Friday, September 25

Time to write manifestos

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Will there be more legislators to articulate Native privileges in the next DUN?

ON Thursday, I bumped into Joe, a buddy whom I had not seen since March this year. He was wearing a black face mask, reminding me of the character in the movie ‘Zorro’ that I saw many years ago.

It was obvious that he had been hibernating all this while. For a keen pineapple gardener, developing his NCR land and spending a lot of time in the sun for the past year, his light skin and a little bulge at the sides spoke volumes of a sedentary existence. Otherwise, he was fine and, as usual, a politician to the branch and root. Sometimes, he regards himself as a statesman.

We went to our favourite coffee stall at the Trinity Centre at Mile 4. At the entrance, we had to comply with the RMCO’s standard operating procedures. On an exercise book, we wrote down our respective names and telephone numbers. When the girl tembak (shot) him on his forehead, his body temperature registered 37.6 (Celsius).

“Election must be around the corner,” I commented. Like a Cheshire cat, he grinned broadly and nodded, “Looks like it.”

This year or next?

We were wondering if the next state election would be held this year at all.

“Not before the annual budget is approved by the State Legislature,” I said.

The budget will dangle many candies for delivery next year. No political party in power would miss the opportunity to appear to be generous to the voters. That is the name of the game.

Election in Sarawak will be held next year all right, before May, either held simultaneously with the federal election or solo. By June, we will have a newly-minted Sarawak Government or the present government returning to power intact, or with one with some new partners tagging along. Who knows?

“Will there be new faces in DUN?” I asked my friend.

“Me!” he answered without blinking.

So serious was he about taking part in the next state election that he wanted me to help draft his election manifesto. I did not commit myself straightaway.

Agenda

I told him that a manifesto is an agenda or an action plan, capable of being implemented in total or in parts, not just sweet nothings on a piece of paper to be relegated to the shelves to gather dust. Crucially, any item in the manifesto would be impossible to carry out without the backing of power and authority.

For this backing, he must be a team player in a group, and for that group to gain power, it must get the mandate to govern from the voters during a fair and free election. The group (aka political party) must secure the majority of seats in the legislative assembly before that group can claim the right to form the government either by its own strength of elected candidates or in a coalition with other groups. He has to be part and parcel of that arrangement; otherwise, he will be an ordinary YB without a workable agenda during his tenure of office. Little will be expected of him as a legislator.

As a potential candidate, he has to choose now which side he wants to be: either in the winnable party or the likely opposition. Not as an independent; was my advice to him. However, it is his freedom to ignore it.

For sources of ideas for his manifesto, I suggested that he refer to Article 39 of the Constitution of the State of Sarawak. That provision of the Constitution talks about reservation of quotas in respect of services, permits, scholarships, and other educational facilities for the natives of Sarawak. It also allows Sarawak to make provision in its constitution corresponding (with the necessary modifications) to Article 153.

This Federal Constitution talks about the same privileges for the Malays and the natives of any of the states of Sabah or Sarawak in respect of services, permits, scholarships, and other educational or training privileges or special facilities.

I told Joe that this is a well written manifesto already. I cannot improve on it except to suggest that he should adopt it as part of his election manifesto. He does not need the service of any writer to polish the wording of his document. And its source is the law of the land itself!

To do justice to Article 39 of the State Constitution, all that is required of Joe, as a state legislator, is to move a motion in DUN to amend the said article to make the government reserve quotas in respect of services, permits, scholarships, and other educational training for the Natives of Sarawak, proportionate to their numbers in the population of the State.

That will reflect the true intention of the Sarawak leaders who had bargained for the special privileges for the natives while they were discussing the formation of Malaysia in 1962. The Malayan members of the Cobbold Commission, 1962, Datuk Wong Pow Nee and M Ghazali Shafie, recorded that, “Native witnesses have unanimously asked that the native races of Sarawak and North Borneo should be put in a position analogous to the Malays in the Federation of Malaya. This demand springs from their feeling that they should be able to enjoy the concomitant privileges and opportunities which the Federal Constitution affords to the Malays, and that any treatment of them different from the Malays would be anomalous.”

This demand by Sarawak and North Borneo leaders was incorporated in the Federal Constitution as Article 153. Its corresponding provision is Article 39 of the Constitution of the State of Sarawak. In the Sabah’s Constitution, it’s Article 41.

Let’s forget about Sabah for the moment.

Back to Sarawak. My challenge to Joe and as a condition for my agreeing to help him draft his manifesto were that he pledged to campaign on this issue of native privileges, among others. These are constitutionally-enshrined Sarawak native privileges. Who in their right mind would question this fact? Let’s see how many votes Joe will get from exploiting this issue. But first and fore-most, let’s get him to Petra Jaya.

I will miss his joviality and never-say-die attitude at the Trinity.

Good luck, Joe.

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