It’s that time of the year again when the debate in Sabah and Sarawak becomes intense and emotional. Between Aug 31 and Sept 16, social media is full of chatter, with talk about Merdeka (Independence), its significance or insignificance and what we have achieved, or rather not achieved as a nation.
A different debate is going on in Sabah – whether it achieved self-government or Independence on Aug 31.
Sarawak has already celebrated Sarawak Day on July 22 after having claimed that Sarawak attained self-government from the British Empire on that day in 1963. In Sabah, deputy chief minister Jeffrey Kitingan is planning to gazette Aug 31 as Sabah Day, apart from just observing the day as Merdeka Day.
In another news report, Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim posted a controversial statement saying Johor does not celebrate the country’s National Day as the state never fell under colonial rule. Johor has always had an independent streak. Good for Johor, whether right or wrong, they have the right to celebrate the way they want.
National Day or Malaysia Day are no longer mere holidays but a battle of the minds over different narratives of history to suit different thinking and political agendas. Like the Bank Rakyat gaffe on Malaysia’s formation which earned brickbats from netizens.
It’s a real pity when the government spends so much money on education and universities and you get these kinds of people running our banks. Makes you wonder whether your money is safe. It’s shameful that you can claim the history of Malaysia came from one particular race. The least they could do is to issue an apology or retraction.
Malaysia is only 58 years old. The growing pains are obvious, but the dirty politics of late has made Malaysia a muddled country of all sorts. In the background we have the remnants of Umno leaders undergoing trial with irritated judges trying their best to control the court schedules, and the triple change of government which has destabilised the nation, affected the economy, stock markets, exchange rates and ratings, causing jitters all around.
People are just fed up with all these shenanigans and nobody is willing to listen to any politician even if he has a good idea. The trust we had which was already clinging to the threads has been broken permanently.
It’s no wonder that East Malaysians are looking for an alternative to the broken system of federal politics and continue to harbour the wishful thinking that they too should have exited like Singapore.
But why are East Malaysians hung up on self-government or the thought of independence? Articles discussing secession and calls for independence in Sabah explain the frustrations of the East Malaysians.
A past Sabah minister in the federal government said this:
“In summary the angst and frustrations are simple arguments. Why is Sabah an oil rich state still the poorest state in the nation after 58 years? How can there be shared prosperity when Petronas has taken a big chunk of your oil revenue since 1974, like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“Why are Sabah and Sarawak not treated as equal partners although this has already been recognised and agreed by successive federal governments. Equal partnership means a greater share of the development revenue and more autonomy to implement our own health and education policies, key components of an advanced society.”
There are a host of overseas groups clamouring for independence for Sabah and Sarawak. It’s an open secret that many East Malaysians who are fed up with Malaysian politics have internalised their real feelings and only expressed their discontent in confined circles.
This is not good for Malaysia as those who harbour the ill feelings will create more angst towards nation-building. In a paper written by James Chin on the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and the “politics of historical grievance,” he said: “If the federal government continues to ignore the core MA63 grievances and does not reset federal–state relations, then they are risking pushing the polity towards the secessionist movements. At present there are half a dozen groups in both states pushing for exit from the Federation.”
Most of us believe in a progressive and prosperous Malaysia based on equality and shared ideals, but this is clearly not happening. With Undi18 winning their court case, there is perhaps a chance to upset the apple cart and create a new nation free of corrupt leadership and failed politicians running the government.
I always liked the Christian wedding vows where the groom pledges to take the bride to “be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”.
As in marriage, there is no guarantee that after 58 years together, Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak will still be in blissful union. Politically we are in poor health, poor everything.
There is no love lost between the Peninsula and Borneo. As to “till death do us part” – I am really not sure unless the federal government does something drastic to change the course of history. Divorce is quite common these days. You can also do “talak tiga” by phone. Best to see a marriage counsellor and try to save the marriage.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.