With the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting done and dusted, some interesting Bills were passed in the August House.
Among others was the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2022 tabled and moved by Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.
The Bill sought to change the designation of “Chief Minister” to “Premier”. It was passed after receiving support from 67 members of the August House after a second round of voting by show of hands.
With the passing of the constitutional amendment, the term “Assistant Minister” will also be renamed to “Deputy Minister” to better reflect their functions and responsibilities.
In addition, the definition of “the Federation” in the State Constitution will be amended after the same definition under the Federal Constitution was amended recently.
This was a landmark change to our State Constitution, where Sarawak, now is given due recognition of its status — as one of the partners in the formation of the Malaysian federation.
In explaining the change, Abdul Karim viewed that Sarawak’s head of government should be called premier because Sarawak, a former British colony, is one of the regions that formed Malaysia.
This negates the perception held by many, especially those in Malaya that Sarawak is merely one of the states in Malaysia when it is not.
The term “Premier” to replace “Chief Minister” too was not coined willy-nilly. It has its precedent in other Commonwealth nations like Australia and Canada.
This is where the head of the federation is styled as prime minister and heads of regions constituting the federation styled as premier, while the other sub-regions or states are headed by chief ministers.
“If we were to see other countries such as Australia or Canada, those countries have a prime minister as the head of their governments and premier as head of their respective regions,” the minister said.
Of course, the change was not welcomed with open arms from members of the opposition with Padungan rep Chong Chieng Jen, who is Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) chief, particularly viewing it as being redundant.
He opined the proposed change has no practical impact without any change to the powers of the Chief Minister as spelt out in the Federal Constitution.
According to him, the state government did not seek to change Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution, but instead only to change the title of Sarawak Chief Minister to ‘Premier’.
While Chong, who is a lawyer by training, had based his argument on legal grounds, the same could not be said for his colleague, Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong.
During her debate in the August House, she made a tongue-in-cheek remark that the term “Premier” might easily be confused to a brand of tissue paper.
While the rest of the August House was not amused, she carried on talking about other items named ‘Premier’ such as credit cards and even a commercial centre here in Kuching.
Probably thinking her antics in the DUN sitting wasn’t enough, she posted her view on her Facebook page, causing the ire of netizens.
She even managed to get former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to issue a rebuke, which predictably went well. Yong, in response, called out the cybertroopers who attacked her and her party — ironic when the fact was that she had it coming.
Regardless of what we may think of the constitutional amendment, it signifies one thing — that Sarawak is asserting its status to the people in Malaya and it did so without much fanfare, thanks to its stable and comfortable representation in DUN.
It also shows that Sarawak, with its solid backing from the people, can achieve so much and at the back of the Sarawak state election, the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) state government is making good on its election promises.
They are delivering for the people as they should — against all the rhetoric and cheap ploy by the opposition and their mouthpieces. They are making a good case for the people to continue supporting them in the upcoming parliamentary election.
I end with a quote from the poem Invictus written by William Ernest Henley, where the last two lines read: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.
We are masters of our own fate now and we are in control of our destiny.