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Malayan union to establish system

Info: 2776 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 11th May 2017 in History

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In the year of 1945, after the Japanese surrendered and ended the Second World War. Although the Japanese taken Malaya for only three and half years (from 15th February 1942 till 15th August 1945), they had left a great impact on the country. Later, the British returned to Malaya and gave the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) the opportunity to rule the government. According to the history, the MCP only controls Malaya for 14 days because during their supervision, MCP members created trouble and chaos. The British returned to Malaya in September 1945 and set up the British Military Administration (BMA) to bring back peace to Malaya. The BMA system did not last long and British come up with another new system of administration known as the Malayan Union.

On April 1, 1946 the Malayan Union officially came into existence with Sir Edward Gent as its governor. The capital of the Union was Kuala Lumpur.

The idea of the Union was first expressed by the British on October 1945 (plans had been presented to the War Cabinet as early as May 1944) in the aftermath of the Second World War by the British Military Administration. Sir Harold MacMichael was assigned the task of gathering the Malay state rulers’ approval for the Malayan Union in the same month. In a short period of time, he managed to obtain all the Malay rulers’ approval. The reasons for their agreement, despite the loss of political power that it entailed for the Malay rulers, has been much debated; the consensus appears to be that the main reasons were that as the Malay rulers were of course resident during the Japanese occupation, they were open to the accusation of collaboration, and that they were threatened with dethronement. Hence the approval was given, though it was with utmost reluctance.

The Key Features of the Malayan Union :-

1)The Malayan Union gave equal rights to people who wished to apply for citizenship. It was automatically granted to people who were born in any state in British Malaya or Singapore and were living there before 15 February 1942, born outside British Malaya or the Straits Settlements only if their fathers were citizens of the Malayan Union and those who reached 18 years old and who had lived in British Malaya or Singapore “10 out of 15 years before 15 February 1942”. The group of people eligible for application of citizenship had to live in Singapore or British Malaya “for 5 out of 8 years preceding the application”, had to be of good character, understand and speak the English or Malay language and “had to take an oath of allegiance to the Malayan Union”.

2)The Sultans, the traditional rulers of the Malay states, conceded all their powers to the British Crown except in religious matters.

3)The Malayan Union was placed under the jurisdiction of a British Governor, signalling the formal inauguration of British colonial rule in the Malay peninsula.

4)Moreover, even though State Councils were still kept functioning in the former Federated Malay States, it lost the limited autonomy that they enjoyed as they administered some local and less important aspects of government and the Federal government in Kuala Lumpur controlling vital aspects. State Councils became an extended hand of the Federal government that had to do its bidding.

5)Also, British Residents replacing the Sultans as the head of the State Councils meant that the political status of the Sultans were greatly reduced.

6)Equal rights for all citizens regardless of race origin.This includes the entry into government service and the right to vote in the general elections.

7)Made up of the nine Malay states,Penang Island and Malacca.

The Failure of Malayan Union plan is due to :-

The Malays generally opposed the creation of the Union. The opposition was due to the methods Sir Harold MacMichael used to acquire the Sultans’ approval, the reduction of the Sultans’ powers, and the granting of citizenship to non-Malay immigrants and their descendants-especially the ethnic Chinese, not only because of their racial and religious difference but also because their economic dominance was seen as a threat to the Malays. The United Malays National Organization or UMNO, a Malay political association formed by Dato’ Onn bin JaHYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onn_Jaafar”‘HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onn_Jaafar”afar on March 1, 1946, led the opposition against the Malayan Union. Malays also wore white bands around their heads, signifying their mourning for the loss of the Sultans’ political rights. However, ex-Malayan government officials criticised the way these constitutional reforms were brought about in Malaya, even saying that it went against the principles of the Atlantic Charter. They also encouraged Malay opposition to the Malayan Union. The fact that people were allowed to hold dual nationalities meant there was a possibility that the Chinese and Indians would be loyal to their home country, rather than Malaya.

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After the inauguration of the Malayan Union, the Malays, under UMNO, continued opposing the Malayan Union. They utilised civil disobedience as a means of protest by refusing to attend the installation ceremonies of the British governors. They had also refused to participate in the meetings of the Advisory Councils, hence Malay participation in the government bureaucracy and the political process had totally stopped.

As a result of the opposition from the local people the Malayan Union was not implemented .Summarized below are the factors which lead to the failure of the Union.

1)Strong opposition from the Local Malays. The suggestion to set up the Malayan Union stirred up a strong sense of nationalism among the Malays.

2)No strong support from the non-Malays. The non-Malays were not interested in the Malayan Union because it excluded Singapore.

3)Wrong timing. Communal feelings and hostility still existed between the Malays and the Chinese as result of the Japanese Occupation. The conditions in Malaya then were still not really peaceful. Social and economic problems were obvious. The Malayan Union was accused of putting the Malays at a disadvantage and favouring the non-Malays. Malay loyalty to their ruler and state was still strong.

4)Wrong introduction. The Union was drawn up in London without taking into account the situation and wishes of the people in Malaya. There was also strong objection to the use of political blackmail to get the agreement signed.

5)Opposition from former British administrators in Malaya. They urged the British to protect the interests and special rights of the Malays.

The British had recognised this problem and took measures to consider the opinions of the major races in Malaya before making amendments to the constitution. The Malayan Union ceased to exist in January, 1948. It was replaced by the Federation of Malaya.


Zakaria Haji Ahmad. Government and Politics (1940-2006). p.p 30-21

Marissa Champion. Odyssey: Perspectives on Southeast Asia – Malaysia and Singapore 1870-1971.

Sejarah Malaysia.

Malaysian Studies-Nationhood and Citizenship.

Question 2

Discuss the factors that led to the formation of Malaysia and elaborate on the strong

opposition to the merger from Indonesia and the Philippines. (50 marks)

Sometime in 1955, and later in 1959, Singapore had suggested that it be merged with Malaya. This proposal, however, was rejected by Malaya. At the time, Singapore’s population comprised mainly Chinese and Malaya feared that this would affect its racial composition, which was predominantly Malay. There was also the fear that the Communists, whose activities were still rampant in Singapore, might influence Malaya and impede its struggle to be rid of the threat of Communism. Four years after Malaya’s independence, however, Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman took the region by surprise on 27th May 1961, when he made a speech stating his proposal to merge Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo territories of Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. His sudden change of mind was influenced by the state of politics and economy in Singapore and the other territories.

The Factors Leading to the Proposal of a Merger

One of the reasons Tunku Abdul Rahman was keen on a merger with Singapore was for economic purposes. Singapore had a large number of industrial firms and a large population, which complemented its position as one of the more important trading ports in this region.

The Borneo territories, on the other hand, boasted of richness in natural resources such as oil, natural gas and timber, and fertile agricultural grounds that produced pepper, rubber and much more. Tunku Abdul Rahman believed that a merger with these colonies would be of much value to Malaya.

Tunku Abdul Rahman was also seeking to liberate these colonies from colonization. Malaya had already achieved its independence four years earlier. While Singapore practiced to a large extent, a self-governing policy, Sabah and Sarawak were still very much under British control.

In Brunei, the Sultan maintained his autocratic powers but was compelled to receive advise from a British Resident. Tunku Abdul Rahman felt that a merger of these colonies with Malaya would speed up independence from the British.

Another factor was the stronghold of Communism over Singapore. As time passed, their activities did not cease. Singapore was then led by Lee Kuan Yew, who, frustrated with the constant disputes and strikes in the mid-1950s, decided to woo some of the Communists into his government, hoping to find favour with them and eventually soften their blows. However, the Communists were adamant about continuing their activities and eventually formed their own party, known as the Barisan Socialis, after they were forced to resign from the government.

Fearing that Malaya would be in grave danger should the Communists decide to support their allies in Malaya from across the straits, Tunku Abdul Rahman felt that a merger with Singapore would make it easier to deal with the Communists.

Apart from Singapore, Communism was also thriving in Sarawak, where the communists formed an underground association, which exerted its influence on workers’ associations, students and farmers.

There also existed cultural similarities between these territories. Singapore comprised a large Chinese population, while Malaya had a mixed array of Malays, Chinese and Indians. The initial fears expressed by some UMNO members about the Malays being outnumbered by the Chinese, were dispelled when they were convinced that ethnic balance would be restored once the Borneo Territories, which comprised most Malays and indigenous groups, merged with Malaya.

