Friday, September 14, 2007

Ningkan, Stephen Kalong

Ningkan, Stephen Kalong (1920–1997), first chief minister of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. Stephen Kalong Ningkan served as first chief minister of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak between July 1963 and September 1966. Prior to Sarawak's joining the union of Malaya, Singapore, and North Borneo to form the Federation of Malaysia, Sarawak was a British colony. Born in Sarawak of Iban and Chinese ancestry, Ningkan is probably best known for triggering a constitutional crisis when he refused to vacate his office after being dismissed by the Sarawakian governor. Ningkan, as leader of the Council Negri (the state legislature), had purportedly ceased to command the confidence of the majority of the council. With the backing of the federal government in Kuala Lumpur, the governor proceeded to appoint a new chief minister. Ningkan's refusal to vacate his office, resulting in a constitutional impasse that was perceived to threaten the fragile unity of Malaysia, aroused a vigorous reaction from the federal government.

On 14 September 1966, Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Malaysia's head of state, proclaimed a state of emergency in Sarawak on the basis that its security was threatened by the constitutional crisis. Under emergency rule, Parliament was legislatively enabled to exercise further powers, effectively governing Sarawak from the federal capital. Ningkan appealed his dismissal all the way to the Privy Council in London, Malaysia's then final appellate court, but lost his appeal for a declaration that he was still chief minister of Sarawak. A firm believer that Sarawakians were entitled to have full citizenship rights and to participate in Malaysia's national development on a par with the Malays on the Malaya Peninsula, Ningkan slipped into political oblivion after his removal from office.

The constitutional crisis that Ningkan was embroiled in should be seen in the light of the volatile political matrix in Malaysia then. After Malaysia was created through the union of Malaya and Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak on 16 September 1963, communal tension rose over the core identity of Malaysia. The politically convenient union was short-lived and Singapore left the federation on 9 August 1965. At the federal level, there was concern that Sarawak and Sabah might follow Singapore and secede from Malaysia. The removal of Ningkan, albeit by constitutional means, was an attempt by the federal government in Kuala Lumpur to exercise indirect control by aligning East Malaysian political parties with the United Malays National Organization–dominated coalition at the center.

Further Reading

Means, Gordon P. (1970) Malaysian Politics. London: University of London Press.
Milne, Robert Stephen, and Kanagaratnam Jeya Ratnam. (1974) Malaysia—New States in a New Nation: Political Development of Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysia. London: Frank Cass.
Roff, Margaret Clark. (1974) The Politics of Belonging: Political Change in Sabah and Sarawak. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press.
Von Vorys, Karl. (1975) Democracy without Consensus: Communalism and Political Stability in Malaysia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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