PH govt fails in bid to make Sabah, Sarawak equal partners

KUALA LUMPUR • The Pakatan Harapan Government yesterday failed in its bid to amend the federal Constitution to fulfil its electoral promise of making Sabah and Sarawak equal partners in the country's federation.

The amendment to the Constitution fell 10 votes short of the required two-thirds majority in the 222-member Lower House. The government secured only 138 votes, with 59 MPs abstaining.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said that in the future, the 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia will be collectively known as the states of Malaya, while Sabah and Sarawak will be known as Borneo state.

The effect is to elevate the two Borneo states to be equal to the 11 states as a whole, rather than being two of the country's 13 states.

He said, during the second reading of the amendment Bill to Article 2(1) of the Federal Constitution in Parliament, as quoted by the New Straits Times: "This is just the starting point and is the appropriate time for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to take the first step to realise the needs of the people in Sabah and Sarawak in line with the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63)."

The de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong last Thursday tabled the Bill for a first reading in the House.

It is not clear how the government would proceed after yesterday's vote.

 
 
 

Tun Dr Mahathir said last September that in the past, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, Singapore, and the Federation of Malaya (11 states) agreed to form a bigger family called Malaysia.

"During the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963, in the agreement that we call MA63, the four regions merged as equal partners," he had said. "However, Malaysia has gone through a winding course since then and two years after its formation, Singapore exited. The years that followed also changed the status of Sabah and Sarawak from equal partners to states within Malaysia."

In 1976, the Constitution was amended to downgrade Sabah and Sarawak as the 12th and 13th states, instead of equal partners.

In PH's 2018 election manifesto, the four-party alliance promised to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners.

The states' political leaders have been campaigning for decades for equal status, which would help draw a bigger share of the country's economic pie and development funds from the federal government.

PM Mahathir told Parliament yesterday that a special Cabinet committee set up to review the MA63 was still discussing and negotiating various issues concerning the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under the agreement.

"Discussions will continue until an agreement, consensus or a compromise is reached and well-received by all quarters," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2019, with the headline 'PH govt fails in bid to make Sabah, Sarawak equal partners'. Print Edition | Subscribe