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Status of Sabah, Sarawak stays
Published on: Wednesday, April 10, 2019
By: Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: The Pakatan Harapan government’s attempt to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners to Peninsular Malaysia was defeated after the Bill to seek the needed amendment to the constitution was rejected in the Dewan Rakyat.

It fell short by 10 votes after the Bill was put up for bloc voting by Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Yusoff after a day-long debate.

Mohamad Ariff said 138 lawmakers voted for the amendment, while 59 abstained. 

No MPs voted against the Bill which sought to restore Sabah and Sarawak to their original status as in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). 

The proposed amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution required a minimum two-thirds support by the Lower House, or 148 votes.

There were a total of 197 out of the 221 Dewan Rakyat members who were present for the vote.

There was also one vacant seat, following the death of Sandakan federal lawmaker Stephen Wong. 

A total of 46 federal lawmakers took part in the debate involving the amendment.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when met by reporters in the Parliament lobby, said he did not expect the government’s bid to amend the Constitution to fail.

“Not quite we expected. Because (we expected) everybody to vote and to show that two-thirds support us”.

However, he said that every lawmaker has the right to vote “whatever they have set their sights on”.

In his winding up speech, Dr Mahathir said the lawmakers in general support the amendment, some with conditions.

He added that there is also no need to refer the amendment to the Rulers Conference as it did not touch the rulers special privileges, rights and position.

On the need for the amendment to be referred to the respective Sabah and Sarawak state assemblies for their permission, Dr Mahathir said no such provision was contained in the federal constitution, which required for such a move.

The Prime Minister had also said the government also had no problems in the formation of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee comprising members of Parliament to review the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

A member of the Parliamentary Select Committee will also be appointed into the Special Cabinet Committee reviewing the implementation of MA63 Dr Mahathir had said.

During the debate, Dr Mahathir even assured Sabahans and Sarawakians that further amendments would be made to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution to ensure equal distribution of wealth across the country.

Dr Mahathir said the amendments would make Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsula equal partners, without splitting them into East and West Malaysia.

He told Parliament the special Cabinet committee set up to review the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) was still discussing and negotiating various issues concerning the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under the agreement.

“Discussions will continue until an agreement, consensus or a compromise is reached and well-received by all quarters,” he said.

“Subsequently, after the amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution is passed, other reasonable amendments will follow as a result.

“I also wish to stress that Malaysia must be seen as one entity, without splitting it into East and West Malaysia, where all successes and revenue obtained by the country are to be equally distributed based on need.”

The proposed amendment sought to list Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu as states of Malaya, while Sabah and Sarawak would be called the Borneo States, overall forming the states of the federation.

Restoring the status of both Sabah and Sarawak was one of the pledges in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) 14th general election manifesto.

When Malaysia was formed through the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), Article 1 (2) of the Federal Constitution was amended with the inclusion of the definition of states of the federation comprising Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak as well as Singapore (then).

However, the amendment to the Constitution in 1976 listed Sabah and Sarawak as being the states of the federation, along with the states in Peninsular Malaysia.

Mahathir, who chaired the special Cabinet committee to review MA63, said looking at the nation’s legal landscape, a suitable amendment needed to be made to fulfil the needs and wants of the people in Sabah and Sarawak.

He said the Federal Constitution is a living document that must be updated according to time and need.

“The document has been amended several times since its birth, with its last amendment in 2007.

“After 12 years, we find there are many provisions in the constitution which need to be amended in line with the needs and wants of the country.

“However, this was not done by the previous government,” he said.

The PH chairman also said the time was right for the government to take the first step in realising what Sabahans and Sarawakians want, in line with MA63, through the constitutional amendment.

“This amendment is done as a way to fulfil the demands of the Sabah and Sarawak state governments, who want the position of Sabah and Sarawak under Clause 2(1) of the Federal Constitution to be returned to its position during the formation of Malaysia in 1963, in line with the spirit and intention of MA63,” he said.

On April 4, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong tabled the Bill for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat.

Mahathir drew attention to the fact that this time the amendment does not in any way alter the functions of the federal government and state governments under the concept of federalism as enshrined in the Constitution.

On proposals from Sabah and Sarawak that the federal government amends the interpretation of the phrase “The Federation” under Clause 2 Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, Mahathir said: “The government does not plan to amend the interpretation because such interpretation is intended for use in some other provisions of the Federal Constitution which are still in force.”

However, he said, Sabah and Sarawak would continue to enjoy existing special privileges guaranteed under the Federal Constitution as may be required for implementation under MA63.

Mahathir stressed that the amendment tabled Tuesday was not done in haste to meet the needs of any party, but to pave the way for the reform of the law to achieve the wishes of all its people.



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