This is the first article in a two-part series by our guest columnist Joe Fernandez
by Joe Fernandez
ANALYSIS (Part 1) Critics in Peninsular Malaysia miss the forest for the trees when they complain that “Barisan must be laughing at these fringe parties” in Sabah. Obviously, they are referring to the “inability” of the opposition parties to forge an electoral pact to take on the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) one-to-one come the 13th General Election.
The issue is not whether the BN, in the absence of opposition unity, continues to rule Sabah for a further five years.
That doesn’t mean that the BN in Sabah will surely “fall” if the opposition can get their act together.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, being a typical Peninsular Malaysian Malay politician for one, obviously does not want to see the fall of the Muslim-initiated, formed and led state government in Sabah. He was instrumental in setting up this government and, and according to Sabah Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) insiders, expects cross-overs post-13th GE. Under this strategy, he’s allegedly determined to prevent any possibility of the Dusuns and Dayaks — at least the Christians and pagans in their overwhelming numbers — ruling their own countries.
The Dayak Melanau but Muslim Taib Mahmud in Sarawak is Anwar’s main political partner — hitherto secret — in Malaysian Borneo.
Hence, regime change is not the most important issue in Sabah as elsewhere in Malaysia.
All the more so since the system of party politics has failed the people of Sabah and Sarawak, the poorest states in Malaysia at the end of 2010, according to a World Bank report released in Kota Kinabalu.
What is pertinent is system change as advocated even by Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the national opposition alliance.
Anwar has spoken out so often eloquently enough on this vision but only in underlining the need to get away from the current race-based system to one, ostensibly, based on Equality as demanded so often, by among others, Hindraf Makkal Sakthi. Anwar no doubt has his eyes on the 67 parliamentary seats in Peninsular Malaysia where the Indians decide.
The BN is making some efforts to overcome the legacy of race, albeit late in the day, but not enough and even that not fast enough for many people and too little, too late.
However, the much heralded system change if any must not stop at Peninsular Malaysia and exclude Sabah and Sarawak.
There are no race issues in Sabah and Sarawak, at least nothing serious enough which warrants too much public concern and/or which cannot be resolved at the ballot box, unless brought by visiting politicians from Peninsular Malaysia.
Critics in any case, especially in Peninsular Malaysia, also appear oblivious to local history.
They also appear equally oblivious to the fact that the politics of Peninsular Malaysia, based on jealousy of the Chinese in business, racial polarisation and more recently the proverbial “falling out among thieves”, are surely not what Sabah and Sarawak are all about.
Most Sabahans and Sarawakians unlike the Anwar Ibrahims don’t care whether a cat is black or white — shades of the late Deng Zhiao Peng — as long as it can catch mice. Anything that runs contrary to this comes from Peninsular Malaysia which appears determined, under Umno, to re-cast Sabah and Sarawak in its political mould of race and religion.
These are no doubt among the reasons, but clearly not the only ones, for the State Reform Party (Star) in Sabah for example to declare recently that it will go for all 60 state seats at stake and 26 parliamentary seats including one in Labuan come the 13th GE.
Having said that, it must be noted that the 1963 Malaysia Agreement guarantees that Peninsular Malaysia would only have at the most one less than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament in order to effectively give veto powers to Sabah and Sarawak in the collective over Constitutional amendments. By the same token, by extrapolation and logical deduction, Malaysian Borneo could merit the same position as Peninsular Malaysia in the numbers game.
There was a fundamental breach in this position when Singapore left Malaysia in 1965.
Its 15 seats in the then Parliament, by right, should have all been either given to Sabah and Sarawak or the number of Peninsular Malaysia’s seats reduced to maintain the balance vis a vis Sabah and Sarawak.
Instead, Sabah and Sarawak were pawned off with only eight of Singapore’s seats while the rest were taken by Peninsular Malaysia with no justification whatsoever.
The rest is some additional history which needs to be taken into consideration in any debate, if not polemics.
The rot having set in, so to speak, it was thereafter downhill all the way for Sabah and Sarawak in the numbers game in Parliament.
Today, of the 222 seats in Parliament, Sabah and Sarawak only have 57 seats including one in Labuan. Surely, this doesn’t reflect the balance of power envisaged by the Malaysia Agreement. In short, Peninsular Malaysia is unjustifiably holding 18 seats in Parliament which should in fact belong to Sabah/Sarawak.
To correct the situation, Sabah and Sarawak should be given a further 26 seats in Parliament to balance the 165 seats excluding Labuan held by Peninsular Malaysia. A recent Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) headed by Maximus Ongkili has raised this issue as a principle among its 22 proposals but makes no recommendation on actual numbers.
If Peninsular Malaysia’s representation in a future Parliament are further raised above the current 165 seats, the balance of power envisaged in the Malaysia Agreement must be taken into consideration and not continue to be compromised.
It’s difficult to predict the restoration of a balance of power in Parliament unless both sides of the political divide are in consensus on the issue. This is important considering that any increase in the number of seats in Parliament must be passed by a two-third majority.