Majority Sabah and Sarawak MPs betrayed their states in 1966 and 1976.
Published on: Monday, July 27, 2020
By: Dr Wong Chin Huat
Text Size:

I am immensely honoured that a towering Sabahan, Dr Chong Eng Leong (pic), has responded to my oped in Malaysiakini titled “Were Sabah and Sarawak promised one-third of seats” last Monday. His press statement was reported by Daily Express under the title of ‘Sabah, S’wak need to increase state seats for more representation in Parliament’ (Wednesday). Dr Chong Eng Leong is a fervent fighter against Project M whom I greatly admired. As a Malayan who believes in multiculturalism, I see both the formation of Malaysia a blessing and the empowerment Sabah and Sarawak within Malaysia as the key to make the new federation work.

While I differ with Dr Chong on the demand for greater over-representation for East Malaysia, rest assured such difference is over the means in, and the goal of, empowering Sabah and Sarawak.

Beyond responding to his arguments, I would explore two other means of Borneo empowerment: first, one-third of seats in an elected Dewan Negara; and second, elected Divisional governments in Sabah and Sarawak on par with the Malayan states.

The 25pc provision in IGC Report 

In his first argument, Dr Chong concurred with me that there is no provision for one-third of seats in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and the rightful reference is the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report in 1962, which informed the former.

Our disagreement is on Chapter 3 of IGC Report, paragraph 19 (2) which reads “Article 46(1) should be amended to increase the numbers of the House of Representatives from one hundred and four to one hundred and fifty-nine (including the fifteen proposed for Singapore). Of the additional members, sixteen should be elected in North Borneo and twenty-four in Sarawak. The proportion that the number of seats allocated respectively to Sarawak and to North Borneo bears to the total number of seats in the House should not be reduced (except by reason of the granting of seats to any other new State) during a period of seven years after Malaysia Day without the concurrence of the Government of the State concerned, and thereafter (except as aforesaid) shall be subject to Article 159(3) of the existing Federal Constitution (which requires bills making amendments to the Constitution to be supported in each House of Parliament by the votes of not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of that House)."

It is clear that only Sabah and Sarawak were lumped together and guaranteed the proportion of (16+24)/159, or 25pc in the Dewan Rakyat for seven years after formation of Malaysia. Singapore was in a different category. While the legal obligation for East Malaysia’s over-representation had ended in 1970, it has continued till today out of good will.

Dr Chong argues, this provision cannot be read verbatim because Singapore had unexpectedly left Malaysia in 1965 and Sabah and Sarawak must have two-third to block any unilateral constitutional amendment from Malaya. A verbatim reading then means “Malaysia as a federation should be null and void”.

Such assertion unfortunately will hold no water in any court, Malaysian or international. Not least because the IGC proposal was provisional and subject to evolution as time passes.

For example, it initially gave 24 and 16 seats to Sarawak and Sabah, without any rule for future reapportionment. Today, Sabah has as nearly many voters as Sarawak, would Dr Chong or any Sabahan want to defend the 3:2 ratio in favour of Sarawak?

Increase of state seats

Dr Chong’s second argument is that there should be one parliamentary constituency for two state constituencies. By his logic, with 73 and 82 state seats, Sabah and Sarawak should have 36 and 41 parliamentary seats, or 11 and 10 more than now but still short of one-third. So, the two states should increase their state seats.

As the number of state seats is dictated by states, fixing a ratio of federal-state seats across states would merely induce all states in a race to expand their legislatures and waste taxpayers’ money.

Hence, the solution for Borneo’s veto power in the Federal Parliament lies not in manipulation of state seats, but in democracy and federalism, to which I now return to.

Solution 1: One-third 

in an Elected Senate 

If constitutional veto power is what Sabahans and Sarawakians really want, then the rightful solution is to place that in Dewan Negara.

Democracy requires a balance between majority and minority, which is well-manifested in federations.

