By Zaid Ibrahim
Zaid Ibrahim addresses 300 PKR leaders in Kuching, Sarawak:
It has been 53 years since Malaya became independent; and 47 years since Sabah and Sarawak and Malaya combined to form the Federation of Malaysia. The imperative word here is “formed”. Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia.
But for too long, people in Sabah and Sarawak have been made to feel like they are the children of a lesser God. And for too long, even in Semenanjung, many of us have been made to feel like the children of a lesser God – just because we do not agree with the Barisan Nasional’s policies.
Since the political tsunami of March 2008, when Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority and also five states in the Semenanjung, suddenly East Malaysia has become a very important battlefield for politicians. Suddenly, every Datuk, Datin, Tan Sri and Puan Sri from Barisan Nasional is making frequent trips to Sabah and Sarawak. Suddenly, in a by-election in Sibu, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister come and go as if Kuala Lumpur and Sibu were the same distance as Kuching and Petra Jaya. And only now they know how to say: “Lu tolong gua; gua tolong lu.”
But I am sure you know why everyone is making a beeline for East Malaysia, including us in Pakatan Rakyat. There are two reasons – for BN, you are their fixed deposit, the two states which allowed them to remain in power at Federal level. To us, in Pakatan Rakyat, you are the decider in whether Malaysia sees a new dawn, a new beginning, a fresh start from the corruption, nepotism, abuse of power that we have seen BN indulge in all these years.
But to me even the term ‘fixed deposit’, is an insult to the people of East Malaysia. It’s as if whatever the BN leadership in Kuala Lumpur does, the people in Sabah and Sarawak tamely take their lead and vote BN over and again.
We, on the other hand, are asking you to throw off the shackles and show BN, like the people in Sibu did, that we have had enough. No more. We want change now.
There are expectations that Pakatan will improve on their 2008 performance. Talk is rife about the possibility of the Opposition taking over federal power and the prospect of that new dawn. By some calculations, all the Opposition needs is 9 per cent swing in its favour to form government; a task that is difficult but not far fetched as some UMNO leaders would like us to believe.
Sabah and Sarawak were somewhat untouched by the tsunami of 2008; but for the 13th General Election, you will play a pivotal role and it is you who will determine if the change is at all possible.
Collectively, Sabah and Sarawak control almost 25 per cent of the total number of seats in Parliament. Not only that; there are constitutional safeguards which require consent from Sabah and Sarawak before any major constitutional changes are effected; hence their ability to influence major policy changes.
Of course, those who are not aware of history will say East Malaysia’s share of seats are disproportionate to the population. But what many in Putrajaya have forgotten is that this was the incentive given to lure them to form the Federation of Malaysia.
Unfortunately, over the years both Sabah and Sarawak leaders seemed less interested in “Federal Politics” and did not take interest in fundamental policy issues affecting the country. They were not even interested to defend the rights of the States so long as they were given free reign to make money. There were content just becoming the BN’s watchdog in the respective states. They are more preoccupied with mundane activities like making money; making more money, and making tons of money; in enriching themselves and their families; in buying properties in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and London; and in exploiting the vast and rich natural resources of the State.
Is it not time now that the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak change the subservient politics which has characterised the way these two states have conducted themselves? To do that, we need active, strong and well coordinated and united Opposition political parties in Sabah and Sarawak to complement the strength of the Opposition parties in Peninsular. Until we have such a strong and united Opposition in Sabah and Sarawak, Federal power will continue to elude us.
How do you make yourself a cohesive political force that can alter the course of our nation’s history? How can you bring about the changes in local politics and assume power after many years of BN abuse? These are the challenges you are faced with but which I believe you can overcome. I am not an expert in local politics but will venture a few suggestions.
Firstly, the Dayaks who form the majority in Sarawak must really want change. They must feel in their veins that they no longer wish to endure the indignity and the economic hardship they continue to suffer under the rule of BN. They must recognise that they can play a bigger role, in fact a leadership role in the future of Sarawak. They can if they have the will to uplift the sordid conditions in which their people live. They must reject the politics of money where handouts are given each time the BN wants their vote. Take their money and reject them, like the people of Sibu did. They must want to rule and determine their own future and not leave their destiny in the hands of political warlords who are also proxies of Federal leaders.
How can the Dayaks, the Chinese, the Melanaus and the Malays not see the need to work together for their common good; to stop the plunder of Native Customary Rights lands, the wastage and corruption as exemplified by the Bakun Dam project? There are educated and politically committed Dayaks and other bumiputras who should be able to galvanise a united force against BN, but they must do that now. We used to have Temenggong Jugah, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, and Tawi Sli and others as leaders but where are the Dayaks now?
Secondly, the Opposition groups in Sabah and Sarawak must learn to trust one another and to have a new political culture of consensus building. They must value unity and accept ethnic diversity and have genuine interest to help the people. This means the politics of dominance by one group over another must be rejected. This means rich towkays must not be allowed to control the course of politics. If you have suffered by the dominance and abuse of Federal power and if you have suffered in the hands of authoritarian leaders, then you must not make the same mistake by electing leaders who will do the same under a different name. You must learn to trust one another rather than resorting to the easy way out of cavorting with Federal leaders, or getting blessings of leaders in Kuala Lumpur. You cannot raise and speak for your people if you are afraid to speak and stand up for yourself.
Change is not about changing leaders. What matters is about changing to the right kind of leadership. We live in a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. We live in a Malaysia today that has shown visible signs of being schizophrenic; racist, prejudiced and fascistic in its behaviour. We have to show a leadership that is different from BN, a leadership that will put a stop to this madness, a leadership that wants to change the course of the nation where we can and should treat all Malaysians as equals, where we practice real democracy, and where the rule of just laws are available to all citizens. We want a government that respect the rights and the dignity of its people.
Sabah and Sarawak now have the golden opportunity to restore political power in their own hands for the first time since 1963. It is meaningless to talk of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and to lament how unfairly you have been treated in the last 47 years unless you exercise political leverage at the federal level. The next election is one golden opportunity to work together in securing such leverage.
The question is how much does the Sabah and Sarawak leaders value this leverage? I am a Malaysian – not an East Malaysian or West Malaysian. To me, a backward Kelantan is as painful a sight as a Sabah and Sarawak left behind by other states. I want to see Sabah and Sarawak develop and grow into mature democracies and become economically developed states. I also believe only Sarawakians know what’s best for Sarawak, and only Sabahans know what’s good for Sabah. I do not subscribe to the view that Sabah and Sarawak should be subservient to Federal control other than in areas clearly stipulated in the Constitution. The spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 must be honoured and respected.
The State election is around the corner. You will have the golden opportunity to declare the message – WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. Make this your rallying cry: Datuk Patinggi Taib and Datuk Panglima Musa Aman – WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. Send them packing and usher in the new dawn. The choice is yours – whether you want to be making history by propagating change or whether you will be judged by history as those who were afraid to change. – Zaid Untuk Rakyat