PAKATAN Harapan’s attempt to put Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia was booted out when it failed to secure a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat to amend the Federal Constitution.
Pakatan only managed to secure 138 votes. No lawmaker disagreed but 59 abstained from voting.
A two-thirds majority of the 222 seats would require 148 votes (there are now 221 following the death of Sandakan MP Datuk Stephen Wong).
When Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof read the results, sighs of disappointment could be heard from lawmakers while some shouted that the people of Sabah and Sarawak would “punish them”.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in reply to points raised by MPs earlier, urged them to support the proposed amendments to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution.
He said he took note of all concerns and opinions raised by some 46 lawmakers during the debate that lasted about eight hours.
Dr Mahathir explained during the second reading that the proposed amendments were the first step in putting Sabah and Sarawak on an equal footing with the peninsula.
He said this was to realise the hopes and aspirations of the people of Sabah and Sarawak.
The Prime Minister assured amendments to the Constitution would not affect the ongoing negotiations between the Federal Government and Sabah and Sarawak governments through the Cabinet’s Special Committee.
He stressed that the country must remain a single entity without it being divided between east and west Malaysia following the proposed amendments.
“National unity must be the main agenda for all parties to shape Malaysia and ensure that we continue to develop and stand along with the major global powers,” he said.
Later at the Parliament lobby, Dr Mahathir said he had not expected the government to fail in amending the Federal Constitution.
“Not quite (expected). We expected everybody to vote and to show that two-thirds support,” he told reporters.
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal expressed disappointment over the failure to get enough votes to amend the Federal Constitution.
“We have done our best to represent the voice of Sabahans. And this is the first time since the top leadership at the federal level made a move to amend the laws to legitimise and uphold the MA63,” he said.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong blamed lawmakers who did not support the Bill for “missing the golden opportunity” to return Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners.
During the debate, several opposition lawmakers, including Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) MPs, urged the government not to rush through the amendments.
While many were not against the amendments, the lawmakers had proposed for the Bill to be discussed in a Parliamentary Select Committee to fine-tune further details of the MA63 agreement.
Kinabatangan MP Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin said that while the intention of the Pakatan government was good, the amendments should be done in a proper manner to avoid problems in its implementation phase.
“What we do today will have a bearing on our future generation so we must be careful and discuss them thoroughly,” he added.
Datuk Seri Fadilah Yusof (GPS-Petrajaya) wanted a “Aku Janji” (pledge) by the government that it will fulfil all the conditions agreed in the Cabinet’s Special Committee on MA63.
Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (Warisan-Semporna) supported the amendments, saying it was the first step towards realising the dreams of the people of Sabah and Sarawak.
He urged lawmakers to support the amendments and questioned the need for a Select Committee.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (PH-Port Dickson) said Pakatan would keep its promise to make Sabah and Sarawak its equal partners.
The PKR president said it was a historic move for all Malaysians as the government had listened to the plight of the people of Sabah and Sarawak.
“The matter had been debated for a very long time and we listened to the grouses of Sabahans and Sarawakians and our Prime Minister has kept his promise,” said Anwar.
Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee (PH-Beluran) questioned why there were reservations among some Sabah and Sarawakian lawmakers on the amendments.
“You were the ones pushing for it and now that we have the amendments, why are you questioning and not supporting it?” he asked.