Hornbill Unleashed

September 28, 2011

Can Sarawak have an army?

Wong Chin Huat

My view on Kelantan’s hudud law is just the same like mine on the hypothetical Sarawak army.

Sarawakians make great soldiers. The Royal Ranger Regiment even uses Iban warrior Rentap’s famous line “Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban” (fight while you live) as its motto. So, what if some Sarawakian politicians feel like having their own army, say, to defend (Sarawak’s) its wealth from being plundered?

If they hold a referendum, and the motion “Sarawak should have its own army” gets passed with 90 percent support, can they then have an army?

Forget for the moment that our constitution and laws do not provide for referendum and hence whatever outcome from a referendum can only be morally, not legally, binding.

The question is not whether a state having its own army is a good thing. The first question is: can a state do so?

For Malaysia, the answer lies in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution, which divides the job scope of the federal and state governments into three parts: Federal List, State List and Concurrent List.

An American state governor can command its state National Guard to respond to domestic emergencies but a Malaysian chief minister will have no power at all to command any security force.

“Defence of the federation or any part therefore” and “internal security” which will cover military and police respectively are items 2 and 3 on the Federal List.

So, what does a Sarawakian politician do if she/he wants to promise his/her constituents about getting Sarawak its own army?

To make his/her promise credible, she/he will have to ensure that the federal government – either this or the next one – will support an amendment to the Ninth Schedule to move “defence” from the Federal List to the Concurrent List.

Running a referendum without having the Ninth Schedule amended will lead Sarawak into a political crisis.

Building a Sarawak army, if the motion gets carried, will land Sarawak immediately into a constitutional crisis. On the other hand, not building an army when the motion gets carried will risk serious political unrest because the enthusiastic voters will feel cheated.

Horse trading

So, you want to build a Sarawak army to please your voters? Let’s start talking about amendment to the Ninth Schedule. The federal government, won’t agree?

You can talk to politicians in other states so that some horse-trading may be achieved: perhaps Johor wants to have education under the Concurrent List or the State List so that it does not have to change its education policy every time the Education Ministry changes the language of medium again.

Maybe, Penang which wants a greater share in healthcare tourism will be happy to support Sarawak having an army if you support to shift healthcare from the Federal List to the Concurrent List.

You never know; Sabah may support you too in exchange for you supporting to make citizenship a concurrent item so that they can kick out all the Mahathirite “instant-Sabahans”.

What will happen to our constitution if politicians do all sorts of horse-trading to re-negotiate on the division of power between the federation and the states?

It may turn out to be a mess but it may also turn out to be a better deal. Will any state government say that they have enough revenue vis-à-vis the federal government?

The Ninth Schedule is not cast in stone. Why can’t it be amended? Why can’t the states negotiate for a better deal?

So, you can propose to make “defence” a concurrent item so that you can have your Sarawak army. But you guys will need to present your “New Federal Deal” to the national voters in the coming elections before you can carry out your fancy plan of having an army.

So, will I as a voter oppose Sarawak having an army? No, not at all. I should be fair to you and Sarawak. I will hear you out. Would you now tell me which model of provincial army you are considering? Is it ala America’s national guard? Or the Bosnian model? Or the Burmese model?

Persuasive arguments needed

Yes, the devil is in the details. How should I support or oppose the idea of a Sarawak army before knowing your concrete plan?

Why should your plan concern me when I am not even a Sarawakian? Why can’t we just let Sarawakians decide whether or not to have an army?

Because I am a Malaysian and what happen in your state will affect me too. You can persuade me to support your Sarawak army but you cannot ask me to stay out or shut up as if it does not concern me.

For now, let me be on your side: Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban!

Tell me the detailed plans of your Sarawak army and the “new federal deal’ (Ninth Schedule 2.0?) before you go ahead with your referendum.

My view on Kelantan’s hudud law is just the same like mine on the hypothetical Sarawak army.

Don’t expect me to stay out like an outsider because I am not. Everything happening in this country is my business because I am a Malaysian.

But I am happy to be persuaded to support it on merit. Which country are you modelling? Indonesia (Aceh)? Nigeria? Sudan? Saudi Arabia? And where is your proposed amendment to the Ninth Schedule since criminal law is item No 4 on the Federal List?

Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist by training, a journalism lecturer by trade and a passionate Malaysian by birth. He will do everything to defend the Malaysia 2.0 born on the streets of Kuala Lumpur on July 9, 2010. His column at FMT is called Malaysia 2.0


  1. Actually Wong Chin Huat, whether you have any right as a Malaysian to tell Sarawakians whether or not to have an army, matters less than whether Sarawakians have such a right. Of course, we don’t, because Malaysians say we don’t.

    Comment by Landowner — September 29, 2011 @ 11:17 PM | Reply


    It should be called the Sarawak National Liberation Army.

    The name speaks for itself.

    Such any army will fight the Malayan Occupation army for the liberation of Sarawak (and Sabah) from Malayan UMNO colonial rule.

    Comment by LIBERATION — September 28, 2011 @ 3:26 PM | Reply


    The writer C.H. Wong in using the example of a “Sarawak army” to reflect on the hudud debate has fortuitously sparked off an unintended and heated discussion by many readers in Free Malaysia Today web page.

    The relevance of a Sarawak army existing legally is not a possibility as this may become a challenge to UMNO’s colonial authority and military occupation of Sarawak territory.

    However for those who see that national independence from UMNO colonial rule cannot be achieved by peaceful means may consider a Sarawak army a necessity to free our country from foreign military occupation and rule.

    There have been 2 home grown armies in Sarawak history.

    The first was a small army the Sarawak Rangers formed with Dayak tribesmen by the Brooke government in 1862 to defend territory it seized from the Brunei Sultanate during Brooke territorial expansion over 150 years ago. They became the renown jungle fighters who in turn served British and Malayan UMNO colonialism in the post WW2 period.

    The second army was that formed by the anti-Malaysia independence movement comprising the Sarawak People’s Guerrilla Forces (1965) and the People’s Army of North Kalimantan (PARAKU 1969).

    This army was formed to defend and fight for Sarawak independence from 1965 to 1990. This continued the anti-Malaysia Brunei Uprising of Dec 8 1962 to 1965 by the Tentara Nasional Kalimantan Utara (TNKU) army (led by Brunei People’s Party) against the British idea to force Brunei Sabah and Sarawak into their new colonial creation “Malaysia”.

    Sarawak Rangers instead of rising to fight for independence or even defend natives from land grabs had been used to fight TNKU and PARAKU independence fighters to secure Malayan colonial annexation and rule of Sarawak and Sabah.

    History will judge as to who are the real Sarawak patriots.

    Readers can follow the debate on the merits of a Sarawak Army on this link


    Comment by TRUTH BE TOLD — September 28, 2011 @ 3:07 PM | Reply

  4. Who said Sarawak is a state?

    Comment by Gopher — September 28, 2011 @ 3:01 PM | Reply

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