If Malayan MPs all gang up, they can amend the federal constitution because they have two-thirds of the seats in parliament. This has created a dangerous situation … parliament can pass any law which is against the interest of Sabah and Sarawak.

— Tan Sri Dr James Masing, Deputy Chief Minister

Of late the call for the restoration of Sabah and Sarawak’s one-third representation in Parliament has become more forceful with several leaders from the two states openly making known their feelings on the longstanding issue.

Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has spoken about it. So has his Sabah counterpart Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

Jumping on the bandwagon are Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing, SUPP Youth chief Michael Tiang and International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Darell Leiking, among others.

It’s heartening to note that leaders of the ruling coalitions from the East Malaysian states are approaching the issue as one. The opposition people as usual are throwing a spanner in the works, questioning why only now. “Election round the corner, don’t you see?”

Hey! Aren’t we all, regardless of our political affiliation, fighting to regain our rightful one-third parliamentary representation? Shouldn’t the opposition parties be lending their support to the cause?

Back in 1963 when we helped form Malaysia, Parliament at that time had 159 members. Malaya had 104 members of Parliament, Sarawak 24, Sabah 16 and Singapore 15.

This worked out to 34.6 percent or slightly more than one-third in terms of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore’s parliamentary strength.

But all that changed in 1965 when Singapore was booted out of the federation. We lost our one-third representation as the 15 seats that belonged to Singapore were given to Malaya. And since then Sabah and Sarawak have never regained their rightful constitutional position in Parliament.

As is the situation now, power distribution is unfairly in the hands of Malayans; they can go about passing laws without having to consult us.

What happened to the spirit of the initial discussions of the Cobbold Commission and Inter-governmental Committee Report in 1963 when it was clearly understood that the interests of the East Malaysian states (and Singapore) were of prime consideration, notably the one-third representation?

As Abang Johari stated recently, “As far as we are concerned it must be more than one-third for Sabah and Sarawak combined. Only when we have one-third would the doctrine of federalism be applicable.”

Forget the nonsensical talk about us being equal partners when our parliamentary representations are not even enough to protect our own special rights and positions in Parliament.

At present, the East Malaysians are 19 short of one-third of the total 222 seats in Parliament. Sabah has 25 and Sarawak, 31.

Increasing Sarawak – and Sabah’s – parliamentary representations should be the Electoral Reform Committee’s priority and Putrajaya cannot afford to leave us out of the electoral reforms.  

Without the one-third representation, Sabah and Sarawak are placed in an unfavourable position when it comes to amending the Federal Constitution.

Fifty-seven years and 14 general elections later, the parliamentary representations of Sabah and Sarawak have not changed much.

In 1963 Sarawak had 24 seats and Sabah, 16. Sarawak maintained that number until 1990 when a review of the electoral boundary saw the state gaining an additional three seats for a total of 27 with Sabah having 20.

Sarawak increased its seat by one to 28 in 1999 while Sabah maintained its 20 seats. A re-delineation exercise in 2004 saw Sabah’s seats increase to 25. But Sarawak’s remained at 28. In the 2008 general election Sarawak contested in 31 seats.

With Sarawak’s 31 MPs and 25 from Sabah, East Malaysians just make up 25 percent of the 222-member Parliament which is a gross under-representation. Sabah and Sarawak cover a huge area of about 198,000 square kilometres compared to Malaya’s area of about 131,000 square kilometres.

To be fair, for East Malaysians to constitute one-third of 222, we need 75 MPs from the two states.

Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, an authoritative figure on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament, said for both Sabah and Sarawak to increase their representation in Parliament, a re-delineation of electoral boundaries should be proposed followed by the introduction of a Bill for the proposed seat increase with its eventual tabling in Parliament. For the Bill to be passed, Parliament requires a two-thirds majority.

Those fighting for the spirit of the MA63 must support the review regardless of their political affiliation or from which state they are from.

For us to regain our one-third representation, another 19 representatives from Sabah and Sarawak have to be added to the current 56 MPs.

If everyone, the opposition included, speaks with one voice, there is no reason why a review of the electoral boundaries cannot go through with Sabah and Sarawak regaining its rightful position as equal partners in Malaysia.