Friday, 27 June 2008

East Malaysia - A Rare Review

East Malaysia comprises both Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo) and Sarawak

Both were formerly part of the Straits Settlement under British rule, and merged with Malaya and Singapore to form Malaysia on 16 September 1963. Both share a common border with the remaining part of Borneo island under Indonesia rule and Brunei.

A local major newspaper carried an insightful review on Tuesday, 24 June 2008 about "The East-West Divide" of Malaysia.

More elaborate coverage by the media is expected as the political spotlight is trained on East Malaysia in view of the crucial support that both states contribute to the Barisan Nasional coalition after the general election in March 2008.

The late Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaya's prime minister then, had refused to consider merger with Singapore unless the 2 Borneo territories were part of the deal, so as to maintain racial balance.

The outgoing British went along with the Tunku's demands, and encouraged Sabah and Sarawak to join Malaysia.

At that time, such a move was welcomed by most in both territories as the neighbouring Philippines had laid claim on Sabah, whilst Indonesia was eyeing both Sabah and Sarawak. Besides, there was an on-going communist insurgency in Sarawak. But, both (commonly referred to as East Malaysia) have diverged much in their attitudes towards West Malaysia since then.

From hindsight, Sarawak would have "burst out in bloodshed" if the territory had not joined Malaysia as the Sarawakians were too diverse, restive and politically immature to fend off the communist threat.

In negotiating the Malaysia Agreement, Sarawakians had insisted on autonomy in the civil service, local government, land and immigration. They are proud to have kept the Big Brother, UMNO (the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional's biggest component party) out of Sarawak.

The negotiated autonomy and financial independence gained from exploiting vast natural resources have enabled the Sarawakians to maintain the status quo. Sarawak has been built up with the investments from giant oil companies such as Shell, and the capital's ( Kuching ) sophistication is evidence of the state's richness.

In contrast, Sabah's capital (Kota Kinabalu) is shabby; and many Sabahans drive second-hand cars bought from West Malaysia. Roads are rocky and unstable.

Sabahans and Sarawakians are about as Malaysian as they come. People in both territories have intermarried for generations, so it is hard to tell if one is Malay, Chinese or one among East Malaysia's many indigenous peoples (also officially classified as "Other Bumiputeras").

Often, they are all of the above racial backgrounds. But, the veneer of racial harmony is thin at best. The Dayaks (also known as Ibans) are resentful of the Chinese. Few Dayaks have the money to stand for elections, and champion for change.

Most of the political activities were funded by Chinese, which gives them a rather large say on important issues. In 1963, the Sabahan leaders then had insisted on safeguards for Sabah on immigration matters, religion, language, education, forestry and others.

As of now, the state has a voice only in forestry and land matters. All else requires consultation with, if not approval from the federal government in Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) located in West Malaysia.

Sarawak's Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has been in office for 27 years, while Sabah has a rotation scheme (introduced by ex- prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed) for post of chief minister. This was meant to give each race in Sabah a turn at governing the state.

The need to change (every two years) the chief minister incumbent has scared off many Chinese businessmen in Sabah. Nobody knows if today's policies will be around tomorrow.

East Malaysians are not enamoured with West Malaysia's emphasis on Malay Supremacy and the Malay agenda. In fact, the federal government (also resentfully referred to as the peninsular by the East Malaysians as it is based on peninsular West Malaysia) often raises the hackles of East Malaysians.

For instance, the federal government will give aid to mission, Chinese and other independent schools in the state only if they signed over their land to the peninsular.

Ironically, in the recent general election, it was East Malaysia that voted overwhelmingly for the Barisan Nasional to continue ruling the country.

Possibly as a show of gratitude, the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi announced a multi-billion-ringgit package of development projects for Sarawak. He also gave Sabah a generous package.

Note: Continue to look out for the latest development here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks For blog with valuable informations.