INDEPENDENCE is meaningless if it does not ensure self-governance. After all, we are not getting rid of unelected foreign leaders and replacing them with new colonial masters among us.
When Malaysia was formed 59 years ago, many wondered if we as a political union could last or if Malaysia could become the new colonial master. These two questions do not disappear completely, even 59 years later, and perhaps never will in the future.
We still have Malay imperialists who see Malaysia only as an extension of Tanah Melayu and Muslim nationalists who want to impose their moral and cultural aspirations on other Malays, including Borneo Muslims. Some of them even insult other Malaysians seasonally in the run up to elections. If these bullies are not checked by the majority of Malaysians who cherish our God-given diversity and harmony, separatist voices in Sabah and Sarawak would naturally grow in response.
The failure to achieve the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 (MA63) frustrated many Sabahans and Sarawakians. Committed to a tripartite structure, some believe the solution is to treat the federal government as representing only Malaysia, so that Sarawak and Sabah can be its equal partners.
This view, however, is impragmatic and counterproductive – even when Malaysian politics is now fragmented, Sabah and Sarawak have no bargaining power to force the federal government to step down to represent only Malaysia as before 1963. While Sabah and Sarawak may aspire to be Scotland, but the 11 Malaysian states with nine royal houses are true political entities [and] cannot be forced into an England.
The most realistic positioning is to consider intergovernmental relations as one of the 1+2+11 relations, i.e. 1 federal government, 2 regional governments (Sabah and Sarawak) and 11 state governments (Malaysia ).
Below the second level regional and state governments are the divisions (in Sabah and Sarawak) and the municipal and district councils (in Malaysia) which should be elected.
But more importantly, in returning the federal government as the representatives of the 11 states, Sabah and Sarawak should work closely with the 11 states that are also victims of over-centralization to demand decentralization.
Sabah and Sarawak should not fear that if the 11 states get more powers than they currently have, Sabah and Sarawak would be downgraded to be on par with them. The history of the formation of Malaysia made it clear that Sabah and Sarawak would enjoy special status and more rights than the Malay states, a reality that the Malay states would not dispute.
A 2+11 team between East and West Malaysia can therefore be a win-win: all 11 states get more rights than they currently have, and both regions get more rights than [they] both [do] now, and [than] the Malay States. What the 2+11 team can demand includes concurrent powers in policy areas such as education and health, tax revenue sharing and an elected and strengthened Senate with veto power granted to Sabah and Sarawak.
Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution signifies an equal partnership between Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Since the beginning of the formation of Malaysia in 1963, the governance of at least 10 departments of Sabah and Sarawak is respectively autonomous, namely: Agriculture; Breeding; Forestry; Fishery; the water; public works; work; electricity; wildlife; [and the] local government.
In the peninsula, these 10 departments are governed autonomously at the federal level. It is necessary to coordinate the planning, organization and budgeting of these 10 departmental coordination councils to govern these ten departments at the Malaysian level.
Renegotiating Malaysian federalism would require an Intergovernmental Committee 2.0 (IGC 2.0) with the federal government, two regional governments and 11 state governments working together to strengthen Malaysia’s political transformation and economic resilience. I have personally advocated for IGC 2.0 in forums hosted by the WISDOM Foundation since early 2021.
PH (Pakatan Harapan) needs to take a bold step in offering Malaysia a new federal deal, which would require a lot of communication and confidence building. The BN (Barisan Nasional) and PN (Perikatan Nasional) would pander to seduce East Malaysian parties, but they are trapped in the Malaysian mindset, resulting in superficial promises that do not reinforce the political support for decentralization in Malaysia.
To make credible and viable offers, PH must first build a federal-state council within it, with the leader of the parliamentary opposition; the principal ministers of Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan; as well as other key PH leaders. Sabah, Sarawak and Malaysia [should] study and discuss how the interests of Malaysia’s federal, regional and state governments can be streamlined and balanced. I am pleased to offer myself to play an executive role in the formation of this important advisory body.
For starters, PH should campaign to end the “voting suppression” of voters in Borneo due to the denial of “mail-in ballot” rights. Currently, 300,000 Sabahans and 200,000 Sarawakians live on the peninsula, mostly because they do not have enough employment or educational opportunities in their home countries. Asking them to take time off and pay some RM1000 to vote at home is completely unfair.
Due to this and other factors, we see much lower turnout in Sarawak and Sabah than in other parts of Malaysia. Where the last three general elections recorded national turnouts of 76% (2008), 85% (2013) and 82% (2018), Sarawak only recorded 65%, 76% and 73% for its elections legislative, down 9%-11. % points, while Sabah recorded only 69%, 80% and 77% in the same polls, down 5%-7%. As Sarawak held its state elections at different times, voter turnouts were dramatically lower: 62% (2001, 2006), 70% (2011), 68% (2016) and 61% (2021).
The PH must demand, through the Steering Committee of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Government of Ismail Sabri, to ensure that postal voting would be available in the capital of each region and each state so that voters in Sabah , Sarawak and Malaya vote for their home constituency.
PH must show Malaysians that this is the most Malaysian national coalition they (Malaysians) can trust [PH] in GE15.