Sarawak, Sabah have ‘intrinsic right’ to secede from Malaysia, argues ex-rep

Voon Lee Shan

KUCHING, Dec 5: Former Batu Lintang assemblyman Voon Lee Shan believes there is an intrinsic right for Sarawak and Sabah to exit the Federation of Malaysia as there is nothing to prevent the two territories from doing so.

Voon, who is a lawyer by profession, quoted Thomas Franck, an international law expert from New York, on the case of Quebec seceding from Canada, and Lord Lansdowne, the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) chairman, to support his arguments.

“Mr Thomas Franck, a law professor and an international law expert based in New York, was consulted by the Canadian government to consider certain issues regarding a hypothesised secession of Quebec. He said: ‘It cannot seriously be argued today that international law prohibits secession. It cannot seriously be denied that international law permits secession. There is a privilege of secession recognised in international law and the law imposes no duty on any people not to secede’.

“Lord Lansdowne, the chairman of the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC), had in response to call for an ‘exit clause‘ in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and the Federal Constitution, said it was not necessary for this because ‘any State voluntarily entering a federation had an intrinsic right to secede at will’.”

Voon said it was also on this well-established principle of international law that the United Kingdom went for a referendum vote on Brexit in May 2015 to exit from the European Union.


“Therefore, it could be argued that the principles of international law are applicable to the Federation of Malaysia if Sabah and Sarawak intend to exit from the Federation,” said Voon in a statement today.

He rebutted Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) for saying that it was against the Federal Constitution for Sabah and Sarawak to secede from Malaysia. He had reportedly said this when meeting a group of youths in Kota Kinabalu in January 2015.

“Since DSAI was referring to the Federal Constitution, DSAI needs to point out the part of the Federal Constitution that forbade Sabah and Sarawak to secede from Malaysia.

“Reading the Federal Constitution carefully, there is no such provision,” said Voon.

Voon added that Lord Lansdowne had clearly stated that an exit clause in the Federal Constitution was not necessary to exit from the Federation by Sabah and Sarawak.

“Even if there is a provision to say that Sabah and Sarawak could not secede from the Federation, the fundamental breaches to the MA63 signed by the Federation of Malaya with Sabah and Sarawak (Singapore was a signatory but left Malaysia in 1965) had caused the Federation of Malaysia to become no more a sensible political union, and this should give Sabah and Sarawak the right to secede from Malaysia.

“The breaches to MA63 could not be by way of reform as suggested by DSAI. This is because MA63 provides no provision for reform in the event of breaches.

“Therefore, the legal remedy is in secession from the Federation and not as suggested by DSAI, in reforming the terms entrenched in the Treaty. The breaches had caused the treaty to collapse,” reckoned Voon.

He further pointed out that since MA63 is an international treaty, any part of the Federal Constitution, if there is, that disallows secession should be void as the MA63, being an international treaty, is a superior document to the Constitution.

“DSAI’s opinion is inconsistent with the opinion of the prime minister, (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohmmad (Dr M), whose comment in New York, as reported on Aug 29, 2018, tantamount to an acknowledgement that there is nothing to prevent Sabah and Sarawak to secede from the Federation of Malaysia when Dr M qualified himself by saying Sabahans and Sarawakians only wanted ‘autonomy and not independence’.

“There is an intrinsic right to exit. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent Sabah and Sarawak to seek an exit from the Federation of Malaysia,” said Voon. — DayakDaily