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September 14, 2010

The east Malaysian enigma — Karim Raslan

Filed under: 20/18 Point of Agreement,Malaysian Agreement — Pengayau @ 8:04 pm

SEPT 14 — I was born on August 2, 1963 in a country called the Federation of Malaya. Six weeks later, on September 16, the federation along with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged to form Malaysia.

A Malayan at birth, I then became a Malaysian.

The date September 16, 1963 marked a significant transition. Indeed, there are a number of crucial differences between “Malaya” and “Malaysia”.

While we often talk about the “social contract: — the unwritten agreement negotiated by our independence-era leaders — we should also remember the terms upon which Sabah and Sarawak joined with Malaya to form Malaysia.

Basically, these states (along with Singapore, briefly) were persuaded to join “Malaysia” because of these promises:

Each was allocated specific rights and duties as per in the 20- and 18-point agreements that Malaya signed with Sabah and Sarawak respectively. Sarawak and Sabah theoretically enjoyed more rights than the existing states of the federation, like Johor or Pahang.

Moreover these “points” were not trivial: there was to be no official religion in either state. English was to be Sabah’s official language indefinitely.

Other clauses also promised local control over immigration, finance, education, land and natural resources. Furthermore, the east Malaysian Bumiputeras are to enjoy the same special rights as peninsula Malays.

Many east Malaysians, therefore, thought that they were coming together to form a whole new country.

Fast forward to 2010, these facts, however, appeared to have been forgotten.

Neither the 20 nor 18 points have been fully honoured, arguably undermined by successive federal leaders. Indeed, their existence has been relegated to little more than mere historical footnotes.

To make matters worse, we are regularly told that “Malaysia” was born on August 31, 1957.

“Malaysia Day”, as a matter of fact, was only declared a national holiday last year when Peninsular Malaysia leaders realised the dangers of ignoring east Malaysian sentiments.

The sad truth is that the state of our union is imperfect and 47 years after its actual formation, Malaysia’s founding ideals remain elusive.

Our development policies and ideas of nationhood are biased towards the peninsula.

Indeed, many peninsula Malaysians are more familiar with London or Sydney than Kota Kinabalu or Kuching.

In the meantime, the aspirations of our fellow east Malaysians — whether they are Bumiputera or Chinese — have consistently been ignored.

How did this happen?

Many east Malaysians mark their problems from the ejection of Singapore as it weakened their negotiating positions.

Federal leaders have been seen as having failed to honour the original spirit of the Malaysia agreements.

These differences have led to a different sense of Malaysian-ness across the South China Sea.

Their stated preference of many east Malaysians for September 16 as the “national day” underlines these differences.

Furthermore, disputes over the rights to natural resources and native customary land, as well as religious disputes and questionable immigration policies have heightened dissatisfaction.

Even the New Economic Model (NEM) targets seem impossible for Sabah to achieve. The federal government aims to lift the nation’s US$7,700 (RM23,870) average per capita annual income to US$15,000, but Sabah’s own figure stands at only US$3,000 per annum.

Still, the two states have avoided west Malaysia’s ugly racial polarisation.

This lack of progress on core issues has been a source of disappointment as well as frustration for east Malaysians.Read more here

Read also From Malaya to Malaysia and Senator: KL must explain why it has reneged on 20-Point Agreement

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