BN manifesto a big let-down for East Malaysians

East Malaysians were bitterly disappointed with the Barisan Nasional (BN) manifesto which declared that the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) would be “realised by consensus”. Many expected to see the word “implement” in the manifesto, not “consensus”.

MA63 is a very sensitive subject for East Malaysians, and many are still angry with Parliament speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia who delivered his own interpretation of the agreement last November. He upset many people, including the chief minister of Sarawak, with his brash stance and interpretation of MA63, and with his challenge to public debates. Pandikar’s views were very different from the general thinking of those who are involved in the matter.

Prime Minister Najib Razak promised that the rights accorded to Sabah and Sarawak under MA63 would be restored when he addressed the Sabah Umno delegates in his winding-up speech on the last day of the party’s general assembly in December last year.

Najib made the same promise in his Malaysia Day speech in Kota Kinabalu on September 16, 2017. In fact, Najib and the BN leadership have repeated the same promise numerous times, giving high hopes to Sabahans and Sarawakians. These have now fizzled into an ambiguous word, “consensus”.

Shafie Apdal of Party Warisan Sabah questioned the need for a “consensus” for MA63 to be realised, saying this would involve people who were not part of the decision-making process in the formation of Malaysia. He said with the inclusion of this condition, Sabah and Sarawak would not see the pledge realised.

A consensus is a process of decision-making that seeks widespread agreement among group members. A legal agreement on the other hand is a written document spelling out the understanding and acceptance of reciprocal legal rights and duties as to a particular action or contract.

Fulfilling MA63’s legal obligations is a serious issue which should not be used as political rhetoric. Voters in Sabah should now ask BN component parties like PBS, Upko, PBRS and LDP, who claim to be fighting for Sabah rights, to explain the meaning of the word “consensus”.

In September last year, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Raymond Tan, who is also Gerakan vice-president, was reported to have said, “MA63 is not a sale and purchase agreement and it is not an ordinary agreement that can be simply changed and rewritten… Most of us do not ask for anything more but we want to protect our special rights. We cannot say that we do not like certain provisions in MA63 and simply want to change it, because without MA63, there would be no Malaysia. Nobody in Sabah, in his right mind, would be interested to renegotiate a new deal.”

If that is the case, why “consensus”? MA63 is a legal binding agreement signed by Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia. The words “realised by consensus” have never been part of the agreement. Based on Tan’s statement, what remains is for the full implementation to take place.

If the implementation is to go by consensus, the matter is likely to be debated within the BN family or in the federal cabinet, with people who are not party to the agreement. The outcome in such a situation will be different from what is clearly laid out in MA63 and may drag on indefinitely until we come to some “consensus”.

Political observers say BN should have carefully worded its manifesto and not used words like “realised through consensus” which gives voters a negative connotation. It’s like saying, “We hear you, if you want what is in MA63, let’s sit down for coffee and talk.” It’s not as affirmative as saying, “Let’s go through every single clause in MA63 and see what is implemented and what is not, and how we can address the issue.”

For many East Malaysian who are tired of debating over MA63, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. For them, time is of the essence. They are tired of promises and want it realised now, not in some hidden agenda.

Many would say BN lost a good opportunity to make an impact and convince East Malaysians that it means what it says. It may have misjudged the real sentiments on the ground. Words and actions can go a long way if you are fighting for political survival. The poorly chosen words could prove detrimental to BN’s GE14 campaign as MA63 is at the top of everyone’s agenda in East Malaysia.

For the opposition parties meanwhile, it’s a do or die agenda to restore what has been taken from the people in East Malaysia.

Joe Samad is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.