Sarawak: After 50 years

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I am here today to urge you to support the Pakatan Harapan in the coming General Election. Please be open-minded about the federal Opposition, because the truth is its leaders share your values and aspirations. For 50 years, you have tried the Barisan Nasional, and after all this time you still have not seen the Malaysia that you wanted—that you were promised—come into being. UMNO will always want to dominate and control you, and this will not change in another 50 years. You need new federal leaders if you want meaningful change in Sarawak, and a healthy, productive relationship with the federal government.

UMNO are not suitable for this role. This is a party that will soon lose support from Malays and the Orang Asal in the Peninsula. Even as we speak, it has already lost all support from non-Malays. No party that is so arrogant and abusive, and that shows no respect even to its BN partners MCA and MIC, will last, except by use of force. You need to strike new alliances.

None of us can fit a square peg into a hole. Sarawakians and Sabahans will not be able to change UMNO by regularly pleading to the Prime Minister on matters that are important to them. UMNO is a party that is run by leaders who are unfit to govern a modern country. They survive only by giving cash handouts. They control the government machinery to protect their politics and their moneybags. They survive by pandering to deep-seated Malay racial and religious fears that are manufactured by their leaders.

Sarawak’s interests require Malaysia to be an open democracy, and a modern pluralistic society where the national agenda is rooted in economic growth, high-quality education and national unity. You want a federal government that will allow you to develop and implement your own educational and economic agenda. Unfortunately, such a plan does not fit into UMNO’s square peg.

I am sure you want Sarawak to remain a place where people of all nationalities live together, where different cultures can flourish alongside each other, and where politics remain free from religion. You want a Sarawak where a non-Muslim Dayak or Iban can become Chief Minister. You want a Sarawak that receives a fair share of its own resources, which means more money from oil revenue. You want to be able to determine your own educational system and syllabus, and to have English as the medium of instruction in your schools.

The intention of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement was clear: to protect the special characteristics of Sabah and Sarawak by giving them special powers that are not available to the Peninsular states. It was intended that Sabah and Sarawak have control over key administrative and policy matters, but they never used these powers because they were either afraid of the Prime Minister or were too eager to please him.

You do not want the Peninsula’s money first, Islam-first and Malay-first( as defined by Najib and his eunuchs) policies to be applied here. You want native rights and native customary land to be protected. You want to convert from one religion to another without much fuss because you believe in religious freedom. You do not want federal interference or federal dominance in your affairs. You do not want a repeat of what happened to Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the first Dayak non Muslim Chief Minister, who was booted out of office for standing up to the demands of Kuala Lumpur.

Fifty years after joining Malaysia, Sarawak can still only talk about the 1963 agreement and its 20 points. If Sarawak realistically wants 20 percent of oil revenue, then Sarawak must be willing to go against kleptocracy in the country. Otherwise where do you find the money for your 20 percent? Sarawak must be willing to speak up about the biggest theft in the history of the world. Sarawak must decide either to be a useful partner in the governing of Malaysia, or to just follow what Kuala Lumpur dictates. Independence must mean you are free to determine your future and the well-being of the country.

Sarawakians are helpless because your BN leaders have failed you. Your leaders are mainly very wealthy politicians. Local wealthy BN politicians will always be subservient to the PM and Putrajaya; otherwise, the gravy train will stop feeding them. That’s why your BN leaders are not able to effectively bring about fundamental change to Sarawak. Come election time, they will make sure to sound angry at Putrajaya and at leaders from west Malaysia. They will start making demands for change; but this is all just rhetoric, a show to appease you.

They talk as if they want to renegotiate the 1963 Malaysia Agreement or the Petroleum Development Act. But it’s not the agreement that is the problem. The problem is that local BN leaders are afraid of the Prime Minister, and are not willing to do anything that will upset Kuala Lumpur.

When Semenanjung leaders describe Sarawak as a BN “fixed deposit”, local BN leaders are not upset when they should be. Calling your state a “fixed deposit” means they are arrogant enough to believe that nothing will make Sarawak reject the BN. It means Semenanjung can practically do whatever they want, and the people of Sarawak will still support the BN.

Semenanjung and UMNO have always wanted to dominate Sabah and Sarawak. It does not matter what the Malaysia Agreement says because they are not interested in honouring the agreement or the spirit contained in the 20-point terms of reference. It does not matter that Najib has appointed Sabahan and Sarawakians to his Cabinet because his Ministers are there to be his cheerleaders.

The truth is Sarawak practices and adopts UMNO policies. Look at how they abused the powers in immigration laws to stop Opposition politicians from coming to this state, when Sarawakians know that these laws were meant to protect them from a huge inflow of workers from Semenanjung to the detriment of locals seeking employment. The law is not meant to stop East Malaysians from listening to Opposition speeches. Why can’t Sarawak leaders show their independence and decide immigration policies fairly and differently from UMNO? Why must they be subservient?

They have the means to be assertive and independent. When the amendment to RU355 — which concerns a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act — was discussed in Parliament, Sarawak and Sabah kept silent when they should have strenuously objected to the BN trying to bring hudud law to the country.

When Islamisation was made a government policy, and when the Prime Minister recently declared Malaysia an Islamic state and a shariah-compliant country, where were Sabah’s and Sarawak’s voices on this? Did they take a firm stand to defend democracy and object to the creation of a political system that is based on the leadership of religious mullahs? No, they did not. When money was made available to the courts, why was it channelled through the Chief Justice — who is always a Malay from Semenanjung — when the Chief Justice of Borneo is the head of the judiciary for the two states?

Sabah and Sarawak have, through their own neglect, forfeited their rights under the Malaysia Agreement and the Constitution. They have lost their bargaining powers by their own default. They are unwilling to engage with Semenanjung UMNO leaders on important issues and are always content to play second fiddle. What a waste, when they have special rights.

There are many things Sarawak can do to help preserve democracy and the rights of minorities in our plural society. But Sarawak must be willing to assert itself. Sarawak must not be a mere “fixed deposit”, but an active participant in nation-building. If citizens have equal rights in this country—and they do—then Sarawak must fight for that right, for its own sake and that of the rest of the country. If religious freedom is a fundamental part of who we are, Sarawak must defend that principle. Sarawak can and must take on a leadership role in shaping this country for the better.

There is no point in being happy that UMNO is not here when your leaders allow UMNO’s spirit to rule Sarawak. When dealing with the PM, Sarawak must not rely on handouts like a BR1M recipient. Sarawak does not have to wait for him to feel good and generous before he gives you anything. You do not need to ask the PM for his grace and his generosity when you are talking about your rights. Demand what is legitimately yours, and only then can you be respected as a partner who has a real say in your future. You can be comfortable talking to Pakatan Harapan leaders at the federal level, and achieve your aspirations through them.

The people in the Peninsula will boot UMNO out in the coming election; that much I am sure of. The fear that I have is that — for some inexplicable reasons — Sarawak and Sabah will come to UMNO’s rescue. This will be the greatest disservice to your people, one you will come to regret. Now is the time for Sarawak to join hands with those who want to reform and change the country for the better. Now is the time for the country to abandon politics that describes real news as fake news and that uses race and religion to survive. Now is the time to elect a government that Malaysians — east and west — can be proud of.

Thank you.

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