Peninsular-based political must release their stranglehold on East Malaysian politics and allow the Sabah- and Sarawak-based parties contest the state and general elections.
This is mainly because Peninsular or West Malaysia controls only 74% or 165 of the 222 Parliament seats. The balance 26% or 57 Parliament seats are in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan.
And that was why Umno decided to go into Sabah in 1990 and aspire to also go into Sarawak if they could — but can’t as long as Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is still alive (which means they would probably do so once Taib is no longer around as Chief Minister).
The March 2008 general election proved this point very clearly. The 165 Parliament seats in Peninsular Malaysia were split almost 50:50 with 80 plus seats going to Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat each. It is because Barisan Nasional managed to win almost all the seats in East Malaysia that it got to form the federal government, yet again.
East Malaysia has always been treated as Barisan Nasional’s ‘fixed deposit’ or ticket to Putrajaya. Barisan Nasional does not deny this and, in fact, openly admitted that this is so. At least Barisan Nasional is honest about what ‘role’ Sabah and Sarawak are playing in the whole scheme of things — the role of ‘kingmaker’.
So what does that say about the importance of East Malaysia? By Barisan Nasional’s own admission, East Malaysia is the route to federal power. And East Malaysia is being treated as a means to ensure that Barisan Nasional gets to retain power.
This may not have been too apparent in the past. But the result of the March 2008 general election amplified this point and made it even clearer that no one gets to form the federal government, whether it is Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, unless they first figure out how to win (or retain) power in Sabah and Sarawak.
Sabahans and Sarawakians have finally woken up to this fact — not that many did not know this earlier. And those who may not have realised this earlier now do. You do not get to form the federal government without the support of East Malaysia. That is the simple and extremely clear fact.
The question now would be are Sabahans and Sarawakians prepared to continue to allow East Malaysia to be used as a mere stepping-stone to Putrajaya? Are they prepared to continue to be tools of federal or Kuala Lumpur-based political parties in their quest for power? Or do they now want to become equal partners in a political alliance that rules Malaysia as equal partners?
For too long Sabah and Sarawak have been treated as mere colonies. No doubt Sabah and Sarawak got their independence from Britain and in the same breath became part of Malaysia back in 1963 — and with this they ceased to be colonies of England. But did Sabah and Sarawak really shed their colony status or did they merely exchange one colonial master for another? Did they, as I have written many times before, get rid of the white colonial masters and merely swapped them with brown colonial masters?
Swapping one master for another
One misconception that must be corrected is that Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore did not ‘join’ Malaysia. Malaysia did not exist before 1963 so what was there to join? What really happened was that Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore agreed to team up with the Federation of Malaya as equal partners to form Malaysia.
What this means, therefore, is that Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore were equal to Malaya, which at that time comprised of 11 states. Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore were not equal to Selangor, Perak, Penang, Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis, Pahang, etc. However, today, Sabah and Sarawak are being treated as just two more states in a Malaysia made up of 13 states.
And that was what Singapore could not accept, which resulted in Singapore eventually leaving Malaysia to become an independent republic. Singapore realised that it was not really getting independence after all. It was just swapping one colonial master for another. It was being downgraded from an equal partner to Malaya to just another of the 14 states of Malaysia, equal in status to one of the original 11 states of pre-Malaysia.
Sabah and Sarawak did not follow Singapore’s move of leaving Malaysia. That was because the leaders of Sabah and Sarawak, unlike the Singapore leaders, were compromised. And those who refused to be compromised were ousted or died mysterious deaths. Basically, the federal government had the Sabah and Sarawak leaders in its pocket. And these compromised leaders allowed the ‘backdoor’ re-colonisation of Sabah and Sarawak.
Sabah and Sarawak not only teamed up with Malaya to form Malaysia as equal partners but also on the basis of the 20-Point and 18-Point Agreements respectively. However, once the early leaders of Sabah and Sarawak were compromised, the 20-Point and 18-Point Agreements were pushed into the background and conveniently forgotten.
We need to look at these two Agreements again. And we need to not only look at them but also explore how the spirit of these Agreements can be restored. Whoever wants to form the next federal government must give Sabah and Sarawak a firm commitment that the 20-Point and 18-Point Agreements will be honoured. Thus far there is no indication that both sides of the political divide place much importance in this matter.
Fundamental to these agreements is to allow Sabahans and Sarawakian what I would call self-determination, for want of a better phase. This may not tantamount to autonomy seeing that national defence, internal security, foreign policy, and so on, are federal policies and outside the jurisdiction of the states. Nevertheless, there are still many areas not within the ambit of the federal government, which are state matters, but which the states are not being allowed to manage or decide on their own.
The Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) is of the view that the entire relationship between the federal government and East Malaysia needs to be reviewed. Things are not happening the way it was intended when Malaysia was first created. There is no so-called partnership between Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.
What we have instead is a federalisation policy where Sabah and Sarawak are just two of 13 states that come under the domination of the federal government.
To demonstrate that the national or Kuala Lumpur-based political parties are sincere and genuine about ‘de-federalisation’ (again, for want of a better phase) they must first end their policy of the domination of East Malaysian politics. They must allow Sabah- and Sarawak-based political parties to chart their own direction and determine their own future. The 20-Point and 18-Point Agreements must be the basis of the relationship between Kuala Lumpur and East Malaysia.
MCLM would like to see the national or Kuala Lumpur-based parties releasing their stranglehold on East Malaysian politics. Let the Sabah- and Sarawak-based parties contest the state and general elections.
National or Kuala Lumpur-based parties should form alliances or have electoral pacts with these Sabah- and Sarawak-based parties and assist them in whatever way required. National or Kuala Lumpur-based parties should not instead contest seats in Sabah and Sarawak and engage East Malaysia in three- or more-corner fights.
There may still be three- or more-corner fights in Sabah and Sarawak. In any election this can’t be avoided and is perfectly legal and constitutional. But let it not be the national or Kuala Lumpur-based parties that trigger these multi-corner fights.
Let it be known that the national or Kuala Lumpur-based parties will ensure that they will not be the culprits in multi-corner fights but would instead help the Sabah- and Sarawak-based parties in their attempt to deny Barisan Nasional the states.
MCLM supports the idea of a United Borneo Front comprising of Sabah- and Sarawak-based political parties. MCLM also supports the move to restore the letter and the spirit of the 20-Point and 18-Point Agreements.
MCLM will work towards ensuring that Sabah and Sarawak are allowed self-determination so that they can chart their own direction and determine their own future with the help of the other opposition parties in Pakatan Rakyat.
Popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin is the MCLM chairman. He is presently living in the UK. This article was exclusively written for FMT.