Furore over words and intention

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  • Saturday, 06 Apr 2019

SOCIAL media in Sarawak exploded in indignation on Thursday (April 4) when the Bill to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution was finally made public at its tabling for first reading in Parliament.

According to the Bill, Clause 2 of Article 1 will be amended to read: "The States of the Federation shall be - (a) Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu; and (b) Sabah and Sarawak."

The aim is to restore Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with the peninsula by reversing a 1976 amendment which listed both states among the 13 states in Malaysia.

This is something Sarawak and Sabah have been fighting for in the ongoing negotiations for the return of state rights and autonomy in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

So why the venting of frustration by Sarawakians and the objections raised by Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and other Opposition MPs in Parliament?

The outcry can be distilled into two key issues. The first has to do with the wording of the new clause.

To many Sarawakians, there is essentially no difference between what the Bill proposes and the 1976 Article. In the words of Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP) president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian, "The proposed amendment maintains Sarawak as one of the 13 states in Malaysia, instead of one of the three equal-partner states."

In comparison, the original 1963 Article 1(2) reads: "The States of the Federation shall be - (a) the States of Malaya, namely Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Trengganu; and (b) the Borneo States, namely Sabah and Sarawak; and (c) the State of Singapore."

Of course Singapore is no longer in the federation, but to aggrieved Sarawakians, leaving out Malaya and Borneo means that Sarawak and Sabah are not deemed equal partners with the 11-state peninsula.

The other sticking point is that the Bill does not spell out comprehensively the restoration of Sarawak's rights, including matters like distribution of national resources and changing the definition of "federation" in Article 160 to refer to MA63 instead of the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957.

To proponents of the Bill, however, amending Article 1(2) is just the first step towards restoring Sarawak's equal status and rights and that the process will continue through the ongoing discussions by the Cabinet's MA63 steering committee. They also argue that the proposed amendment restores the Article to its pre-1976 state with just the words Malaya and Borneo removed.

Now MPs from both sides are pointing fingers and talking past each other, with one side claiming they were not consulted on the Bill beforehand and that it shouldn't be rushed through, and the other side disputing those claims and saying this is what Sarawak and Sabah wanted all along.

In the meantime, social media is awash with outraged cries that Sarawak has been short-changed, that the Bill is an insult and the federal government is not sincere about restoring state rights.

But all this outrage won't get us anywhere if we're not prepared to come up with suggestions or discuss the problem towards finding a solution. Yes, Sarawakians feel strongly about regaining equal-partner status, so let's propose alternative wordings to Article 1(2) to reflect that, as in fact some have done, rather than rushing to conclusions that the government has ill intentions towards us.

Lawmakers from both sides also need to stop playing the blame game and start talking to each other. Pakatan Harapan MPs need to give consideration to Sarawakian and Sabahan concerns over the wording of the Bill to ensure that it clearly defines equal-partner status for Sarawak and Sabah.

Likewise Sarawak and Sabah MPs should be open to the idea that this is just the first step and that the full restoration of state rights under MA63 can't be made to hang on Article 1(2) alone.

And the government can't shrug its shoulders and say, well, we wanted this but it's not going to happen because of opposition from Sabah and Sarawak.

We can do better than this. We must do better than this and put aside political differences to reach an outcome that is fair, just and acceptable to all.


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