Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Subject of referendum very much alive among Sarawakians

OUTSPOKEN:  When Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid, in a statement published on March 13, said he would table an amendment to the Sedition Act to criminalise secession calls by Sarawak and Sabah, an ad hoc group of five Sarawakians and Sabahans went on a hunger strike at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur.

After four days, they ended their hunger strike when they came to learn that the amendment was unlikely to be tabled.

Pujut assemblyman Fong Pau Teck who led the group was later quoted as saying, “The proposed amendment is outdated colonial law, which is ultra vires the Federal Constitution and in breach of international law principles.

“It is the right of Sarawak to be consulted on any issue affecting the position of Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia. This is the basic safeguard upon the founding of Malaysia that any federal legislation which affects the rights and status of Sarawak in Malaysia must first be agreed to by the people of Sarawak.”

Elsewhere in the country, Lina Soo, former president of Sarawak Association for People's Association (Sapa), declared an unlawful society by the Home Ministry before the Umno general assembly in November last year, said: “According to legal opinions that we have gathered, the people of Sarawak and Sabah can challenge the amendments because it is ultra vires the Malaysia Agreement and Constitution.

“We members of the Concerned Sarawakians Group are sending out letters to all Sarawakian members of Parliament and state assembly members for them to take action against the amendments.”

Constitutional law expert Robert Pei, in an interview with the Malay Mail, quoted a statement by the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report chairman Lord Lansdowne when answering questions during the debate on the Malaysian Agreement in the Sarawak State Legislative Council that “any State voluntarily entering a federation had an intrinsic right to secede at will, and that it was therefore unnecessary to include it in the Constitution.”

“So it appears that the right to secede still exists otherwise Umno would not have bothered to want to ban this right,” Pei said, adding that it is a requirement of the Malaysia Agreement and Constitution that any amendments affecting the Malaysia formation rights of Sarawak and Sabah cannot be done without prior consultation and agreement of the two states and a two-thirds majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution.

The Malay Mail reported: 

“He (Pei) said it would further be illegal for the Sarawak and Sabah governments to agree with such an amendment as neither they nor the Malaysian Government and Opposition have any mandate to make this amendment.

“Failure to comply with this legal requirement, he said, would certainly be a breach of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and clearly ultra vires the Constitution.

“Pei concluded that since the amendment is intended to directly abrogate a fundamental right of the Sarawak and Sabah peoples, a referendum should be held to allow the people to decide on the issue.”

The subject of a referendum has not died down.

On July 12, it once again emerged, this time from Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) deputy secretary-general Sih Hua Tong.

In a Borneo Post report, Sih has urged Parliament to look into the feasibility of tabling and passing a Referendum Bill “to provide a means for Malaysians to address and solve major issues that are too critical for MPs alone to decide”.

“Why are Sarawakians and Sabahans not allowed to review the legal documents, their rights and so on?” he argued as he referred to the Sedition Act 1948, which looks unkindly at Malaysians touching on the independence of the two Borneo states.

Describing the restriction as unfair, Sih said Sarawakians have been deprived of their basic rights despite the non-existence of any legal or standing documents saying that they cannot review their rights. 

“This is definitely against the will of Sarawakians and Sabahans,” Sih was quoted as saying.

The Borneo Post wrote: “Asked whether he was for or against the independence of Sarawak, Sih said: ‘I reserve my stand. The majority of Sarawakians should have a say over the fate of Sarawak while the views of a few individuals are not important.’”

Where does the right of Sarawakians to decide their fate lie? 

Dr Ooi Keat Gin, a lecturer in Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Humanities and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Britain, says it is in the numerous safeguards incorporated into the constitutional arrangements made when Sarawak, together with Sabah (then called North Borneo) and Singapore, joined the wider federation of Malaysia in 1963.

These safeguards are what constitute the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

Ooi wrote: “On July 9, 1963, Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng, Datu Bandar Abang Haji Mustapha, and Ling Beng Siew, as Sarawak’s representatives, penned their signature to the Malaysia Agreement in London.

“Did they realise what they were signing and did they really represent Sarawak? Jugah in particular did not know how to read or write (according to a fairly authentic rumour he could sign his name by following a tattoo of it on the inside of his left forearm), Abang Mustapha was a representative of the Kuching Malays – seen by many Sarawakians as collaborators with the British colonial regime and Ling Beng Siew of the rich Sibu Foochow Chinese – who had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Over the years these safeguards have been dismembered and dissected and the Malaysia Agreement downtrodden and disrespected. 

Apparently Malayans were only interested in hegemonic control and interference over the states of Sarawak and Sabah. Theirs was a scheme cooked up to replace British hegemony with Malayan hegemony.

According to Ooi, the signatories to the Malaysia Agreement did not realise – the truth was hidden from them – that Malaya had then reached the limit of its economic resources and required a new pool of resources upon which to further develop itself, and which was to be provided by Sarawak and Sabah at their own expense and to their own detriment.

“One of the main safeguards which they forgot was to keep their petroleum resources for themselves. The Malayans were glad to be silent on this, since they knew that under international law, offshore petroleum resources belonged to the federal government,” Ooi wrote.

But if the signatories to the Malaysia Agreement failed to read the situation, SUPP was Sarawak’s most vocal voice of anti-federation of Malaysia. 

According to Ooi, SUPP’s uncompromising stance received initial support from Sarawak National Party (SNAP) led by Stephen Kalong Ningkan who maintained that, “Any attempt to put Sarawak under the influence and subjection of any foreign power would be strongly opposed.”

“That foreign power was and still is Malaya,” said Ooi.

What could be learnt from this piece of history is that SUPP asking for a Referendum Bill today shows the party has not strayed far from the path taken by the SUPP of pre-independence days. 

In fact, if one cares to delve a bit deeper into the days leading up to the formation of Malaysia, the majority of Sarawakians did not understand the Malaysia proposal.

A so-called referendum conducted by Lord Cobbold was at best a hoax. Ignorant, illiterate Dayaks asked to make a stand merely said, “Barang ko’ nuan, Tuan” (Whatever you say, Sir).

In the words of the late Tra Zahnder, a member of the Council Negri then, most of the native population, “appear to know nothing or little about (the) Malaysia (proposal) but agree to it because they have been told that Malaysia is good for them”.

Fifty years today, Sarawakians think a serious mistake had been committed; a referendum looks to be the perfect solution.



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