Kota Kinabalu: Sabah and Sarawak cannot really claim that the Federation of Malaysia is a partnership of three equal members, a leading academician asserted, Thursday.
He called for a change in the mindset of Sabahans in that they must understand the workings of a Fderal structure.
“While some of their demands such as request for greater autonomy and a review of petroleum royalty may be justified, Sabah and Sarawak really cannot claim that the Federation is a partnership of three equal members,” said Prof. Dr Ranjit Singh (pic) of Universiti Utara Malaysia’s College of Law, Government and International Studies.
While this position might have had its validity when the Malaysia Agreement was signed, he said both states accepted the new Constitution of Malaysia where the Federal structure applied to all states in the country in an equal manner except for the special state rights of Sabah and Sarawak, which were in fact recognised and guaranteed.
However, he pointed out that some perceptions and orientations of both the Federal Government and Sabahans and Sarawakians pertaining to nation-building and national integration must change.
As far as the Federal Government is concerned it ought to realise that the strategies and policies for development and racial harmony employed quite successfully in West Malaysia may not be totally applicable to the East Malaysian states.
“These states are basically different in terms of geographical features, population distribution, ethnic composition, social organisation, religious beliefs, economic systems, political structures and historical experiences.”
Dr Ranjit said this in his presentation titled “Sabah Politics/Policy and Federal-State Relations 1963-1995” at a Public Policy Seminar themed “Effective Policy, People Prosper” organised by the Cabinet and Policy Unit of the Chief Minister’s Department, at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Thursday.
Dr Ranjit said one stark reality which either not well comprehended in West Malaysia, or more often ignored, or even psychologically rejected, is that the majority of the bumiputeras in both of these East Malaysian states are non-Malays – and hence non-Muslims.
“This has often created problems relating to the extension of the special rights of the Malays and the benefits of the New Economic Policy (NEP) to the non-Malay Muslim natives on the one hand and the question of political power and political leadership, on the other,” he said.
He said the non Malay-Muslim natives of both Sarawak and Sabah have often alleged that they have been victimised, that they have not enjoyed the fruits of the NEP which have instead been diverted to the minority Malay Muslim communities of the two states.
Similarly, he said the political history in the two states from 1963 to 1990 had shown that the non-Malay Muslim natives aspire for political leadership and domination in the respective states based on the belief that the majority population should hold the reins of power in a democracy.
He said the Federal view and position, however, has been either in favour of shared power (based on the West Malaysian model) or tacit support for Malay Muslim political leadership.
“In both Sarawak and Sabah however the attempts by both ‘Dayak Nationalism’ and ‘Kadazandusun Nationalism’ for political domination have been snuffed out progressively and systematically by the Federal and State Malay Muslim-led governmentsÉthe inherent disunity amongst the Dayak and Kadazandusun communities has also greatly aided the process,” said Dr Ranjit.
But he said in a broader sense, what has transpired in Sabah and between Sabah and the Federal Government since independence is a reflection of the general trend and phenomena in the regionÉthe search for more ideal, viable and stable political formulas.
Dr Ranjit said this search is still ongoing and the formulas sought must be in accord with national aspirations, must be able to fulfil the demands of nation-building and, in this particular case, also of national integration.
“Sabahans have been particularly protective of their state rights and state autonomy, while the Federal Government has been trying to increase federal control for greater integration and conformity,” he said.
He said from 1963 to 1990 the Federal Government was willing to tolerate some recalcitrance on the part of the Sabahans, but Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s decision in 1990 to cross the “rubicon” by withdrawing from the Barisan Nasional at a crucial point of time made the Federal Government decide on a “permanent solution” for Sabah, that is the introduction of Umno and the control of state politics by “proxy-control”.
The whole process of experimentation and readjustments, however, augurs well for ethnic coexistence in the State and for national integration, he said.
“One perceptible change that has transpired is that the proponents of Kadazandusun nationalism have reconciled to the realities of the power equation in the State,” he said.
He predicted that this change in the political domain will greatly improve federal-state relations and inter-ethnic perceptions.
He said it is hoped that these changes will also bring about a reciprocal change in development policies as well as the extension of full bumiputera benefits to these communities so that their economic, social and educational position is somewhat elevated and they can be meaningfully brought into the mainstream of nation-building and national integration.
He stressed that national integration must and should be achieved through accommodation and not assimilation and in the spirit of the agreements concluded in 1963 which gave due guarantees for special state rights in Sabah.
Dr Ranjit, the author of The Making of Sabah 1865-1991, was consultant to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and was the leader of the team which prepared the historical evidence for the case at the I.C.J pertaining to Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sipadan Island and Ligitan Island.