One heart, one soul … ?

Abang Johari and Baru Bian jointly launch the stretch of the Pan Borneo Highway from Telok Melano to Sematan on Jan 26.

THE great political tsunami in May last year upset many people, especially those with vested interests, political or otherwise. It upset political alliances and shifted loyalties. Erstwhile political foes became friends and former friends became new rivals. Fresh faces arose like mushrooms after the storm on the political field.

This change of the guard in KL adversely affected those Sarawakians who had held positions in the federal government. That’s an occupational hazard. A risk of being in the same boat, sink or swim, or abandon ship and think of the next move.

As Sarawakians had elected their legislators in 2016 and the election winners had formed the Sarawak government, the political elite had to contend with many new faces in the new federal government.

The parties in power in Sarawak were in a dilemma – either stick to old buddies in the Barisan Nasional or part ways. In the end, they decided to leave the grand coalition and chart their own course, in uncharted waters.

In this scenario, the ruling political leaders at different levels of government are not sure if there is correct chemistry between them. They have been sizing up one another, quicker in finding fault with each other instead of finding a common ground where they can synergise to do the work which they have been elected to perform.

This rivalry between federal and Sarawak leaders has gone too long for people who want action, not endless polemics. Many Malaysians, me included, must be wondering if this is good for the Federation, Sarawak, or anybody else.

Take comfort, however, from the lesson of history. We have solved worse problems before because we stuck together.

My observation is that since 1965, Malaysians in Sarawak have gone through several crises in terms of federal/Sarawak relations – the first set of problems occurring after its merger with Malaya, Singapore, and North Borneo in September 1963; the second, after the unexpected change of government at the centre in May last year.

In between the years, four other events took place in Sarawak – the Land Bills crisis, the removal from office of the first chief minister, the formation of the first coalition government in July 1970, and the attempt to topple the chief minister known as the Ming Court Affair. I treat these as part and parcel of a growing democracy, though I would not like any repetitions!

Each generation of political leaders has had different challenges to deal with. For the founders of Malaysia, for instance, their main job was to make it work. The federation must sustain itself in the face of serious threats from outside and inside. Eventually, they overcame the problem of a communist insurgency and the Indonesian Confrontation, trusting each other and trusting in the future of the new country.

Two major events which could have aborted the entire project midway were the separation of Singapore from the federation in August 1965 and the racial riots in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969.

In 1965, Sabah and Sarawak were at the crossroads. Should we part company like Singapore did, or to stay put with partners of hardly two years’ standing? Leaders in Borneo opted to remain in the federation. Wise or not, only time can tell.

The May 13 riots did not reach our shores; life in Sabah and Sarawak went on as if nothing serious had happened in the country.

What does the future hold for us?

Nobody has a crystal ball. What will be, will be, you may say. While it lasts, make the best of Malaysia, warts and all. This is home and there is no other like it.

Mixed signals from the west

One important factor, nowadays, is the instant communication network. No longer do the few literate uncles in a village disseminate information from the newspaper in the local coffee shop. Everybody is online, everybody has a mobile phone, and Facebook. People read and write what they like without thinking of the consequences. The political parties in the peninsula have yet to find a way to handle religious fanaticism and political extremism. What if these find their way into our domain? They are certainly invading cyberspace!

What can we say about the present crop of leaders?

For more than six months now, after the traumatic change of leadership at the centre, they have been sizing up one another and trying to find who among themselves have the right chemistry to do the job at hand in terms of the Legislative Lists, Administrative Arrangements, and assurances at Annex A of the Inter-Governmental Report. This report is important because Sarawak’s decision to be a federal partner as set out in this report was made respectively by the legislature of Sabah and Sarawak. This binds all parties, not the Malaysia Agreement alone.

Present generations of politicians must familiarise themselves with these documents before they exercise power. The exercise of power causes friction and that friction is being politicised to score political points. Unless and until power and authority are clearly devolved or delegated especially those legislative powers under the Concurrent List, the polemics will continue. We hope the special cabinet committee will produce a better formula for a better working relationship between Sarawak and the centre as soon as possible.

I started this year with a wish list. I hope that the Sarawak government will work well with the federal government, and that the federal government will observe and honour all the safeguards that Sarawak’s leaders had insisted on as part of the deal before they agreed to accept Malaysia.

Good signs of rapport

Just as I was beginning to lose hope in the wisdom of many politicians, there came good news from Telok Melano – the politicians representing the federal and Sarawak governments agree on something! The Chief Minister, YAB Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, and the Minister of Works, YB Baru Bian, jointly declared open to public traffic that stretch of the Pan Borneo Highway from Telok Melano to Sematan. Good omen. Itu baru dia! The leaders have shown that they can rise above petty political intrigue concocted by little napoleons.

Another strong signal of a rapprochement between the centre and Sarawak was the assurance of full support from the federal government in the war effort against rabies. Salute to Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and his field commanders and Deputy Minister of Health Dr Lee Boon Chye for their cooperation in this war, which has already claimed 16 precious lives. We need leaders who can rise above politics of federalism.

What can we say about the ministers of education?

Yes, two ministers in charge of education – one at the federal level and another over in Borneo.

Don’t worry so much about the uncut grass along Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Tun Jugah. It’s been trimmed anyway. Worry rather about what the chairman of the Cobbold Commission said 57 years ago. Lord Cobbold in his report in 1962 wrote, “It is a necessary condition that from the outset Malaysia should be regarded by all concerned as an association of partners, combining in the common interest to create a new nation by retaining their own individualities. If any idea were to take root that Malaysia would involve a ‘take over’ of the Borneo territories by the Federation of Malaya and the submersion of the individualities of North Borneo and Sarawak, Malaysia would not in my judgment, be generally acceptable or successful.”

All we can do now, and we must do it, is to prove this dire prophecy wrong!

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]

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