SEPT 17 — To East Malaysians, with Malaysia Day being yesterday, I offer my unreserved apology. Putrajaya has always given hell, quite literally, to the good people of Sabah and Sarawak.
Critics have insisted that the 46 years of “Malaysian-ness” has actually been colonisation by the peninsula over the former British colonies in Borneo. Cynics would add that if not for negotiations by Britain with the Netherlands in the post-Napoleonic War period leading to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, they’d be in Indonesia or the Philippines now.
They’ve got a point. I’m for the sustained shape of the Malaysian federation, but it can’t morally go on just on the terms set by the boys from the 12 states land-linked to mainland Asia.
Sitting in an Indian restaurant in Bintulu two years ago, I was embarrassed.
The local paper related how Penan students, living away from their families, cope with things many of us take for granted, like schooling. One student had only one change of clothes other than her school uniform. The girl could only wash one set of clothes when she was wearing the other.
In a nation with an administrative capital built from ground up for the vanity of “he we will not mention”, not giving basic care to all Malaysians first is offensive. Did I tell you about the grotesquely large Ferrari showroom in KL, the biggest one outside Italy?
I may be old school, but countries should not be competing — using a national car company built on the financial sacrifice of car buyers for decades — in Formula One until they can provide tap water to all its citizens.
Where did it all go wrong?
Malaya courted Sabah and Sarawak, mind you. With full British withdrawal from Asia by 1960 with the exception of Hong Kong, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo (Sabah), the masters only fancied keeping Hong Kong. Singapore had already self-governing status, and union with Malaya was inevitable.
Lands had to be disposed of and Malaysia was mooted.
The Borneo leaders saw Singapore and Malaya to a lesser extent as means to improve things in their states. Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman saw in Borneo a chance to increase the overall number of “natives” in lieu of Singapore joining and the non-Malays already in the peninsula. He sent Umno minister Suleiman Abdul Rahman to Borneo to assess if the “natives” could be made into Malays.
Umno already had firm ideas on what was to become of the “natives” over there, and how its interest could be served first.
The people of Sabah and Sarawak, they never had a chance.
Sabah made Kuala Lumpur sign a 20-point agreement to safeguard its interest, but all the parts impeding the federal government were torn up in record time. Point 1 — no state religion for Sabah. And the rest which ebbed away; English as an official language without a time limit, constitutional reconciling on equal terms, Borneonisation of the civil service and British subjects holding the fort until the "natives" were ready and jus soli basis for citizenship post-union.
The socio-political developments of the two states are complex and lengthy, however the summary direct and telling. The politicians in East Malaysia may prosper as long as they submit to the federal government’s directions.
The rise and fall of Tun Datu Mustapha Harun and the continued reign of Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud underlined this Machiavellian attitude by the powers in Kuala Lumpur.
It was a skewed game all along.
There were dissenters to absolute federal rule, those who boldly pointed out there are state prerogatives, and without them they cease to be equal partners inside the Malaysian federation.
They were put down enough times that Borneo’s people and leaders came to a tautology — it is: Borneo had to remain backward enough to enable the simplistic “support if you want development” politics by both federal and state leaders.
The Batang Ai (Sarawak) by-election earlier this year is telling. Despite the clamour for change in Peninsular Malaysia, in Borneo elections are all about resources, because between elections a minority hoards it. Principles come second when you are asked to risk the ire of those quite unforgiving, and ready to abandon you. The stakes are too high for the voters to choose on principle. Read more...