Hornbill Unleashed

January 11, 2011

Imagining a nation? Not in Sarawak

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Sim Kwang Yang

The student of politics naturally assumes that the nation state is the most natural and the most logical destination in the journey of a group of people with a shared past and a common destiny. By and large, the nation state is deemed as a rational development in the politics of a people struggling for legitimacy.

This is not always the case. In Malaysia, the idea of a people united by a common history, language and a shaped destiny has come under severe strain from the linguistic, racial and religious tensions of a divided people.

malaysians 050905The situation is even more confusing in Sarawak, because of the diverse historical and ethnic composition of the people. There have been many pre-existing, ready-made divisions within Sarawak society, and the preoccupation with the politics of race has muddied Sarawak’s political waters even further.

In his monumental work entitled ‘Nations and Nationalism’, famed scholar Benedict Anderson has proposed that the most basic impulse of nation-building is one centred around the imagining of ‘a people’, based on the people’s national roots. Very often, a common language is an anchor of such an ethnic project.

In the case of Malaysia and Sarawak, much has been made of the effort to present Bahasa Malaysia as a common marker for a national sense of common belonging. But the great Bahasa Malaysia project continues to confuse students of politics in the multiracial milieu.

The population of Malaysia in general, and Sarawak in particular, is multilingual – hopelessly so, to the champions of linguistic and cultural unity.

It can be argued that the model of the nation state, after the fashion of Anderson’s kinship group writ large, has never emerged in Sarawak. Anderson’s model relied on the written version of a people’s history, as a common vector of the feeling of fraternity. This does not apply to Sarawak because a common written history is absent in this land of many histories and cultures.

sarawak diverse population percentage breakdown of race 160106That may explain why the sense of brotherhood of a common ancestor is so hard to pinpoint in Sarawak. Sarawak has remained, stubbornly, as a land of many peoples.

In Sarawak, the closest and the most tangible social relationship is that of kinship by blood. The most important social relations are that of family ties. That necessarily limits the scope of inclusion of a large mass of people, who find it hard to relate to other people beyond their stretch of the river, or the length of their road.

This limits the power of the national group that might try to mobilise a state-wide coalition, or joint force.

An alternative coalition crucial

It can be argued that in Sarawak, the traditional political partnerships across racial and regional boundaries are the exception rather than the rule, by virtue of the limited political vision of the individual actors involved.

That is why in Sarawak, the ‘rakyat’ (people) is a loose term which carries far less consequence than the fellow feeling of tribesmen, that is, of a smaller group of people of common ancestry. The common term ‘rakyat’ will need a kind of redefinition to reassert its role in discussing state-wide politics.

NONEThe Barisan Nasional, as the supergroup with its claim on state power, is often seen as the Big Brother that can subsume the claim to represent all the groups in the state, by virtue of its hegemony on the exercise of political power in the state.

In actual fact, the BN cannot be said to be a combination of all state forces clamouring for state-wide representation. They are more a national coalition in power by default, because all the petty forces at work in the state of Sarawak do not have the legitimacy and the political command to provide political unity.
Therefore, a change of government at state level is most unlikely in the foreseeable future, because the conditions for the complete reversal of power in Sarawak are lacking in substance. The culture of politics that can enable and facilitate such an alternative government is not yet in place.

What is needed is for an alternative political alliance to take shape, and plant its roots in the arid soil of Sarawak’s democracy. The formation of the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat is the beginning of such an alternative coalition, and that is why the next general election is of crucial importance to future political developments.

Only the maturing of the political process, with the emergence of Pakatan as a viable alternative, shall determine the possibility of a two-party state. Without a viable second choice, an alternative coalition, there can be no substance in Sarawak’s democracy.


SIM KWANG YANG was member of parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at sky8hornbill@gmail.com. All comments are welcomed.


  1. The State Legislative Assemblies (DUN) and Parliament never had a chance to become better. The Speaker always throws members out and those who should be out are in. Instead of growing, Parliamentary democracy in Malaysia got stunted. It could have contributed a lot to the rakyat.

    Some graphic example:

    Comment by Jungle Post — January 13, 2011 @ 4:13 PM | Reply

  2. News Update



    If this is possible for S. Sudan – WHY NOT for Sabah and Sarawak???

