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Cobold Commission never established that majority Sabahans wanted Malaysia

OPINION: In 1963, Sabah was bundled with Sarawak into a strategic arrangement between Britain and Malaya to consolidate Britain's colonial territories and economic interests and replace British colonial rule in this region with Malayan rule in the newly created Malaysia.

When the Malaysia proposal was announced in 1961 by Tunku Abdul Rahman, this immediately touched off local and regional controversy and opposition to "Malaysia" as a neo-colonial scheme to prolong colonial rule- especially by Indonesia and the Philippines. This led to Indonesia's Konfrontasi against Malaysia and the Philippines claim on Sabah.
On the 50th year of Malaysia's formation the Sulu claim and invasion have re-opened the debate over Sabah's unenviable status and other controversies surrounding the Malaysia issue.

The article by Raymond Tombung “How to Argue Against the Sabah Claim” (original article published in the Taib government controlled Borneo Post) summaries the legal political history of Sabah and Malaysia. Unfortunately, on closer examination it turns out to be a piece of sophistry constructed solely to legitimise Sabah's inclusion into the Malaysia federation in 1963 and Malayan rule.

The writer used the findings of the Cobbold Commission of Enquiry on Malaysia to make his point that the formation of Malaysia had popular local support.

This is inaccurate, mischievous and continues the official misrepresentations of historical facts used to legitimise the formation of Malaysia. It is similar to those recent arguments made by P.M. Najib and others that an affirmative referendum was held on the Malaysia issue in Borneo. There never was one ever held. At least the Tombung article frankly admits this.

Cobbold Commission findings not a referendum - just a poll

In Paragraph 15 of the article, the writer mentioned that the Report of the Cobbold Commission of Enquiry on Malaysia in North Borneo and Sarawak (Report finalised in August 1962) had found that 2/3 of people (this referred to 4,000 people in Sabah and Sarawak interviewed by the Commission) supported formation of Malaysia.

This is a distortion of the figures given. The Report said the Commission found that of the 4,000 peopled polled, only 1/3 had expressed unconditional support for the idea, 1/3 were unsure and only supported the idea if conditions were attached and 1/3 were definitely against the Malaysia proposal and wanted real independence without Malaysia. The results were juggled to make it looked like 2/3 of those polled supported Malaysia.

The 4000 people interviewed represented on (roughly) only 4% of the total population in Sabah and Sarawak at the time. Even if the findings were correct, how could this be claimed as democratic representation of the opinion of 2/3 of the whole population? It was not a referendum in the first place.

The Cobbold Commission comprised only British ex-officials and Malayans who were hardly were “impartial or independent authorities”. They were the interested parties dead set on forcing “Malaysia” on the Borneo people. It was a clear conflict of interest for Britain to appoint the Cobbold Commission to sideline the independent authority of the UN by not organising the referendum.

As it turned out, the Report was so transparently slanted in favour of “formation” as it clearly supported the British Malayan plan and was made with racist and cold war anti-communist political arguments which an independent body should not have expressed.

Further, the British and Malayans had deliberately avoided holding a proper independent UN supervised referendum on the Malaysia formation issue on the reason that they did not have time to conduct a referendum! It was the people's future they were playing with! So the Borneo people were never given a chance to say “Yes” or “No” to Malaysia in a free and fair vote.

The Manila Accord

The findings of the Cobbold Commission were rejected by Indonesia and Philippines. To neutralise their opposition talks were initiated with Indonesia and Philippines on the Malaysia question in July 1963. The talks were recorded as the Manila Accord signed on 31 July 1963 which nevertheless reflected the British failure to hold a referendum.

Article 10 of the Accord stated that Malaysia would only be acceptable “provided that” the Borneo people's support was ascertained by “an impartial and independent authority”. But this was never held. The British might have been worried they would get a “No” vote as seen in the Brunei Legislative council elections of August 1962 where the Brunei people overwhelmingly voted for the anti-Malaysia Brunei People's Party.

