– Arnold Puyok
The Malaysian Insider
December 04, 2013
In 1963, Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaya formed what is now called Malaysia. But the forming of Malaysia was not without challenges. In terms of population demography, Sabah and Sarawak were more culturally heterogeneous than Peninsular Malaya.
Sabah and Sarawak were also economically under-developed. Due to Sabah and Sarawak’s distinctive characters, they were allowed to make specific demands as part of a deal before their incorporation into Malaysia.
These demands were known as the 20-point memorandum for Sabah and 18-point memorandum for Sarawak. Both memorandums were later used as a guide by the Cobbold Commission to ascertain the views of Sabahans and Sarawakians about Malaysia.
The demands were later discussed in the Inter-Governmental Committee before their incorporation into the Federal Constitution. At the London talks in July 1963, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore agreed to sign the Malaysia Agreement.
The signing of the agreement was significant because it paved the way for the enactment of the Malaysia Act (Act No. 26 of 1963) which sealed the formation of Malaysia. With the enactment of the Malaysia Act, the Federal Constitution took over from the Malayan Constitution as a new “document of destiny” for Malaysia. The rights and privileges for Sabah and Sarawak are clearly stated in the Federal Constitution (Articles 161, 161A, 161B, 161E).
Apart from becoming a supreme document in the land, the Federal Constitution also reflects the new political reality in Malaysia. It should be stated that Malaysia was formed through the merging of three separately independent entities – Peninsular Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.
However, some people argue that the federal government does not honour the 20/18-point memorandum. The issue becomes complicated when the legality of the 20/18-point is questioned. For some, raising the 20/18-point is akin to flogging a dead horse because it is already incorporated into the Federal Constitution. For others, the 20/18-point is a legal document and it is the federal government’s duty to fulfill the demands of Sabah and Sarawak before their incorporation into Malaysia. But ironically, the non-fulfillment of the 20-point demands were a work of Sabah own leaders.
In 1973, Sabah Chief Minister Mustapha Harun of Usno (United Sabah National Organisation) amended the State Constitution to make Islam the official religion of Sabah. In the 20-point memorandum, Sabah leaders requested for Islam not to be made official religion because the majority of the population was non-Muslims and many were not inclined towards Islam.
Mustapha continued to amend the State Constitution to make Bahasa Melayu the official language in replace of English. The 20-point stated that English should be the “official language of [Sabah] for all purposes, [s]tate or [f]ederal without limitation of time”. Mustapha’s actions were driven by his beliefs that Sabah could only be developed under one religion (Islam), one language (Bahasa Melayu), and one culture (Malay).
In 1976, the 20-point and Sabah’s autonomy were further eroded by Mustapha’s successor Harris Salleh of Berjaya who surrendered the state’s control over natural resources to the federal government. In 1984, Harris continued with his massive federalisation policies by surrendering Labuan. In 1991, the federal influence in Sabah came to its high point with the establishment of Umno and other Peninsular-based parties in the state. Most of the Usno members left the party and joined Umno.
The rotation system of the chief minister’s post introduced by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to ensure equal representation of the main ethnic groups in Sabah was just a temporary measure to consolidate Umno’s powers in Sabah. Just before the system completed its full cycle, it was abolished by Umno to seal its dominance in Sabah.
Changes in Sabah’s political landscape also affected the relations between one ethnic group with the other. Sabah has never experienced any serious ethnic tension since the formation of Malaysia. But when the Sabah Mufti called for the “Malay-isation” of the Muslim indigenous people, it caused a lot of anxiety – and potentially explosive ethnic fissures – in Sabah. The mufti’s refusal to apologise did not go well with many who continued to force the state Islamic leader to appear before the Native Court.
The mufti’s suggestion came amid the growing number of Malay/Muslim population in Sabah since the era of Mustapha. The non-Muslim people were aware of the fact that Sabah’s population demography had been altered to increase the Malay/Muslim population for political expediency. This is among the factors making the ruling party BN unpopular in the non-Muslim constituencies.
Sabahans have every reason to voice out their unhappiness about the attempt to alter Sabah’s plural identity and autonomy. But they must look introspectively and stop blaming the federal government and “semenanjung” people. The problems that happen in Sabah are mainly caused by Sabah leaders and Sabahans themselves.
Of course, one can say that the federal government has the innumerable powers to exert its influence in Sabah. But it is the duty of Sabah leaders to defend the Federal Constitution which grants Sabah certain rights and autonomy. Sabahans must also be aware that many Sabah leaders are using the 20/18-point issue and the Malaysia Agreement to revive their fading political support. Others use it as a “bargaining chip” to pursue their political ambition.
So, Sabahans should not trust these opportunist politicians too much. They must seek the truth themselves and use their democratic rights to elect leaders who are sincere in fighting for their rights.
The Federal Constitution protects the special privileges for Sabah and Sarawak. Malaysians of all walks of life have the duty to defend the sanctity and sovereignty of the Federal Constitution. Any attempt to erode the constitutional safeguards of Sabah and Sarawak must be stopped.
The formation of Malaysia happened by the sweat and toil of our founding fathers who envisioned a new country that belongs to all Malaysians irrespective of their ethnic identity and religion. Let us all defend what Malaysia was meant to be. – December 4, 2013.