Saturday, 23 August 2014

Sabah, Sarawak rights groups channel secession anger into better methods

The Malaysia Day celebrations in Kuching last year. Younger folk from Sabah and Sarawak are increasingly demanding that Putrajaya honour the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and start treating the two states as equals. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, June 17, 2014. 
At football games  in Kuching's main stadium, fans of the Sarawak team hold up the state's pre-Malaysia red and black flags with a crown in the middle while more and more cars in Kuching have stickers that say: "Sarawak for Sarawakians".
Online, a survey that is making its rounds among Sabah folk supposedly shows 90% of respondents choosing "leaving the Malaysian Federation" as the solution to the state's problems.
If left unchecked, said a Sabah-rights activist, these feelings, especially among the young, could combust and see thousands marching down on Putrajaya a la Bersih 2.0 to press for secession.
It was flare-ups like these, which a group of like-minded associations in Sabah and Sarawak was trying to prevent, said Jalumin Bayogoh (pic) of the Borneo Heritage Foundation.
Unlike rallies on electoral reform, for instance, calls for Sabah and Sarawak to secede from Malaysia are treasonous, which carry severe penalties under the law.
So instead of taking to the street and getting arrested, the group and others like it are attempting to channel their anger into initiatives, such as pressing Putrajaya to honour the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.
“(Demanding secession) is a last option. We want to try other approaches first. Many of us have spouses from the peninsula, so we don’t want to leave Malaysia,” said Jalumin, when met on the sidelines of the groups’ latest public forum on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in Kuala Lumpur.
“We want only what has been agreed upon in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and we are willing to work with Putrajaya to fulfil this demand,” said Jalumin.
51 years of colonisation
Even at the forum itself, there were calls, from its younger audience, for Sabah and Sarawak rights groups to stop the tried and old ways of talking to Putrajaya and to just take to the streets.
“Why are still trying to negotiate with the federal government? What’s the point? We should plan to march to Putrajaya,” said one young man in the audience.
The anger was palpable and the calls for secession, at least online, were increasing, said veteran opposition politician Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
He said the online poll three months ago was an eye-opener even to him, a staunch critic of the federal government’s treatment of Sabah and Sarawak for more than 30 years.
Having been detained for 2½ years in the early 1990s by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on charges of plotting secession, Kitingan attempted to play down sentiments shown in the poll.
“I don’t believe that the respondents want secession in the real sense. I believe the poll actually reflects a sense of hopelessness they feel and how Putrajaya does not listen to them,” said Kitingan.
Besides frustration at having the highest poverty rate in Malaysia, there is sharp feeling of among Sabah and Sarawak folk of being colonised by the federal government since 1963.
Instead of being treated as equal partners in the federation, many feel that it got the short end of the deal and ended up being treated like a “state” instead of a more autonomous entity.
Some of the complaints about Putrajaya not fulfilling the 1963 agreement are:
* Putrajaya takes a lion share of the oil wealth but Sabah and Sarawak hardly get any money for infrastructure with many still living in abject poverty;
* The civil service is filled with peninsula folk instead of Sabah and Sarawak folk as promised under “Borneonisation”;
* Sabah and Sarawak get to control immigration but Putrajaya has run a mass identity card-giving campaign that has flooded Sabah with foreigners who turned citizens overnight; and,
* Despite the agreement not mentioning an official state religion for Sabah and Sarawak,  Putrajaya runs a stealth Islamisation campaign through government schools.

“The feeling (of wanting to secede) is there, but we have to diffuse it,” said Kitingan.

Better methods
The movement’s key demand is that Putrajaya gives Sabah and Sarawak the right to self-determine how they want to run things in these two territories.
To get this, Jalumin said the group would start drawing up a memorandum after another public forum in Sabah, which will then be submitted to Putrajaya.
But it does not stop there. Taking a page from the Hindu Rights Action Front (Hindraf), the movement is planning to file a suit against the United Kingdom for brokering the 1963 agreement and failing to ensure that its conditions were met.

Hindraf chairman P. Waytha Moorthy says the Sabah and Sarawak rights movement can take a leaf out of Hindraf’s book and start pressuring Putrajaya on problems faced by Sabah and Sarawak folk. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Wan Amirul Asraf Wan Omar, June 17, 2014.
“The aim is to get world attention on the Malaysian government and to pressure it.”
The Sabah and Sarawak rights movement is hoping to replicate Hindraf’s success at jolting the Malaysian government to pay attention to Indian community problems and to address them.
In fact, the Hindraf suit, according to its chairman P. Waytha Moorthy, who was also at the forum, is due to be heard in the UK courts at year-end.
Seeking change through the ballot box was not enough, said Kitingan.
Barisan Nasional, which has had a storied career contesting elections, was able to manipulate the poor to win continuously.
“We also need a civil society approach,” said Kitingan, who is now Bingkor assemblyman and chairman of BHF.
But if Putrajaya still does not listen, they are prepared to escalate their methods, which include going to the streets and finally, campaigning for secession.
“It has not come to that yet. There are still other methods to pursue. As much as possible we want to save Malaysia, not tear it apart,” said Jalumin. – June 17, 2014.

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