Fight over Sarawak’s status, rights widens political division in the state

It is very difficult not to be emotional about what has happened in the parliament on April 9 and I can’t say I was surprised when a majority of the Sarawak members of parliament abstained from supporting the Bill.

Sarawak and Sabah’s hopeful plans to restore their status and rights to their original position during the formation of Malaysia which was based on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 came to grief when the PH-led government refused to back down from its decision and ignored the demands to refer the Bill to a special parliamentary committee for further discussion instead of rushing it.

What was more disappointing was the fact that Sarawak politicians were not able to put aside their political bipartisanship when it comes to restoring their state’s rights and status, which no one, regardless of their political affiliation, creed or race, should use to gain political mileage. They should transcend political ideology!

However, the exact opposite happened on April 9 during the parliamentary debates on the Bill between Sarawak’s ruling coalition, GPS, and PH Sarawak (PKR and DAP). They failed to unite.

PKR and DAP accused GPS of attempting to sabotage the effort of the PH government to restore Sarawak’s rights and status. They were furious with GPS for not supporting the Bill.

So, what was the basis of the grievances – at least from GPS’ views?

The 1963 constitution, which was amended to make way for Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia, Article 1 (2) declares that:

(1) The states of the Federation shall be:

(a) The States of Malaya, namely, Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu; and

(b) The Bornean States, namely, Sabah and Sarawak; and

(c) The state of Singapore.

Here, Sarawak and Sabah are of equal status as the Federation of Malaya and the state of Singapore and NOT one of the states in the Federation of Malaya. In other words, Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners to the Federation of Malaya.

However, the first amendment to Article 1 (2) of the Federal Constitution in 1976 relegated Sarawak’s status to the same status of the eleven states within the Federation of Malaya. Based on Act A354 that came into force on August 27, 1976, Article 1 (2) of the Federal Constitution read as follows:

(2) The States of the Federation shall be Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor and Terengganu.

Now if one looks at the wording, Sabah and Sarawak are placed in the same line as the eleven states of Malaya.

Whereas the recently defeated bill proposed by the PH-led government read as follows:

Article 1 (2) The states of the Federation shall be (based on the first reading):

(a) Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Penang, Selangor and Terengganu; and

(b) Sabah and Sarawak.

However, due to the strong resistance from the opposition, particularly from Sarawak and Sabah, it was further revised by adding the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak. Hence, in the second reading of the same Bill, it read as follows:

Article 1 (2) The States of the Federation of Malaysia shall be (based on the second reading):

(a) Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Penang, Selangor and Terengganu; and

(b) the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Here, it appeared that the government has “granted” the wish of the opposition MPs from Sabah and Sarawak.

Well, not quite right!

The Sarawak MPs further demanded that the words “pursuant to MA63” should be added to the amendment and to read as follows:

The States of the Federation shall be in pursuant to Malaysia Agreement 1963:

(a) the Federated States of Malaya, namely Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Penang, Selangor and Terengganu; and

(b) the Bornean States of Sabah and Sarawak.

Why the insistence on the inclusion of the word “pursuant to MA63”?

Because the very embodiment of all of the agreements for the formation of Malaysia was accorded in Malaysia Agreement 1963 which equates Sarawak and Sabah as equal partners, without which, the amendment would be considered meaningless.

For a layman like myself, the process seems easy but it is harder than it looks. The efforts of restoring Sarawak’s status and rights can be likened to changing a tyre of a moving vehicle.

If the Federal government is really sincere in restoring Sarawak’s status and rights, it should continue working with the Bornean states or else it will be seen as disingenuous or merely “fulfilling” its manifestos.

Whether the PH-led government’s effort was genuine or not is debatable. The fact of the matter is, the current federal government has given Sarawak (and Sabah) the opportunity to discuss this issue out in the open. Sarawakians and Sabahans should take this opportunity to unite and work towards restoring their status and rights.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.