KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh says the defeat of a bill to amend the Federal Constitution on the status of Sabah and Sarawak is not the end of the road as it will be tabled in Parliament again.
However, he suggested that politicians from both sides of the divide in Sabah and Sarawak hold discussions and come up with a white paper to explain the issue and outline the pros and cons of restoring the original wording of Article 1(2).
He said the white paper should then be made available to the public so that people will understand the issue.
“Right now, I hear people talking about the amendment, but I don’t think they know what it means. Politicians must spell out the reasons to get the support of the people,” he told FMT.
“At the moment, none of the MPs from Sabah and Sarawak talk about the pros and cons. They talk about equal partnership but they don’t say what that is.
“Does equal partnership mean we have a bigger slice of the cake? Will funds be divided into three portions? What is the significance?”
The Federal Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, which seeks to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with the peninsula, was defeated in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday.
A total of 138 MPs of the 221 voted for the bill, 10 votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Fifty-nine abstained.
Harris said the bill was foiled due to politicisation of the issue and the government’s haste in tabling the amendment.
“I think the opposition MPs wanted to frustrate the federal government and show that the government does not have the strength it thinks it does.
“But the more important reason for the failure was the confusion about how the amendment would actually benefit the people in Borneo as well as in Malaya,” he told FMT.
Even before the 1976 amendment to Article 1(2) which the bill sought to address, Sabah and Sarawak had been administered as among the 13 states in the federation, he said.
Most of the time, he added, the federal government had been fair to Sabah.
“The rest was done for national interests. And nothing is 100% perfect in this world,” he said.
He dismissed calls for Sabah and Sarawak to be given more parliamentary seats, saying the peninsula deserves to have the bulk of seats as the majority of the population is in West Malaysia.
He also said it would be impractical to increase the number of parliamentary seats as the principle of representation should be upheld.
“When you demand for something, you must use your heads. The way I look at it, Malaya will live on even without Sabah and Sarawak.
“They are prepared for it. They are almost fully developed and 80% of the national revenue is collected from Malaya. It is sandwiched between two rich countries, namely Thailand and Singapore, which will support the economy.
“What do we have in Sabah? We have Kalimantan and Zamboanga. I think for Malaya, we add to their image and prestige but other than that, it is a burden for them to develop Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.