The Manila Accord did not resolved the Philippines' Sabah claim but it effectively put it on hold. With this live claim, Sabah would not have legally been included Malaysia. It follows that the whole Malaysia formation was illegal and void from the beginning.

What is interesting that Malaya was negotiating Sabah's future even before it had any legal authority to do so. And the people most affected the North Borneo people were not even consulted or asked to join in as an interested party. This reflected the intention and eagerness of Malayan leaders to annex Sabah. This was reinforced by the fact that when a the review on Malaysia was due in 1973 it was flatly denied by P.M. Razak.

That meeting left Sabah's status in limbo but Malaysia was hastily formed by 16 September 1963. They must have been thinking “possession is 9/10th of the Law” (!).

The writer's conclusion is thus faulty and highly misleading. Readers should see through this opinion as piece of sophistry to support the argument that Sabah was legally constituted as part of Malaysia.

This leaves the issue that matters most of all unresolved - that of the Sabah people's right to self-determination which has been kicked around as political football for 50 years.

What is arguable is the question whether Sabah has real self-determination within Malaysia or what the people have increasingly demanded- self-determination outside Malaysia as “independent Sabah”!

Sabah belongs to the Sabah people and they alone should be the final party to determine their destiny and until they do, no foreign powers should arbitrarily steal their rights.


  1. From a comment by Anaksarawak in Wikisabah News 17/03/13


    The ongoing attacks on SAPP personalities reveal weaknesses of SAPP when it was in power.

    Yes, SAPP could have done better by not acting like another UMNO government.

    The question is has it reformed itself in the public's eye and deserve to stand for re-election?

    Has not SAPP learnt by now from its actual experience in power and negotiations with the Opposition Pakatan that all Malayan parties want to demand everything and give back nothing? They just want to be the BIG BROTHER? No?

    A fine example the colonial mentality is seen in the UMNO attempts to dominate by treating Brunei and Singapore as juniors and not equal partners.

    In the negotiations with Brunei on the Malaysia equal partnership terms and conditions, UMNO demanded that Brunei should hand over control of its oil and the revenue. This was behaving like a gangster pointing a gun at you and demanding "your money or your life"!- perhaps a clear sign if things to come. At the same time they refused to treat the Brunei Sultan as equal in status with other Malayan sultans and stand in line to be king.

    Luckily for Brunei and its people their Sultan saw through UMNO's agenda and made a wise decision not to participate in the formation of Malaysia. Today they are happier, free from foreign control and independent.

    On the other hand Singapore led by LKY was the most enthusiastic participant (after Malaya). They even held a bogus referendum on Malaysia where the people did not have an option to say "No" to Malaysia and then they arrested and locked up the opposition which like Bung Karno warned that Malaysia was a neo-colonial scheme to re-colonise the Borneo colonies.

    One might ask if they should not have included Singapore in their warning as it was UMNO's colonial style treatment of Singapore which brought their Malaysia honeymoon to an abrupt end by 1965. Singapore left with the greatest regret and disappointment that UMNO refused to give it equal partnership status.

    The UMNO fear of Singapore political domination may have been real but the underlying issue was the equal partnership issue.

    But that UMNO fear was a favour to Singapore as it too was lucky like Brunei, to have escaped the UMNO's colonial clutches. Today they are happier, free from foreign control and independent and richer than the whole Malaysia per capita.

    Only Sabah and Sarawak the twins were sleeping like the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk” and allowed Jack (UMNO) to steal their wealth!

    These historical examples serve to constantly remind us Borneo people that we could have been more awake and seize the chance to exit like Singapore in 1965.

    UMNO's deliberate exclusion of Sabah and Sarawak from the discussion on the Singapore breakup was to keep them in Malaysia.

    The break up meant Malaysia was effectively "dead". The whole Malaysia concept disintegrated when Brunei opted out and Singapore left.

