“Shallow partnership” unless Sarawak and Sabah’s grievances sufficiently addressed — political analyst

Dr Bridget Welsh

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Jan 26: A political analyst described the relationship between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia as a “shallow partnership” in which the constitutional amendments related to Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) was to appease the two Borneo States as it still lacked substance.
This is the view of Dr Bridget Welsh from University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute Malaysia (UoNARI-M), who observed that the constitutional amendments have very serious gaps.
“We can see that this process is one appeasing the power of state nationalism that is gaining traction.
“It is not about elite representation at the national level but what we do see is growing sentiment for cessation and considerable unanimity across political perspectives both in Sabah and Sarawak for greater representation.
“I think the Peninsular Malaysia leaders have in these amendments acknowledged Sabah and Sarawak. However, this is still very much an appeasement as opposed to fundamentally recognising the need for changing the relationship,” she said.  

Welsh shared this in the “2021 Constitutional Amendment: MA63 and The Status of The Borneo States in Malaysia” webinar last night organised by Wisdom Foundation Malaysia today following the passing of the MA63 Bill that gives recognition to the demands and special status of Sabah and Sarawak upon joining Malaysia in the federation.  

She pointed out that many of the core issues involving Sabah and Sarawak have not been mentioned in terms of transparency including the documents and issues over the 20-point Agreement, which are still very much at the elite level.  

“One of the problems with the amendments is that the conversation is very much legalistic and not necessary in terms of dealing with the substantive issues. 

“Until the grievances have been addressed meaningfully in terms of development, infrastructures, social services, health, education, resources, revenue, access to economy and cultural rights, there will be significant problems to fester,” she said.
Welsh however observed that the bill does not begin to do these things in a meaningful way and so it is now up to the leaders of Sabah and Sarawak and the discourse of civil society to give more substance to the constitutional amendments through discussions and carve out political space in this particular area.
“I think the amendment talks about the idea of partnership but I do believe, looking at the political environment, there still remains very serious problems in the nature of partnership.
“Many people in PPeninsularMalaysia continue to have a lack of understanding and respect for Sabah and Sarawak. Measures are made in a temporal way as opposed to more significantly and substantially over time in a meaningful way.
“The relationships are still very much with the elites and of course the challenges with the elites in Sabah and Sarawak that do not address the meaningful dimension of people on the ground.”
As a consequence, Welsh opined, the partnership is a very shallow partnership and one not vested in a sense of genuinity and respect.
Her concerns politically from the perspective of Peninsular Malaysia, she said, was that the amendment is seen as an end as opposed to a beginning.

“I think this is very much of the substance, but it is necessary to see this as the beginning process, a continuation of the amendments that needed to be changed but also fundamental shifts that need to take place in the power, decentralisation relationships between Peninsula Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.  

“This is one of the bigger challenges of Malaysian politics right now is that the reforms that are ongoing have little impact on the ground for ordinary people. So for many Sabahans and Sarawakians, the constitutional amendments have very limited implications,” she said.
From the perspective of the amendment as a whole, Welsh sees this as not a solution but part of an ongoing process towards solutions of existing problems.
She emphasised that there needs to be more conversations especially with people in Peninsular Malaysia about some of the real challenges on the ground and how to transform the relationship in a more meaningful way and create a new type of partnership beyond the elite level.
“There is clearly a lot more that needs to be done,” she concluded.
Dr Welsh was among the four panelists participating in the discussion. The other three were Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti Malaya (UM), Tuaran MP Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius and Stampin MP Chong Chieng Jen. — DayakDaily