Response from Singapore, the Borneo Territories and Brunei

Singapore still retained its initial interest in Malaya and was therefore, eager to merge with Malaya when Tunku Abdul Rahman made the proposal in 1961. The only opposition came from the Communist-dominated party, Barisan Socialis. Despite this, Lee Kuan Yew actively campaigned to support the merger. His efforts paid off and a referendum held on 1 September 1962 indicated that 71.1% of the population of Singapore supported the merger. Singapore was promised autonomy in education, revenue and labour while the central government would be operating in Kuala Lumpur. Its free entreport status would also be maintained.

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Like Singapore, Brunei was equally keen on the merger, since its ruler, Sultan Ali Saifuddin was hoping to gain protection from a larger country like Malaya. A.M. Azahari, the leader of the opposition party, Parti Rakyat, however, strongly opposed the merger and led a revolt against the government of Brunei, in which he was defeated. Azahari had an ulterior motive – to merge all the North Borneo territories and place them under the reins of Brunei. Eventually, Brunei changed its mind after the Sultan realized that he wouldn’t be given special rights above the other Sultans in Malaya and would have only limited oil reserves if Brunei merged with Malaya.

The response from Sabah and Sarawak was not on par with that from Singapore and the initial response from Brunei, since both territories feared losing authority in the administration of their governments. Apart from this, the non-Malays feared that the Malays in Sabah and Sarawak would be even more dominant should the merger take place. To allay their fears, Tunku Abdul Rahman went to these territories in June 1961 and set up the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) to inform the people of the benefits of the merger.

The Cobbold Commission

When Tunku Abdul Rahman flew to London to discuss the formation Malaysia with the British government in November 1961, the British were very much in favour of it, but stipulated that the Borneo territories should agree with the merger. Hence, the British formed the Cobbold Commission led by Lord Cobbold, to investigate the reaction of the people in Sabah and Sarawak towards the merger. Two months later, after receiving thousands of letters, conducting thousands of interviews with the people of Sabah and Sarawak and countless public meetings, a conclusion was reached.

Only one third of the population rejected the merger, hoping to join Malaya only after they achieved their independence. The other two thirds either supported the merger wholeheartedly or supported it on the grounds that their rights be maintained. Since the merger won the favour of the majority, it was approved by the British. On 16th September 1963, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak became one nation, known as Malaysia. Once again, an official proclamation was made by Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Merdeka Stadium. Two years later, however, on 9th August 1965, Singapore broke away from Malaysia and formed its own government.

Protest from neighbouring countries

When Malaysia was formed, Indonesia and the Philippines disapproved of the new establishment due to their own ulterior motives. The Philippines claimed ownership of Sabah, stating that Sabah came under the Sulu Sultanate which belonged to the Philippines. As such, the Philippines did not acknowledge Malaysia as an independent country or the official declaration that took place on16th September 1963. The president of the Philippines, Macapagal had severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia. It was only sometime in June 1966, that the Philippines gave due recognition to Malaysia and acknowledged it as an independent country.

Indonesia, on the other hand, was hoping to merge with Malaya to form “Indonesia Raya” and at the same time, establish an independent North Borneo Federation comprising Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei. The Indonesian president at the time, Sukarno, was heavily influenced by the Communist party in Indonesia and subsequently declared a Confrontation policy of on Malaysia from January 1963 to August 1966 to voice his objection of the formations of Malaysia. During this period, Indonesia put a halt to all diplomatic relations with Malaysia and launched an attack. The first stops the Indonesians made were at Pontian, Labis, Muar and Kota Tinggi. Agents were sent to overthrow the Malaysian government and at the same time, create misunderstanding among Malays and Chinese. The confrontation came to an eventual end when Sukarno was replaced by Suharto as the president of Indonesia. Consequently, a peace treaty was signed between both countries in Jun 1966.

Singapore decided to withdraw from Malaysia on 9th August 1965 to form her own Republic due to some disagreements, particularly about special rights of the natives. Hence, Malaysia today comprises Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

Malaysia has now been enjoying independence for 53 years and is known to the world as a sovereign country. We are able to achieve economic, political and social stability and move rapidly towards a developed country. Although Malaysia is a plural society that consists of various races, they are able to live, co-operate and co-exist in harmony to build a strong and developed country. The understanding among the races, which creates unity in the country, plays a very important role in moulding Malaysia to be a politically stable country.


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