Golden chance missed, Shafie says on constitutional amendment bill

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal speaks at a press conference at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport today. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal says Sabah and Sarawak missed a “golden chance” to restore their status as equal partners with the peninsula after the bill to amend the constitution was shot down in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

The Semporna MP said the Federal Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 was the first step towards getting other constitutional amendments including the rights owed to both states following the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

“We had a chance to put it (Sabah) back as one of the three (territories in Malaysia), but now we’re back to being one of the 13 states,” he told reporters after returning from Kuala Lumpur at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport here today.

The bill was defeated at the lower house last night after the government secured only 138 votes, 10 short of the two-thirds majority required to pass the bill.

Fifty-nine MPs of the total 221 abstained from voting for the bill.

Shafie said efforts had been made to restore the original wording in the bill to match the pre-1976 amendment.

“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad read it, and he said it was back to its old form which was signed by our forefathers in 1963,” he said.

He voiced regret over the MPs who had abstained from voting, even after the prime minister gave an assurance that a select committee would look into matters pertaining to the constitutional amendment once the bill is passed.

“To reinstate (the wording) is not so difficult. It’s only to legitimise what was spelt out in 1963, and putting it back into our 2019 constitution.

“But we are not saying this is enough,” he added.

But despite the setback, he said, Sabah would continue to pursue its rights in line with the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

“This is not the end of the road. We must ensure we can realise what is due for our fellow Sabahans, not only amendments but revenue.

“We’ll continue our struggle,” he said.

He also said he is open to further discussions with his Sarawak counterpart to achieve the desired goals, adding that Sarawak, too, had indicated the desire for additional amendments in the bill.

Shafie said he hoped the bill, or a similar one, would be tabled again during this Parliament sitting, adding that he is awaiting instructions for a meeting from the Prime Minister’s Office.

He also said he had discussed the candidate for the Sandakan by-election with DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng yesterday.

He said the candidate had been selected, and that Lim would make an announcement soon.