While all citizens are considered as equals at one level, small states are also considered equals to large states at another level.

To enable vetoes, federations normally have two powerful chambers in the national parliament, so that there are double chances for constitutional amendments, laws or policies detrimental to minorities to be rejected.

Using a car as a metaphor, the Lower House acts as the fuel pedal to drive things, and it must reflect the popular will and must therefore be based on the democratic principle of “one person, one vote, one value”.

On the other hand, the Upper House functions like the brake pedal to force a rethink, so it makes perfect sense to over-represent small states or special regions. True defenders of Borneo rights would surely remember how the autonomy and status of Sarawak and Sabah was undermined in 1966 and 1976.

On September 19, 1966, 118 of 144 MPs (82pc) voted to amend Sarawak’s State Constitution to enable removal of Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan. Only eight out of 40 East Malaysian MPs walked out in protest, joined by 15 from West Malaysia.

On July 13, 1976, Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution was amended to make Sabah and Sarawak one of the 13 states. 

This bill was passed with an 82pc majority, notably 92pc of Sarawak MPs and 69pc of Sabah MPs. The remaining seven Borneo MPs could not even be bothered to turn up to vote.

In both tragic episodes, Sabah and Sarawak were undermined not because they didn’t have enough MPs but because majority of their MPs betrayed their states, like turkeys voting for Christmas. And in both cases, the impotent Dewan Negara was a much worse rubber stamp.

What Sabah and Sarawak need the most is a fully elected Dewan Negara vested with power to reject bills from Dewan Rakyat.

Instead of current 70 seats with only 26 seats from the states, the empowered Senate can have 100 seats, with 34 seats divided equally between Sarawak and Sabah (including Labuan). 

This will provide an extra safeguard to East Malaysia even if their Dewan Rakyat representatives betray them again.

Solution 2: Elected

Divisional Governments 

Instead of wanting check and balance, some East Malaysians demand seats to be distributed based on “land mass and resources”. The underlying assumption is that with more federal seats, Sabah and Sarawak will get more development.

This argument is fundamentally flawed for ignoring that Borneo politicians can betray Borneo people without blinking their eyes, as in 1966 and 1976.

The key to empowerment of Sabah and Sarawak is decentralisation, not just from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu and Kuching, but also from the two state capitals to their divisional centres.

Here, perhaps Borneoans can learn from the astute Singaporeans, who were given only 15 federal seats in 1963, as compared to Sarawak’s 24 and Sabah’s 16 when they outnumbered the Borneoans. In compensation for under-representation, they got more autonomy and controlled policies on education, labour and medicine.

Instead of asking more parliamentary seats, Borneo politicians should be like Lee Kuan Yew and demanding decentralisation to unleash the great potentials of Sabah and Sarawak.

Core to the decentralisation should be Sabah and Sarawak seeing themselves as equal regions to Malaya. If Malayan states have elected legislatures and governments, so should divisions in Sabah and Sarawak.

Lest we forget. Once, Sandakan, Baram-Trusan (Sarawak’s fourth division) and Perak were not just comparable in landmass, but also equal in administrative rank, with Residents as the top administrative officers.

By abandoning Division and emulating Malaya in having appointed municipal and district councils, Sabah and Sarawak have unwittingly benchmarking themselves to Malayan states.

In GE14, Gabungan Sabah with Dr Jeffery Ketinggan as its thinker talked about reviving residency system (but without elected government.) That great idea must not be traded in for a job in Putrajaya.

Dr Chong is a true defender of Sabah who understands betrayal of Borneo elites, so tellingly in Project M. 

I sincerely hope towering Borneoans like him can make elected Senate and Divisional Legislatures a reality soon. 

Other News

Follow Us  

Follow us on            

Sabah’s online school debuts
November 12, 2020

Opinions - Most Read

Understanding GST and SST
December 27, 2014
Retain multi-stream schooling
November 22, 2009