The irony of Sabah is that in 1963 it was no longer a British colony, but became a colony administered by the Federal government of Malaya.
Fifty seven years later, the people of Sabah are still fighting for their rights and more power to manage their own nation. The terms of the MA63 agreement were neither respected nor upheld and today, Sabah is still struggling to be treated as an equal partner in Malaysia.
High on their list of priorities are the MA63 agreement, the oil concession and the Ketuanan Melayu and Islamisation agenda.
The people of Sabah are furious that despite their oil and timber wealth, money has been diverted to semenanjung, to build its infrastructure whilst the local people struggle to keep villages connected.
Sabah is a diverse nation of many indigenous tribes and religions, including animism. Sabahans are aware that one faith or race, cannot be superior to another, and yet, many top civil service posts, are filled by imports of West Malaysians.
They are furious that Mahathir’s Project IC has allegedly diluted the local population with migrants from neighbouring countries, who were given citizenship rights, in exchange for Umno-Baru votes. Project IC or Project M as it is sometimes know, has altered Sabah’s demography.
Next week, the incumbent Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal, will see if his message to build a nation has filtered down to the grass roots.
Interestingly, the Umno-Baru leader for Sabah, the MP for Kinabatangan, Bung Moktar Radin, agreed that Sabahans had been shortchanged.
On 15 September, he pleaded with Sabahans to give his party, the mandate to rule again. He said, “…Sabah Umno and BN – we have changed. From our leadership, to skills, to our organisation…Why have we changed? Because we want to capture the hearts of the people and we want to convince the people to support us.”
(Have you and Umno-Baru really changed Bung Moktar? Your leaders are penyamun and one is a felon. Many Umno-Baru politicians are extremists and racists, and some are on trial for CBT, corruption and money laundering.)
What did Bung Moktar and Umno-Baru do, during their term in power, to wrestle power away from Putrajaya and restore the rights of the Sabah people?
The Sabahans, like their neighbours in Sarawak, are a people whose ability to live in natural harmony is envied by other Malaysians. Many Sabahans have expressed their outrage that alleged forced conversions and the Ketuanan Melayu agenda, will threaten their way of life and the homogeneity of their nation.
They have always believed that they are a tolerant and harmonious people. Many families are comprised of people with different faiths, who sit together at the dining table to celebrate Christmas, Kaamatan (harvest festival). Chinese New year, Hari Raya, Deepavali and Vesak, the Buddhist New year. They have no qualms about celebrating, eating or drinking whatever they wish, in one another’s company.
One Sabahan who worked in Kuala Lumpur said that when she first arrived in the city, she was shocked by the dress codes and eating restrictions to which she was subjected. She was often mistaken for a Malay and quizzed during the fasting month for eating in public and for attending Sunday mass.
She said, “I grew up in a multi-religious country where people of other faiths, also fast as a part of their religious practice, but living in West Malaysia is like being in a foreign country with demands that people of other faiths respect Muslims, by not eating non-halal foods in their presence or by not eating in front of them during ramadhan.”
There is rising discontent among both Sabahans (and Sarawakians) over several issues, such as freedom of religion, the provisions for education and healthcare, as well as the allocation of funds for infrastructure.
Although Sabah is a major oil and gas producer, Sabah is the poorest “state” in Malaysia, and it is NOT a state, but a separate nation. Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya were cobbled together to form Malaysia.
With rising frustration over Putrajaya, it is not surprising that many East Malaysians have called for secession from Malaysia. With the oil industry in crisis, how will Putrajaya handle the oil royalty concessions?
In the past, both Sabah and Sarawak were known as the vote-bank for BN, Secession will harm Umno-Baru and BN as they would lose power, without the Sabah (and Sarawak) “fixed deposit”.
Shafie has the upper hand in next week’s state election. If he wins, he will be able to show West Malaysians that no one race or religion is superior.