    It is appropriate that on the 50th year of Malaysia formation that these issues are being debated afresh having been dramatically re-opened by the Sulu claim.

    Cont'd next post.

  2. From a comment by Anaksarawak in Wikisabah News 17/03/13


    The Malayan Opposition like UMNO wants total control by taking over Sabah as they have done with Sarawak. This is stated in their “Book of Jingles” which says they want to integrate Sabah and Sarawak with Malaya.

    WHAT FOR? Are not Sabah and Sarawak already integrated as part as the 12th and 13th states of Malaya?

    The Sulu claim has created a fresh debate on this question more precisely on the legitimacy of Malaysia. In order to disprove the Sulu claim the Malaysian government is forced to revisit the formation issues. Of course they put their own spin on it and miss out the vital bits. And this has been a very confused regurgitation of justifications for Malaysia formation line.

    The debate has turned on the argument that the Borneo people in North Borneo and Sarawak had given approval to support the formation in a referendum attributed to the Cobbold Commission.

    First as SAPP and STAR people have also said “this was no referendum”- just an opinion poll to assess the people's position on the Malaysia question.

    The Cobbold Commission's findings was that only one third of 4,000 people polled unconditionally supported the Malaysia idea. One third of the 4,000 were uncertain about the idea and may consider if proper safeguards were in place and the other third was a definite opposition to Malaysia.

    This set of dubious figures has been extrapolated by UMNO and all its propagandists to mean two thirds of the Borneo people agreed with Malaysia. The figure 4,000 only represented roughly 4% of the Sabah and Sarawak population in 1962. If any one can count, this is not a two thirds representation. In any case a poll is not a proper formal and independent vote by a fully informed adult populated.

    UMNO again exposes itself as a magician but using this old trick can no longer fool all the people.

    In Sabah and Sarawak today the majority of people who have come to question the meaning of being in Malaysia as young people who have seen by their own experience and asked their parents or grandparents this question. They experienced what their predecessors warned about Malaysia being a neo-colony. Down the 50 years this issue never died away because the impact of the new colonialism had eaten deep into the fabric of Borneo society- the UMNO plunder and economic and race discriminatory politics all served to wake up most of us and ask what are we doing in Malaysia?

    Looking at Brunei and Singapore we all wonder at how free and independent they are and may be happier than us still to be liberated colonial subjects.

    “Malaysia” as a democratic system and a meaningful union has failed for the people of Borneo as an experiment. The main argument used to justify the formation of Malaysia was that this would be a security blanket for the 2 colonies. The Sulu invasion has literally blown this apart and exposed that UMNO not only fail to make true this justification but is responsible for allowing the invasion to take place.

    The nations and countries of Sabah and Sarawak are given a window opportunity by the Sulus to rise up now and loudly question “what is Malaysia all about?”.

    Although both SAPP and STAR have advocated taking back Sabah autonomy there is no unity in approach. They have to show their patriotism by taking a united approach to attack the common enemy.

    Why can't they just divide the seats equally by standing where their chances are best for them and compete in the remaining odd seat?

    May the odd seat could be taken by an independent if necessary who can act as a casting voter in Parliament.

    Together SAPP and STAR can win and form government and rule by consensus by taking turns to lead the government as in previous years?

    If they cannot compromise, it will be another sad 50 years of being raped and pillaged by Malaya.

    If they can unite solely to kick out the foreign rulers and their puppets, then Sabahans will have a chance to take back their country!



    1. Yes yes.. the only way seem to be is separation. We will succeed if we break our own mentality blockage my dear people of Borneo...











      (Sorry for shouting by am angry with the injustice done to all of us by being colonised in Malaysia!)

  3. Malaysia Tipu juga semua orang... Malaya mimang itu macam gaya dia...hancur

  4. All very well said
    Take back our country- Sabah and Sarawak.
    GO the Brunei and Singapore way
    No more no less


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