Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sarawak: From Ningkan's sacking to Taib's dominance

Malaysiakini has published Sim Kwang Yang's The Dayak dilemma, Part 2. This time around, I don't quite agree with his thrust which suggests that Tunku Abdul Rahman's Federal Government had a clandestine organising role in orchestrating the removal of Stephen Kalong Ningkan. There was more to it that meets the eye. First, read Sim's version of the Ningkan affair here:

Although the demographic composition of the various ethnic communities is vastly different from that in West Malaysia, there have been tremendous pressure from Kuala Lumpur for Sarawak politics to conform to the racial equation that exists in the Umno-led alliance on the Malayan Peninsula even before Merdeka.

The idea that then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and Sarawak chief ministers Rahman Yakub and his nephew, Taib Mahmud (both from the partisan Rakyat Jati Sarawak, or Berjasa) shared was the creation of a Sarawak alliance dominated by Muslim/Malay/Melanau leaders with subservient Dayak and Chinese partners.

From the very beginning prior to and after Merdeka, there was this heavy tendency for federal intervention into Sarawak politics to ensure the creation of a Malay nationalist polity through Malaysia. Even then, Umno was determined to create Sarawak in its own image. This tendency at the Malayanisation of Sarawak politics was resisted by the first Iban chief minister, Stephen Kalong Ningkan of the Sarawak National Party (Snap).

sarawak natives dayakFor this and many other reasons, Stephen Kalong Ningkan was forcibly removed from office by a federally initiated declaration of emergency and a constitutional amendment in Parliament. A stop-gap Iban chief minister Tawi Sli was elected, and after the general election of 1970, Rahman Yakub – a Muslim Melanau – stepped in to take over the helm of Sarawak government. Muslim Melanau dominance has continued to this day.

I find Gordon P Means' version of this history more compelling. I had blogged about precisely this episode in a piece entitled, Sarawak Land Reform - The Historical Context where I extracted from Gordon P Means' seminal book, Malaysian Politics as follows:

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 and, in so doing, Means also provided a version of the events leading to the sacking of Ningkan. It wasn't so much the sinister Federal Government's hidden hand as Sarawak's own political chicanery that caused the downfall of Ningkan. And, the move to sack Ningkan is likely to have been sparked off by the issue of land reform. This is an issue that continues to simmer until today and, the issue of Native Customary Land may figure even more prominently in the forthcoming state elections:-

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.


chapchai said...

Minimis, it is interesting the issue of land reform has been brought up because I think this is relevant to today's problems in Sarawak. A relative of mine was involved in the drafting of this land reform bill under Kalong Ningkang. I believe Taib objected to this reform on the grounds that the natives would be "robbed" of their land by conniving Chinese developers. But look who has done the robbing!

de minimis said...

hi chapchai

Interesting observation about Taib's objection to the land reform bill.

Ti Lian Ker said...

In the late 60s , 70s and later 80s...Umno no one escape UMNO's dominance and greed for power and control. That was ketuanan at it's peak...
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

de minimis said...

Ti Lian Ker

UMNO's dominance in the first 50 years of Merdeka is a historical fact. But, in the context of Sarawak politics, it was local Sarawak political actors that plotted their ambitions. It was a matter of how to get the UMNO leaders on their side. In the Stephen Kalong Ningkan episode, the events point to Sarawak leaders persuading Tunku to act against Kalong Ningkan.

Thank you for making a comment at this blog.