Before you read on, do visit this article on Sabah (North Borneo):
THE establishment of Malaysia was much like a marriage. Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak entered into matrimony on 16 Sept 1963. Indonesia and the Philippines spoke out against the union instead of forever holding th...
Despite the opposition, the four regions pledged unity as a single, sovereign federation, promising to be faithful and equal partners in good times and in bad, in joy and in sorrow.
And they lived happily ever after.
Fast forward 45 years after the union. Singapore has, since 1965, seceded from Malaysia. The relationship between Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak is no longer sacrosanct, a marriage rocked with broken promises. The East Malaysian states have “descended” in ranks to become no more than a wronged spouse in an unfortunate union, with West Malaysia enjoying political supremacy and socio-economic advantage.
“Sarawak and Sabah feel that we have been sidelined. There is still that uneasy feeling [that begs us to question], ‘Are we really part of the three regions (i.e. Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak)?’” says Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing.
With the political events that have swept the nation, that bleak situation might change. As a result of the 8 March 2008 elections, Sabah and Sarawak’s support have become particularly important to the survival of the Barisan Nasional (BN). The East Malaysian states have once more found leverage, just as they did in 1963, when they were wooed to join the federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. Then, it was so that their native populations would provide a counterweight to Singapore’s predominately Chinese population.
“I would like to emphasise that Sabah and Sarawak are two of the most critical partners of Malaysia. And 8 March shows, we cannot ignore that. You cannot ignore us,” Masing says in a phone interview.
Political observers say the key to cultivating unity between East and West Malaysia is to overcome the national historical amnesia about Sabah and Sarawak’s equal partnership in the federation. The two states’ cultural and religious autonomy must also be respected.
“To foster unity, we must recognise that there are three regions in Malaysia. Not two out of the 14 states. If we understand that, I think a closer relationship can be built much faster,” Masing says.
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who is president of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), and a former chief minister of Sabah, concurs.
If we want national unity, “it must not be artificial — you know, singing this song or that song… it should be more practical, [such as] settling grouses and changing the people’s mindsets.
“There is still this perception that Malaysia refers specifically to the peninsula. When I tell people in Semenanjung that I am going back to Sabah, they ask me when I am coming back to Malaysia. The mindset that Sabah [and Sarawak] is an addendum to Malaysia must change,” he tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.
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