Isn’t it high time for Sarawak and Sabah to make a stand?


ON Aug 9, 1965 in the Malaysian Senate, Ong Kee Hui, my uncle and chairman of the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), had delivered a very strong message in his speech on the abrogation of the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 that was caused by Singapore’s separation on that fateful day.

This is the main crux of his message, according to what was recorded in Hansard, and I quote here, “Since the formation of Malaysia, our party (SUPP) has tried to make it work. Assessing the feelings of not only the people of Singapore and in other parts of Malaya, and also in Sarawak where I come (from), we have the feeling that Malaysia will only succeed, if we have a truly Malaysian Malaysia, where every Malaysian will have his rightful place under the sun … now that Singapore is out of Malaysia, what then is the justification for its existence?

A photo in 1963 at the formation of Malaysia. From third left are Ong Kee Hui, Lee Kuan Yew, Donald Stephens, and Mustafa Harun (right).

“What would be the position of the Borneo States if at some future date, perhaps, we have a government in charge which is not so reasonable, or so pliable to Alliance’s direction from the centre? Would not be the same reason then be advanced for further partition of Malaysia?”

Kee Hui had concluded, “After all the London Agreement, which is the basis for the formation of Malaysia, is a negotiated Agreement not only between Malaya and Singapore, but a negotiated Agreement between all states – that is, Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak.

“Have we no right to be consulted? After all, the future of all territories, which were colonial territories, must be decided by self-determination. In this case it is arguable whether in the first place the people agreed wholeheartedly to the arrangement … I will, therefore, urge the government to think seriously of the step, which it has now taken by starting what the Honourable Member has very correctly
stated to be the beginning of the process of the disintegration of Malaysia.”

For as long as I can remember, Sarawak and Sabah have stood united against the might and ‘Big Brother’ attitude of Malaya – both in the realms of politics and to the extent that its many so-called West Malaysian sense of superiority and the tendency of their citizens to be the ‘lord and master’ over us here in the Borneo states.

From their commonly held but erroneous perception that we are lagging behind in social and educational standards, to us living in treetops and adorning ourselves in cawats (loincloth), and an overall lack of most modern day comforts of life and other amenities, we as a whole have been treated almost like we were second class citizens.

To many, especially in the public as well as the private sector, a transfer posting from a city like Shah Alam or Johor Baru here is likened to an exile to Timbuktu, a fate much worse than death. But yet, from my own personal experience having known many such West Malaysians, who had unwillingly come across the pond, after
they have been here for more than two years, these same
fellas will resist most aggressively from being posted back home again when the time comes to wherever they had originated from – proving that life here had been so good and most amiable during their enforced ‘exile’.

Today the two states of Sabah and Sarawak account for 56 parliamentary seats out of a total of 222 in the federal parliament; a total of precisely 25 per cent. Without this bloc, any government of the day would not be able to attain a simple majority as the West Malaysian states are splintered into many political parties with no one single party holding dominance of the electoral votes to be able to retain the reins of power.

But yet what have we done with this powerful leverage – this immense power that we should by right wield with one voice?

We have been at odds with each other; instead of unity there is enmity, instead of support we divide; instead of strengthening each other, we try to weaken; instead of speaking with one loud voice, we break into a cacophony of impotent grumblings.

As one united force, one quarter strong in Parliament, we can right all the wrongs that have persevered since day one, since the formation of Malaysia. We can demand and obtain
what rightfully belongs to us; regain the power and the rule of each state’s sovereignty within the federation and be treated as a full and equal partner – as one of three partners, and not as just another state in the federation.

Yet, we in Sarawak in recent weeks, upon an openly declared nomination from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that he strongly favoured the Chief Minister of Sabah Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal to be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia; we in Sarawak had kept quiet and had not lent our support. What if it had been the other way round? That our Chief Minister was nominated?

Did it matter when Kedah, such a small state with only a population of 1.9 million had Tun Mahathir as the Prime Minister not once, but twice? Why can’t Sabah with a population of 3.5 million produce the next Prime Minister for Malaysia? So long as whosoever commands the support of the majority of the members of Parliament – every single member of parliament is entitled to be nominated. Another issue which must be highlighted at this pivotal period in our political history is the number of parliamentary seats at the federal level.

In February 2020, Chief Minister of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg had said that he had brought up the matter of parliamentary seats to the Election Reform Committee (ERC) that Sarawak and Sabah should have more than one-third the number of the total seats in Parliament. At present there are only 56 seats allocated, which represents only 25 per cent of the total, whereas at Malaysia Day in 1963 there was a full one-third representation. When Singapore had left in 1965, their 15 seats were all allocated to Malaya, none to Sabah and Sarawak. Wasn’t that a sleight of hand – purposefully done with bad intention?

Isn’t it time that we right this wrong, and correct this to ensure that both the Borneo states will have a more effective and hopefully productive say in the future. It’s about time that we both take a stand on this issue just to start with – after 57 years it seems to me that we still haven’t learnt our lesson that we have already long ago earned our status to be treated as equals within the federation as equal partners each with commensurate say and locus standi.

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