May 26, 2010

Scholar opened can of worms on East Malaysia's position in Malaysia

Have to thank Prof Dr Manjit Singh for sharing his academic views on the position of Sabah and Sarawak in the federation of Malaysia. Over the past few days, Sabahan politicians, both in government and opposition has come out and  responded to his comments. This 'discussion' over the local paper Daily Express these past few days has given me a deeper and better understanding of our history. I think most young Malaysians including those born in the 60's and 70's like me are not aware of this part of the history. Hence, I agree with the call of a Sabahan politician to include this facts in our schools' history books.        

Disappointing to note that our national medias are not covering these exchanges which should be and is a national issue. SAPP's President, Datuk Yong Teck Lee, is perhaps right in his observation that Sabah and Sarawak issues are of little concern to the national medias. 

This is what I have 'gleaned' thus far (and I welcome to be corrected if I'm wrong) :

1) Dr Manjit said that Sabah and Sarawak cannot really claim that the Federation of Malaysia is a partnership of three equal members. Noticed he said "cannot really" claim as oppose to a definite "cannot claim". His chosen words suggest that Sabah and Sarawak's assertion is not without basis.

2) Dr Manjit is not totally wrong and our politicians concurred to this but they pointed out that he is right in academic sense. Initially, I thought Dr Manjit got his facts wrong because my history told me that Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak came together to form Malaysia. You can’t get any equal than that. It was not Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaysia! Until I saw that Dr Manjit used the word New Constitution. He didn’t mean New Constitution in the context of newly formed Malaysia as some of us might come to construe. He was referring to the amendments made to the Constitution of Malaysia in the 70’s in which, Sabah and Sarawak are relegated to the status of being just another states in Malaysia.

3) Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan pointed out that in the original Agreement which I suppose formed the basis of the original Constitution, the Federation of Malaysia was (or consisted of) Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore(which later withdrew or booted out, version depends on who you ask) and Malaya. Malaya itself was a federation of 11 states. Hence, the formation of Malaysia was between 4 entities and not 14 entities i.e. Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca, Johore, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak did not come together to form Malaysia.

Therefore, Malaya was a federation within the Federation of Malaysia. There existed a 2 tier federation in Malaysia. In that sense, Sabah and Sarawak had 'seniority' over the individual states in Malaya but where Malaya as an entity is concerned, was equal in 'seniority' with Sabah and Sarawak. That was the original spirit behind the formation of Malaysia by our forefathers.

Each entities got to keep certain rights or autonomy on certain matters. This would be the 18 points for Sarawak and 20 points for Sabah which are guaranteed under the constitution.

This is what our forefathers spat on their palm and shaked on.

4) Subsequently, for “ease of administration”, the Constitution was amended in the 70’s. This amended Constitution is what Dr Manjit referred to as the New Constitution. Now this is where I am guessing, until I can get a copy of the original copy of the New Constitution(I know for a fact that the Constitution has been amended many times) or someone in the know can enlighten me:

a)     It could mean that with the New Constitution, the Federation of Malaya was dissolved and the status of the 11 states in Malaya were elevated to the same position as Sabah and Sarawak; or
b)     Sabah and Sarawak were absorbed into the Federation of Malaya.

I am waiting for some politicians to shed more light on the reasons for the amendment of the Constitution.

Hence, while Dr Manjit is right that Sabah and Sarawak cannot really claim equal partnership in Malaysia because of the amendment, he was merely referring to technicality, fine prints in the New Constitution. Historically, it remains that Sabah and Sarawak were or are an equal partners to the formation of Malaysia. This cannot be denied and this fact must be preserved and maintained for our future generation.

Some quarters, including Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan argued that our Sabahan politicians were bullied into agreeing to the amendment of the Constitution in the 70’s and calling for the return of autonomies to Sabah and Sarawak.

You, including myself, may dismiss this argument as merely a rhetoric of an opposition leader seeking to politicise the issue and getting political mileage. But I have given some consideration to it and honestly, I can see how people can come up with this argument.

Let’s be honest, people (at least in the context of Malaysia and in that era) go into politics for power and money for the most part. Helping the rakyat(citizen) is just part of the job description.  

By agreeing to the amendments, the Sabahan politicians were basically surrendering some of their ‘power’. How odd that they surrendered their power voluntarily. Either they were bullied or they agreed to the amendments in exchange for some forms of long term benefits as compensation to the states. However, seeing that since the amendment until present days, Sabah is still being the poorest state in Malaysia, I cannot help but wonder what benefits were those, if any?   

It is useless to speculate how things would be if our Sabahan politicians did not agree to the amendments since we cannot turn back the time. Would we be better off now or worse off? Sometimes our own kind do us in.    

However, at least, I know what our real history is. In conclusion, Dr Manjit cannot really say that Sabah and Sarawak cannot claim equal partnership in Malaysia. To deny Sabah and Sarawak of this would be a breach on the part of Malaya where the spirit of the Agreement to form Malaysia is concerned.  

As far as this Sabahan is concerned, I support and promote better understanding and integration for the benefit of all Malaysians, Sabahans in particular. These days, our West Malaysians brethren know us better. I think they have sat up and took notice of us. Previously, we were just some outpost to them. People living in trees and no TVs. The advent of techonology like the internet and affordable transportation have bridged us closer. It amuses me when West Malaysian folks in Twitter try to imitate Sabahan dialect to show solidarity with me.    

I am more concern about good governance, development in Sabah and the government helping Sabahans regardless of race and religion, especially the hardcore poor in pursuit of wealth and happiness. Leaders can yap all day long but at the end of the day, if you do not perform, this vote will not go to you.

You may want to read this also : Scholar's view on Sabah's status wrong : JPs
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