    The news from Juba the new capital of S. Sudan.

    Listen and learn!

    Comment by Sarawakbaru — January 11, 2011 @ 11:19 PM | Reply

  3. Hey do make a scour to the remotest corner of your home and you might probably find some profound remnants lay hidden in a “Loti Kaben” tin left by one of your beloved ones. A B&D long certificate that showed they were of British nationality. We may be challenging ourselves of why we are not granted British citizens though born in The Colony of Sarawak. Have they sold us to a foreign land? For the past 45+ years our very own homeland The Fair Land Sarawak have been graffitied to becoming an ugly State. STOP and Restore our Fair Land Sarawak.

    Comment by miaowkia — January 11, 2011 @ 8:39 PM | Reply

    • Interesting. But there was provision for those who wanted to opt out. It should be there somewhere.

      You should contact Anthony Brooke and chat him up if he’s up to it. Get the full story before he passes on. He’s probably already written it down somewhere for posterity somewhere!

      There must be a perspective(s) of why some 500 people from colonial service went Anti-Cession, other than the mainstream story. Story is that they were left out in the cold. Some started a school somewhere in Kuching. Some of them must have the real story if they’re around today.

      Anthony Brooke – Culture of Peace Through Unity

      Comment by Hob — January 12, 2011 @ 3:13 PM | Reply

  4. Remember the LOGJAM in Sibu River?That what will happen to Sarawak one day.A DISASTER! A “Corrupted Government of Taib” should rejected by the people.Better act now before it is to late.


    Comment by babai — January 11, 2011 @ 7:39 PM | Reply

    • Any updates on the log jam?

      How about the Bakun Dam impoundment? pictures of the flood area??

      We need follows up on these 2 and others please.

      Comment by Orangkuasa — January 12, 2011 @ 7:48 AM | Reply



    Excerpts posted from Wikipedia. This done from time to time to provide different sources of reasonably balanced information of interest to people of Borneo. The article does not represent FSIS position.


    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The territory of the proposed federation
    The flag of the North Borneo Federation

    The North Borneo Federation, also known as Kalimantan Utara or North Kalimantan was a proposed political entity which would have comprised the British Colonies of Sarawak, British North Borneo (now known as the Malaysian state of Sabah) and the protectorate of Brunei.

    By 1956, the governments of Sarawak, North Borneo, and the State of Brunei announced that they would abandon the Malayan dollar and adopt a common currency of their own,[1] but that never came into being.

    The idea of the North Kalimantan was originally proposed by A. M. Azahari, who had forged links with Sukarno’s nationalist movement, together with Ahmad Zaidi, in Java in the 1940s. The idea supported and propagated the unification of all Borneo territories under British rule to form an independent leftist North Kalimantan state.

    Azahari personally favoured Brunei’s independence and merging with British North Borneo and Sarawak to form the federation with the Sultan of Brunei as the constitutional monarch.

    However, the Brunei People’s Party was in favour of joining Malaysia on the condition it was as the unified three territories of northern Borneo with their own Sultan, and hence was strong enough to resist domination by Malaya, Singapore, Malay administrators or Chinese merchants.[2]

    The North Kalimantan (or Kalimantan Utara) proposal was seen as a post-decolonization alternative by local opposition against the Malaysia plan. Local opposition throughout the Borneo territories was primarily based on economic, political, historical and cultural differences between the Borneo states and Malaya, as well as the refusal to be subjected under peninsular political domination. Joining to form Malaysia was seen as a new form of colonialism under Malaya.

    The basic concept behind the formation of a union of British Borneo was partly based upon the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Southern Africa. After the defeat of the pro-democracy revolutionaries in the Brunei Revolt, the idea was put to rest. Had the federation been formed, the capital city would probably have been chosen from Kuching, Kota Kinabalu or Bandar Seri Begawan, the historical capital of the region.

    The Sultanate of Brunei has traditionally opposed such a federation. When it was first proposed during the 1960s the Sultan of Brunei favoured joining Malaysia, though, in the end, disagreements concerning the nature of such a federation, and also disputes over oil royalties stopped this from happening.

