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Tunku announces proposal for merger 27th May 1961

The Federation of Malaysia was created following the merger of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak on 16 September 1963.[1] The road to merger was fraught was difficulties from the onset. The idea of co-opting Singapore into Malaysia was initially resisted by Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was then the prime minister of Malaya. The British had persuaded the Tunku to consider merger with Singapore by making it a condition for the decolonisation of Malaya.[2] It was a heavy price for the Tunku to pay as a union with Singapore would cause the sheer number of Chinese in Singapore to displace the Malays in the federation as the majority. However, the price of not agreeing to the merger with Singapore was heavier as the political instability in Singapore and the Borneo territories due to communist subversion and radical left-wing movements was threatening to engulf Malaya as well.[3] To prevent Chinese domination in the federation, almost 700,000 Borneo natives were brought into the federation in order to dilute the predominance of the Chinese.[4]

The Tunku first broached merger plans  on 27 May 1961 at a meeting of foreign correspondents held in Singapore where  he proposed the concept of a  “Mighty Malaysia"  consisting  of  Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, Brunei  and  Sarawak.[5] The proposal was a surprise turnaround for Singapore leaders as they had been wooing an unreceptive Tunku for merger as early as 1955.[6] The reversal in decision delighted then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and led to a joint communiqué being issued by both leaders in August 1961 stating their commitment to the merger.[7] The merger came a step closer to being realised with the release of a White Paper in November 1961 presenting the points of agreement on merger between Singapore and Malaya.[8] This was followed by a memorandum containing recommendations for the formation of Malaysia that was signed in February 1962 by the leaders of the proposed five constituent territories – Singapore, Malaya, Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak.[9] Brunei subsequently pulled out from the planned union.[10]

In Singapore, getting the citizens to approve the merger terms contained in the White Paper was a battle between the People’s Action Party led by Prime Minister Lee and five opposition parties who had formed the Council of Joint Action to oppose the proposals on merger.[11] The opposition was defeated in a national referendum that was held on 1 September 1962 to get the people's assent. Over 70 percent  of  the Singapore population  had voted in favour of merger.[12]

1. Abisheganaden. F. (1963, September 16). Hail Malaysia! The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Oh, J. C. H. (1967, October). The Federation of Malaysia: An experiment in nation-Building. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 26(4), 426. Retrieved from JSTOR.
3. Starner, F. L. (1963, November). Malaysia and the North Borneo Territories. Asian Survey, 3(11),138, 522. Retrieved from JSTOR.
4. Oh, Oct 1967, p. 426.
5. Big ‘unity’ plan. (1961, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The Malaya I want – by Mr Lim. (1955, February 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Means, G. P. (1963). Malaysia - A New Federation in Southeast Asia. Pacific Affairs, 36(2), 138. Retrieved from JSTOR.
7. Sam, J., Pestana, R., & Yang, A. (1961, June 4). Lee backs Tengku. The Straits Times, p. 1; Merger go-ahead. (1961, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Singapore 15 seats. (1961, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Abisheganaden. F. (1962, February 7). Malaysia blueprint: ‘Wishes of the people must be respected’. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Abisheganaden. F. (1963, July 12). Door open to Brunei any time: Razak. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Council of Joint Action on ‘red smear tactics’. (1962, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. ‘Proof that Singapore rejects the reds’. (1962, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 18; Merger ‘yes’. (1962, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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