then proposed the setting up of the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC); that the “Malaya” federation be changed to the “Malaysian” Federation; that autonomy and special guarantees on several matters be given to Sabah and Sarawak; and that a special status be accorded to the indigenous peoples of both states.
Sabahans and Sarawakians also put forth several reasonable claims to protect their interests – known as the 20-Point claim - prior to joining the union.
However, the initiative hit several snags when Parti Rakyat Brunei leader A M Azhari opposed the concept; and Indonesian president Sukarno declared a “confrontation” in 1962.
The Philippines also stepped forward to claim Sabah on the grounds that the territory belonged to the Sultan of Sulu, who signed an agreement with the British Government in 1878.
Nevertheless, the Cobbold Commission’s report was completed and presented to the British and Malaya governments on July 21, 1962.
Tunku Abdul Rahman then formed a committee, chaired by him, to study the report. The members of the committee were Tun Abdul Razak, Tan Siew Sin, Datuk Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Datuk V T Sambanthan.
On July 9, 1963, a “formation of the Malaysian federation” agreement was signed at the Commonwealth Liaison Office in Marlborough House, London.
The agreement was signed by representatives from the British government, Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore, with an agreement reached to establish Malaysia on Aug 31, 1963.
However, the Philippines and Indonesia’s strong resistance to the union forced the United Nations to send a mission to Borneo in 1963 to seek the views of the majority of the people on the matter. It was determined that most Sabahans and Sarawakians were in favour of joining the federation.
Finally, the declaration of the formation of the Malaysian federation was made at Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 16, 1963. It was attended by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Malay Rulers, and the governors of Penang, Melaka, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah.
The declaration was read by Tunku Abdul Rahman in the presence of 30,000 people.