On Malaysia Day, People in Sarawak and Sabah Renew Autonomy Calls

Dennis Wong
Kuching, Malaysia
160916-MY-malaysia-day-620.jpg Members of Sarawak for Sarawakians protest in Kuching, calling for the state government to push for autonomy, Sept. 16, 2016.
Dennis Wong/BenarNews

During Friday’s 53rd anniversary of Sabah and Sarawak joining Malaysia, some residents of both Borneo island states protested for greater autonomy.

While Prime Minister Najib officiated over Malaysia Day festivities in Sarawak, some 100 protesters in its capital, Kuching, called for autonomy for the state.

The national government has left Sarawak behind and not fully honored the Malaysia Agreement of 1963, by which the resource-rich and underdeveloped region gained its freedom from British rule and joined the Malaysian federation, said Peter John Jaban, the founder of “Sarawak for Sarawakians.”

“It is like a bad marriage, where the wife is abused over and over again. Despite all that, we still celebrate the wedding anniversary. That is how many of us feel today,” Jaban told BenarNews.

The movement he heads has been pushing for the state to secede from Malaysia.

Elsewhere on Friday, Najib was in Bintulu, about 600 km (372 miles) from Kuching, to preside over this year’s festivities marking Sarawak and Sabah’s merger with Malaysia.

Najib told celebrants Friday night that he wished to see people in both states enjoying a similar standard of life to those in peninsular Malaysia, The Star newspaper reported.  There are many things to be proud of in the nation made up of peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, he said.

Meanwhile in Sabah, Chief Minister Musa Aman said in his Malaysia Day message that Sabahans should not allow themselves to be swayed by those sowing disunity between the state and peninsular Malaysia.

“We must not succumb to their plan,” he said.

BN maintains control

The Barisan Nasional coalition, which heads the Malaysian government and has ruled over East Malaysia for decades, maintained control of Sarawak in May when it captured 72 of 82 seats in the state’s legislative assembly elections. Chief Minister Adenan Satem won his first electoral bid as an incumbent.

Adenan succeeded Abdul Taib Mahmud two years ago when Taib became governor of Sarawak, despite allegations of corruption over his 33 years as chief minister. Additionally, an Australian senate committee is investigating money-laundering allegations against Taib’s family over multi-million dollar real estate deals and assets in Australia.

Since Adenan’s victory, Najib has been met with calls for Sarawak to receive higher royalties for Sarawak’s oil and gas resources. Adenan describes ongoing talks with the federal government as positive.

In his electoral campaign, Adenan called on voters to give him a bigger mandate so he could “speak up” to Kuala Lumpur to regain powers lost since Sarawak joined Malaysia.

“In the Malaysia Agreement we signed, all kinds of powers were given to Sarawak, but now the federal government just takes and takes and takes,” Adenan was quoted as saying during the campaign. “I want those powers back as it was in 1963.”

Public holiday declared in 2010

Najib declared Malaysia Day an official public holiday in 2010 after parliament a year earlier debated the exact date of Malaysia’s independence.

The Federation of Malaya gained independence from Britain on Aug. 31, 1957. Sarawak and Sabah along with Singapore joined the federation to form Malaysia in 1963 – but the federation expelled Singapore two years later.

Plans to officially declare the country of Malaysia on Aug. 31, 1963, had to be postponed to Sept. 16 because of opposition from neighbors Indonesia and Philippines.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Jemut Masing said all Malaysians must honor and respect Sept. 16 as the true date when Malaysia as a nation was conceived.

“It is important and significant and to be taught in schools so that younger generations know their history,” he said.


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