Sept 16, 1963 marks the day the Federation of Malaysia was established. But did you know that the United Nations only released its UN Malaysia Assessment Mission report two days before on Sept 14?
UN Secretary-General U Thant had sent nine men on a mission with the agreement of Britain, to satisfy Indonesia and the Philippines on whether the Borneo states (Sarawak and North Borneo) agreed on the setting up of Malaysia. The Philippines was laying territorial claim on a portion of North Borneo, while Indonesia under President Sukarno objected to the formation of Malaysia, calling Tunku Abdul Rahman’s plans ‘neo-colonialist’.
In the UN report, U Thant stated: “In response to the request made by the Governments of the Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia, and the Republic of the Philippines, on Aug 5, 1963, I agreed to ascertain, prior to the establishment of the Federation, the wishes of the people of Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak.
“As foreseen in my communication of Aug 8, 1963, a mission was established, comprising two teams, one for Sarawak and the other for Sabah, working under the supervision of my personal representative.”
Headed by Laurence Michemore and composed entirely of UN secretariat members, the mission eventually found that the great majority of the people of Sabah and Sarawak ‘strongly supported’ Malaysia.
Here are principal findings by the UN Malaysia Mission on Borneo states’ stand on the federation:
1.Sarawak and North Borneo had reached a stage a self-government that would enable their people to make a responsible choice of their future.
2.Their decision to join Malaysia was the result of the freely expressed wishes of their peoples.
3.The great majority of the people of North Borneo had strongly supported the Malaysia proposals from the time of the elections to the present.
4.An analysis of the Sarawak election returns showed 61% in favour of Malaysia; 22.2% opposed and 16.8% neutral.
5.Of the 183,191 Sarawak citizens who took definitive stands on Malaysia, 73.3% were in favour and 26.7% opposed.
6.Sarawak’s elected representatives stood in favour of Malaysia, 284 to 123, or 66.2% to 28.7%. The other 22 could not be classified in either groups.
7.In North Borneo, doubts and reservations appeared to be limited to groups, largely in the interior and may have been attributed to satisfaction with the status quo, lack of information or lack of clear understanding of the proposal or suspicion of unfamiliar ideas.
8.Popular support for Malaysia in North Borneo had increased since the elections.
9.Malaysia was a major issue in recent elections in both Borneo states and the vast majority of the electorate understood the proposal to join Malaysia.
10.The actions of Sarawak’s Council Negri in welcoming the establishment of Malaysia could be regarded as the expression of the wish of the people through established legislative institutions.
U Thant’s statement on the report
Meanwhile, U Thant also concluded that the majority of the peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak wanted the idea of Malaysia.
“I have come to the conclusion that the majority of the peoples of Sabah and of Sarawak have given serious and thoughtful consideration to their future and to the implications for them of participation in a Federation of Malaysia.”
However, some argued that the UN could not carry out such a comprehensive survey in large territories like Sabah and and Sarawak in such a short amount of time when most parts were not even accessible back then.
Still, U Thant defended the team stating, “While more time might have enabled the mission to obtain more copious documentation and other evidence, it would not have affected the conclusions to any significant extent.”