Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sarawak Land Reform - The Historical Context

In his seminal book Malaysian Politics (2nd Edition 1976), Gordon P. Means wrote on the saga of Stephen Kalong Ningkan's attempt to institute land reform in Sarawak:-
During 1965 a political crisis developed within the Sarawak Alliance over land reform proposed by the Chief Minister, Stephen Kalong Ningkan of SNAP. While the legislation had been under consideration for almost three years the decision to implement the proposals came as a surprise to those who hoped they would be forgotten. The basic question was whether the system of native land rights should be amended to allow greater land use by the immigrant communities. Under previous laws the Chinese could only own land in very limited areas designated as "Mixed Zones", while Malays and natives own land in "Native Areas". In addition, the interior tribal natives had customary rights over "Native Customary Land". Chief Minister Ningkan's land reform bills would have changed these laws by giving the interior natives right to acquire full title to "Native Customary Land", including the right to sell their land to whomever they wished. Consequently, the proposed reforms were advantageous to interior tribal natives who would gain title to large tracts of potentially valuable jungle land (emphasis added).
Means went on to describe the following:-
When Ningkan got wind of the efforts being made by BARJASA Secretary-General Inche Taib Mahmud to undermine his government from within, he dismissed Inche Taib from the Sarawak Cabinet. This action precipitated a crisis between the pro-Ningkan forces and the pro-Kuala Lumpur forces. From the point of view of the Federal Government, the test of strength came prematurely, for only BARJASA and Pesaka joined the revolt, while Ningkan retained the support of his own party (SNAP) along with PANAS and the SCA. The next day an entourage of BARJASA and Pesaka officials flew to Kuala Lumpur, and later produced a letter which expressed "no confidence" in Ningkan. On the basis of this letter, signed by 21 members of the Council Negri, Tunku Abdul Rahman demanded that Ningkan resign. Ningkan refused to do so since the opposition parties had no desire to bring down his government on this issue (i.e. the issue of land reform in Sarawak), and thus with their votes he was confident of gaining 21 of the 42 votes in the Council Negri, plus the Speaker's casting vote. Consequently, BARJASA and Pesaka boycotted the Council Negri sessions, preferring instead to invite direct federal intervention.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ningkan was sacked and the attempt at land reform was buried.
The key document that we should re-visit is the Report of the Land Committee, 1962 (Kuching, Sarawak; Government Printer, 1963) published by the Government of Sarawak.


dominique ng said...

v humbled to see west malaysians so interested and learned on sarawak's political history. being a sarawakian with some pretenses of political aspirations, and one who is supposed to be or supposedly well read on the topic, i must say i have not yet seen the book by means! great insight, and keep it up. our dearly beloved current cm has played a very big role in dividing up and smashing dayak dreams in sarawak. its time for a change. am glad many are choosing to be part of that change! dominique ng

Secawan Kopi said...

Taib go to Hell.

I'll fight the CM post..