PETALING JAYA: Analysts have urged Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders to exercise caution when making statements on Sabah and Sarawak to avoid the perception that they do not understand the issues faced by the people in those states.
Speaking to FMT, Universiti Malaya and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak analysts Awang Azman Pawi and Jeniri Amir said Hannah Yeoh, the deputy minister of women, family and community development, should try to understand the source of the strong state sentiments in Sabah and Sarawak.
The DAP leader had criticised the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” sentiments at a recent forum in Kuching, Sarawak. Yeoh, who is Segambut MP, was slammed for her comments but subsequently defended them, saying Malaysians did not need another divisive factor.
Awang Azman and Jeniri acknowledged Yeoh’s point that state sentiments were not good for nation building. However, they said it was important for her to understand the context and source of such sentiments, and that generally, East Malaysians did not want secession or isolation.
“Many Sabahans and Sarawakians feel they have been betrayed by the federal government, denied much-needed development funds and sidelined in senior administrative roles, both in the state and at the federal level,” said Awang Azman.
He said anyone who wanted to talk about “Sarawak for Sarawakians” must be knowledgeable and understand why such sentiments were strong in the state, instead of painting its advocates as “the bad guys”.
“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad understands this, so those under him should also understand and do their research. That is why you see Mahathir speaking on matters of autonomy and not on the ‘Sarawak for Sarawakian’ sentiments.”
Awang Azman said Yeoh’s comments might give the perception that PH leaders in Peninsular Malaysia do not understand the plight of the people in Sabah and Sarawak.
“PH should be doing better than Barisan Nasional. Yes, we are one nation, one Bangsa Malaysia, but as long as Sabah and Sarawak aren’t treated fairly, they won’t feel proud and included as part of this country.”
Jeniri said Yeoh should focus on explaining to the people how and when the PH-led federal government would deliver its manifesto promises to Sabah and Sarawak.
“Merely criticising the ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’ sentiments doesn’t help the situation, it will only make people angrier.
“Comments like that can be damaging for PH and will push the people towards local parties who will ride on these sentiments because it resonates well with the people. The key for PH leaders is to see the issue from Sabah and Sarawak’s point of view.”
DAP’s Sibu MP Oscar Ling, however, defended Yeoh, saying she wasn’t wrong and that it was important to ensure Malaysians remained united.
“She also mentioned that she respected the rights Sarawakians were asking for and that Malaysia was made up of three regions, namely Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya.”