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Opposition in Sabah talks past each other

 | June 9, 2012

The opposition parties are still unable to articulate their vision for the state.


The opposition parties in Sabah are at it again, operating at tangents, unable to even agree to disagree, and largely unable to articulate their vision for the state.

The State Reform Party (STAR), a Borneo-based national party with autonomous chapters in Sabah and Sarawak, claims to be the sole exception.

Pakatan Rakyat’s message to the voters in Sabah is a simplistic one: There is no place for local parties, STAR and the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) being cited as the prime examples, and that the state is best served by either the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) or Pakatan under a two-party system in Parliament.

STAR, for starters, begs to differ on the two-party system in Parliament being the ideal formula for Sabah and Sarawak. The two-party system as proposed does not take into account the history of Sabah and Sarawak before and immediately after Malaysia, according to the party.

Indeed, the four constitutional documents and/or constitutional conventions – the 1963 Malaysia Agreement (MA63), the 20/18 Points (20/18 P), the Inter-Governmental Committee Report (IGCR) and the Cobbold Commission Report (CCR) – envisaged Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners in Malaysia along with Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) and Singapore (until 1965).

These documents, read together with the Malaysian Constitution, involve the autonomy of Sabah and Sarawak and their rights in the federation as a two-tier set-up.

At another or second and lower level, Malaya or Peninsular Malaysia is a federation of the states in the Peninsula.

Hence, according to STAR, the best guarantee for Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia is a Borneo-based national alliance which could lead a third force in Parliament to steer evenly between BN and Pakatan.

The third force does not comprise Sabah and Sarawak only but also includes various elements on the other side of the South China Sea, namely the Orang Asli, the Christians, other minorities, fence-sitters and the Indian community which decide in 67 of the parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia.

Window of opportunity

At present, elements of the third force straddle both sides of the political divide and this may remain so for the immediate future.

STAR wants to form the nucleus of a non-aligned third force in Parliament together with other allies in the United Borneo Alliance (UBA). The UBA, still work in progress, includes the United Borneo Front (UBF) which organises the Borneo tea Parties, the Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA), the Borneo Heritage Foundation (BHF), the Borneo Forum (BF) and the Sarawak National Party (SNAP).

The political tsunami of 2008 opened up a historical window of opportunity for Sabah and Sarawak when the ruling coalition lost its coveted two-thirds majority in Parliament and had to live with the emergence of the Pakatan as a government-in-waiting.

Suddenly, Sabah and Sarawak are in the political mainstream and reckoning again despite having less than the minimum one-third plus one seat in Parliament promised by the Malaysia Agreement.

Patently, it would be foolish of voters in Sabah and Sarawak to squander the continuing historical opportunity of 2008 – indeed an “Act of God” – by slavishly rooting for either BN or Pakatan at the ballot box.

The question of the opposition splitting its votes is a myth that must be laid to rest.

The people have the right to decide how united or disunited they want to be and this would be based purely on the issues being flogged during the campaign in the run-up to the general election, the next being the 13th.

The voters will make an intelligent choice between the parties and candidates based on the issue before them.

So far, Pakatan has yet to bring any issue of interest to Sabah and Sarawak before the people. BN, meanwhile, has been singing the same old song since 1994 when it promised a “Sabah Baru within 100 days”.

Simmering constitutional crisis

No doubt, both Peninsular Malaysia-based national alliances/coalitions are focused only on Putrajaya and beyond that they haven’t the faintest idea of what to do for Sabah and Sarawak.

The voters in Sabah and Sarawak are numbers as BN and Pakatan leaders sit in Kuala Lumpur punching on their calculators. They don’t see them as a people with real problems who are crying out for solutions.

In that sense, the parti parti Malaya in Sabah and Sarawak are part of the problem in the two states, not part of the solution. Therein lies the major difference between not only UBA and other parties in the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak but also between UBA and the BN.

STAR’s confidence stems from the fact that the fate of the four constitutional documents and/or conventions remains unresolved and thereby provides fodder for the recurrent theme in UBA’s on-going campaign in the run-up to the 13th General Election.

The thrust of the UBA campaign is that Malaysia has been in a simmering constitutional crisis since 1963 and it must be resolved one way or other and with good reasons too.

The four documents, it has being pointed out by STAR, are important constitutional documents and/or conventions without which the Malaysian Constitution would be inoperable and, by extension, render Sabah and Sarawak’s partnership in the federation as void and/or voidable.

The ruling Umno’s standard answer has been that the four documents are political documents (meaning hot air) – that is, not carrying the force of “law” – and, in any case, their contents “have either been incorporated in the Constitution, been done away with, dropped or overtaken by events”.

Pakatan has yet to respond to the UBA campaign on Malaysia, and in keeping with this silence “instructed by Kuala Lumpur”, has tried to avoid public debates organised by Demokrasi Sabah (Desah), an NGO, on the issue. STAR has so far been the only political party to agree to debate the issue.

The first option on Malaysia, according to STAR, would be to get the people to put pressure on the federal government not to ignore the four constitutional documents and/or conventions created by MA63, 20/18 P, IGCR and CCR. This is best expressed by setting up a compliance mechanism as incessantly suggested, indeed more like demanded, by STAR chairman Jeffrey Kitingan.

Jeffrey’s life-long interest in the issue stems from the fact that he’s a Dusun, the original people of Sabah together with the minority Muruts. Kadazans, another term widely used, are urban Dusuns from the Penampang, Papar area along the Sabah west coast. If the Dusuns themselves don’t struggle for compliance, the fate of their future generations and their state-country in Malaysia remains uncertain like the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia.

In the event the federal government continues to not comply with the four documents, the people can vote against the ruling party in Sabah and Sarawak.

In addition and/or alternatively, the people can take up the matter at the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion to be delivered to the United Nations Security Council, either directly or through a member country, for its deliberation. South Sudan, the latest, provides the classic text-book example.


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