I’m not asking for East Malaysia secession

khairie hisyam

Khairie Hisyam Aliman, Malay Malay Online

Reading controversial book Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia recently, I could not help but notice one mistake: Lukas Straumann’s book stated that Singapore left the Malaysian federation when in fact it was kicked out.

Look hard enough and you’ll discover that Lee Kuan Yew shed tears that day on being forcefully expelled from Malaysia. But Straumann’s mistake is most likely an honest slip — God knows so many textbooks in Malaysia now say the same mistaken thing, intentionally or otherwise.

For Sarawakians (and I imagine Sabahans too), that last fact means there are many details that the official history texts may have omitted in the interest of maintaining a sensible page count.

Outside of school, growing up I began to look at what my history teachers told me in a different light, sometimes starkly so, with every new thing I learned about my state’s history.

It is little wonder then that there are disgruntled Sarawakians out there, disenchanted by an alternative historical perspective that casts burning questions on what our past leaders decided, decisions that still bind us today.

To list a few:

* After Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore joined together as equal partners in 1963, why was the Constitution later amended to state that Sabah and Sarawak are two of the 13 states in Malaysia? The intention of the Malaysia Agreement appears to give Sabah and Sarawak higher status.

* Did the Malaysia Agreement go against Article 5 of the United Nations Decolonisation Declaration 1960 (which states territories gaining independence shall be transferred relevant powers without any conditions or reservations) by granting Sabah and Sarawak independence as part of the formation of Malaysia? It would seem that independence for Sabah and Sarawak was conditional upon forming the federation.

* Did the federal government unduly interfere in Sarawak’s affairs when ousting then-chief minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Kalong Ningkan in 1966? First there was the ouster that ended with Stephen’s victory in the Kuching High Court and later the state of emergency that saw the constitution amended to facilitate Stephen’s dismissal.

* Was a US$150 million (RM520.6 million) loan from Singapore to Malaya, which some claimed to be near bankruptcy in 1960, part of the Malaysia Agreement? One would think such an important clause would be included in the history books.

* If a review of the Malaysia Agreement was mooted in 1973 but overtaken by subsequent events, why hasn’t it been conducted in the past four decades if the political will and intention was there?

These concerns and more are on the minds of many thinking Sarawakians privileged enough to have access to more historical information than what official schooling offers.

But they have little voice, if at all.  Now that the Sedition Act 1948 will be retained and, worse, strengthened with provisions prohibiting secessionist talks, these concerns would likely stay in the shadows, hardly ever finding their way into public discussion.

It would be in the best interests of the country to have these questions and issues resolved for good. Putrajaya should provide answers and allay concerns before worry turns into frenzy.

To do this, one would think elected representatives would fight for these concerns of their voters to be addressed, but recall federal minister Nancy Shukri’s remarks that dismissed calls for a referendum in Sabah and Sarawak by claiming the majority wants to stay in Malaysia, not exit.

That misses the point, as the point is to allow the disgruntled minority, if they are indeed a minority, a platform to be heard. Yet instead they are dismissed out of hand. Again and again Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s claim to be “prime minister for all” rings ironically in my mind.

If even a Sarawakian in Putrajaya like Nancy dismisses their concerns out of hand, who is left to hear them out? Who gives voice to their fears and their issues?

Make no mistake: the retention of the Sedition Act does not wash these concerns away. Nowhere in the world can public thoughts be policed and for Sarawakians it is no different.

What could be worse is by forcing silence on these matters, what Putrajaya does is simply allowing them to ferment and fester into something worse years down the road.