    Currently, there still remain groups of people who favor the creation of such an independent state and desire separation from the rest of Malaysia. These groups see union with Malaysia as being unfair to the people of Borneo, particularly Sabah, as the majority of the region’s wealth goes to the Malaysian federal government. Only about 5% of the region’s oil revenue goes to the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak.

    Malaysian politics have usually been centred in Peninsular Malaysia, and critics see the federation neglecting the needs of East Malaysians. Some opposition parties in the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly have tried to promote a North Borneo federation. The matter was refused to be debated in the Assembly due to its sensitivity, by the coalition of governing parties in Sarawak, namely the Barisan Nasional lead by Abdul Taib Mahmud.

    end of excerpts………………………………………………………..

    Comment by Free Sarawak Information Service — January 11, 2011 @ 7:05 PM | Reply

    • It is mentioned in the article that there still people working on the “North Borneo Federation” idea.

      I think it is a good idea. All the history facts and figures on this area shows such a union can be very beneficial to the people of the 3 territories.

      We can survive without Malaysia and why should we have to anyway?

      Is there more material on this “Borneo” Plan?

      Is there a North Borneo Federation website?

      If not can any of those involved post something on this website for our information. We are still suffering from lack of information even with the internet!

      Comment by Pippit — January 12, 2011 @ 12:30 PM | Reply

      • The internet and Wikipedia has the most current information.

        If you are interested in relevant topics you need to google the topic and hopefully you get a reasonable article with a balanced view.

        Until now there has been great silence on the subject because (1) it may be from just inertia (some may think issue is “dead”) or (2) interest groups are not computer savvy to post the information and (3) also because the Malayan gov’t would wish to suppress such information, which is why its text book don’t discuss the formation of Malaysia in detail.

        The fact that the alternative view is now on the net is a great improvement from even a year ago when there was hardly any useful information.

        This shows that there are people who wish to provide accurate information and also those who want to keep the idea alive.

        We shall try to provide you with more current information when we get it.

        Comment by Free Sarawak Information Service — January 12, 2011 @ 12:46 PM | Reply

      • There are only two original sources for the Wikipedia article, one of which was written in 1956. There is no proof that there are any groups still working on the North Borneo Federation.

        Malaysia is not going to give up Sarawak and Sabah for a fight. Sarawakians and Sabahans will have to stand up and fight for their rights; they cannot sit around and wait for someone else to save them.

        Comment by Murky — January 17, 2011 @ 8:40 AM | Reply

  6. Mr Sim,

    There are so many weird things, anomalies, in Malaysia’s sytems. As an ex MP you might like to guide us to understand a few things.

    Malaya was legally made up of Peninsular States, except for Penang and Malacca, it has Sultans or Rulers. For disputes these are handled by the High Court of Malaya. In these states, headed administratively by an MB, there are rulers with sovereignty status, they are royals of the system. The Government is elected by the state voters and DUN in constitutional convention, is where legit power lies. The Speaker is appointed by the DUN.

    Is this correct?

    In Sabah and Sarawak, DUN elements are there, no sultan but TYT, but Speaker of the DUN is appointed by the TYT.


    1. What happened to “Malaya”? Does it still exist? Did somebody eat it up?
    2. Is the Ruler or Sultan by law a sovereign State head or is he Chief Executive?
    3. If Sultan is CEO of State, would not the MB be the SUK?
    3b.If the Rulers are CEO, would their state be Districts, like the District of Selangor?
    3c.If the Sultan is CEO of State, is the PM a Sultan?
    4. If Sultan is head of State does he answer to the Agong or the Prime Minister?
    5. In Sarawak, what is the DUN when the Speaker is appointed by the TYT?
    6. Is the TYT the CM or the DUN?
    6. What really is the Office of the Sarawak Chief Minister?
    7. In all these confusions how on earth will anything mature?
    8. Who do you think screwed things up, if they are at all screwed up?
    9. Were the British legal idiots or did they plan to come back?
    10. Are these questions seditious or would they pop up in a class learning the constitution in Form VI or University College?
    11. If they are seditious, are all our lawyers dummies?

    Thank you, Sir!

    Comment by ctzen — January 11, 2011 @ 5:28 PM | Reply

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