SARAWAK Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg is probably right when he contends that he is not being emotional in pushing for the state’s rights, some of which he claims are in hidden official documents related to the formation of Malaysia recently uncovered.
That being said, there is no denying that there is much noise in the public domain in Sarawak related to the whole subject of state rights and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). The subject matter is, perhaps, intrinsically emotive. It is, therefore, incumbent on all responsible Malaysians, and especially those holding public office, to treat the matter with utmost care, lest it becomes too emotionally charged.
To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had given his assurance that the government under his leadership would not stop any public discussion on the matter. That necessarily puts the onus on everyone, and in particular, politicians, to be as matter-of-fact as is possible when raising issues related to the subject.
Najib had also made a blanket commitment that if it was found that state rights had inadvertently been taken away by Putrajaya, they would be returned where they rightly belong. The emphasis is rightly on the qualifier “inadvertently”, since suggesting otherwise may give rise to public suspicions (easily fanned by some quarters, one must add) that those rights have been surreptitiously or even deliberately taken away.
The very public commitment given by the prime minister is crucial and may suggest that for the contentious issues related to the subject matter to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved, sober minds must prevail at all levels and that both the state government and its federal counterpart must always be on the same page over the matter.
It will be needlessly incendiary to pit both the state government and Putrajaya in such a way that it may be interpreted as being in any sort of adversarial positions vis-à-vis the matter at hand. Such interpretations will, in any case, be false and wildly misleading.
The Federal Government, right from the very first day of Malaysia, is composed of strong representations from both Sarawak and Sabah, and the composition of Parliament has been deliberately skewed by the MA63 to afford both states a disproportionate share of members of parliament relative to their respective share of the total national population.
Sarawak’s past leaders, such as Tun Jugah Barieng, Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub, Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, served meaningful and illustrious stints in the federal cabinet and were instrumental in the formulation of national policies, some of which still have direct and far-reaching impact on the state even today.
If anything, the bonds binding Sarawak and the Federal Government today are even stronger. The fact that both have all these years been administered by Barisan Nasional meant that issues and disagreements can be honestly deliberated and resolved with the minimum of fuss or heated public arguments.
It is of utmost importance that we all not lose sight of the reality that we are all in this together. Sarawak’s recent leaders, including the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Abdul Rahman Zohari have, after all, time and again stressed that there was never ever any question of Sarawak being anything but an integral part of Malaysia.
There are signal lessons that can be drawn by everyone in Malaysia from such “black swan” political developments as Britain voting to exit the European Union and Catalonia voting illegally to secede from Spain.
Both developments did not happen in isolation or out of the blue. They were the culminations of long-standing disputes and public debates that had simmered for decades and even centuries (in Spain’s case). In both cases, politicians of the day — perhaps, in the heat of the moment — decided to take on public positions, which painted them into tight corners from which it became almost impossible to retreat without suffering humiliating accusations of a climb-down or a sell-out.
The end-results for both Britain and Spain (both former colonial powers and supposedly mature democracies today) had been political leaps into the unknown following momentous and fateful leadership decisions which the decision-makers themselves are likely to regret for a long time.
Our political leaders must, therefore, take to heart such lessons, lest we end up in similar pitfalls that few envisaged but nevertheless find themselves in and discovering that digging out of the ensuing mess may be nigh impossible.
The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak