By Dah Ikhwan

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent warning that action would be taken under the Sedition Act if calls for Sarawak’s secession threaten public order did not come out of the blue.

Instead, it was more likely a calculated move to pre-empt any call for Sarawak’s independence in the run-up to the Sarawak Day celebration on July 22. As usual he is crafty and calculative in his actions, and never impromptu when making strategic moves.

He does not seem to worry, since at this stage we do not fight for independence, but only for the Sarawak’s rights granted under Malaysia Agreement 63 (MA63).

Probably, that is where the problem lies. The prime minister knows the state’s goal. He just needs to remind us of that goal, and not to breach its limit.

Perhaps he feels easy with this goal and therefore is in no hurry to give any concession. So far we have not heard of what is happening to our demand for 20 per cent oil royalty.

He keeps on saying that Petronas will go bankrupt if the state’s demand is met. In fact I have demonstrated that Petronas can afford to pay that 20 per cent royalty. It is Putrajaya that takes it away from Petronas.

This year alone an additional sum of RM35 billion, most of which from Sarawak, has been sucked away from the national oil firm to service Putrajaya’s debts.

If Sarawak finds it too difficult to get the promised 20 per cent oil royalty, why not just increase our Sales Tax on Petroleum to 20 per cent instead, and let the court decide in the event it is contested by Petronas?

The state organised Sarawak Day celebration went on as usual, this year in Bintulu where the first Council Negeri sitting was held over a 100 years ago. Coincidently, Bintulu is also the core of the oil and gas activities in the state – the sore point of the state-federal ties.

It is encouraging to know that more than 10,000 people celebrated and some 2,000 ran for the marathon, a main event of the celebration. It is a good response.

But, in Kuching it is business as usual, except for a gathering at Padang Merdeka by pro-independence NGOs. They are understandably unhappy with the slow progress of the autonomy negotiation between the state and the federal governments, and are prepared to push the limit further for outright independence.

There is no widespread flying of Sarawak flags on buildings, on cars or motorcycles in most part of the state, unlike the usual case on Malaysia Day.

Perhaps, they were not in top gear for the Sarawak Day celebration. Sarawakians are still more familiar with the August 31 celebration, the Malayan Merdeka Day which actually has nothing to do with us.

When I asked young children why we have a holiday on July 22, they appear to be at a loss. Don’t blame them. Since primary one in school they are only taught of August 31 as Merdeka Day.

They are indifferent to the two dates, preferring to keep both – at least they don’t have to attend school on these two days.

Well, perhaps here in school is where young children should begin to learn and understand the history of their state; the knowledge of our common existence long before Malaysia was born, and the meaning of being part of a larger country, including the huge contributions and sacrifices that Sarawak has given to the nation.

There have to be give and take, but not a lopsided partnership where Sarawak has shouldered a heavy burden to help finance and develop Malayan states at the expense of our own.

In this respect Dr Mahathir himself should know better that peace and cooperation is of utmost importance to preserve the integrity of a nation, especially when we are separated by the vast South China Sea.

The growing demand for fairness and to recognise Sarawak rights should not be ignored as more and more Sarawakians are becoming aware that we have been short-changed all along.

He should look at the attitude of some of his ministers in dealing with Sarawak. We note that some ministers like Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Dr Maszlee Malik look more willing to cooperate, but not Lim Guan Eng who comes across as arrogant in dealing with Sarawak.

He even dragged his feet and imposed ridiculous conditions even when Sarawak is more than willing to help finance the repair of the huge number of dilapidated school buildings which are literally falling apart. Needless to say, generally Sarawakians have no love for him.

It is a relief to note that the state government is taking a more moderate stance of preferring to remain in the country and confine the struggle to power devolution and autonomy.

But there are other forces at work too. These are NGOs and individuals, who are willing to go further for independence, if Putrajaya ignores their demand for Sarawak’s rights.

It is not too late for Putrajaya to listen while the moderates still represent Sarawak’s voice.

The more extreme voices will definitely grow louder as time goes by and as younger people begin to understand what is at stake. If that happens, there may be no turning back.

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