Perhaps it’s time to opt for a referendum on Sarawak

Opinion  |  Francis Paul Siah
Published:  |  Modified:


COMMENT | In a recent online survey conducted by the Sarawak Patriots Association on the recent defeat of the MA63 amendment bill, one of the questions was “Do you think it is wise for the Sarawak Government to have a referendum to ask Sarawakians to decide on the future of Sarawak?”

My answer was in the affirmative.

Why did I say “yes”? Because I honestly feel that is what the majority of my fellow Sarawakians want – the inalienable right to decide on another option. I count myself among them.

A young Sarawakian recently posted this message on his Facebook page: “In 1963, we were not there to decide. In 1976, we were also not there to decide. In 2019, we want to make it right!”

That says a lot about the younger generation of Sarawakians today. 

They pay more attention to the spirit of nationhood and its intricacies than the generation I belong to, perhaps.

If something is not right, it must be corrected. If an attempt to correct the wrongs of the past still causes anxiety, resentment and suspicion, other options must be explored.

A referendum is not something new on the table. It has been bandied about by Sarawakians since 2014 when the late chief minister Adenan Satem first brought up the nagging issues surrounding MA63 at the official level. 

Top on Adenan’s agenda was the restoration of the rights of Sarawak and the “equal partner” status.

This resonated quickly with Sarawakians and they warmed up to Adenan’s courage and determination to tackle the bull by its horns with Putrajaya.

Then Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, surprisingly perhaps, also paid attention to Adenan’s bold request and opened the door to negotiations on MA63.

Happily, this was followed up by Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the prime minister had gone on record as saying that his administration would seek the restoration of the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under MA63.

Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan kept their word with the tabling of the amendment bill to Article 1 (2) of the Federal Constitution on April 9. Although it failed, credit is due to Harapan, no matter our stand on the bill.

When a reporter from a news portal called me for my views, this was what I told her: “Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider going down the referendum road.

“It is clear that the voices for self-determination are growing louder by the day. Sarawakians are disappointed that Malaya continues to treat them as step-children." 

"That is evident when Harapan’s election promises of 20 percent oil royalty and 50 percent of all taxes collected in Sarawak be returned are not fulfilled.

“Many Sarawakians are not convinced that the April 9 bill will accord the “equal partner” status to the two Borneo territories.

“A referendum will determine whether Sabahans and Sarawakians are still keen to remain in the Federation of Malaysia. Allow the people of Sabah and Sarawak to decide. This is what they want.

“With the exit of Singapore in 1965, the legitimacy of MA63 is also in doubt. The recent amendment bill could never return to the original MA63 without Singapore.

“If there is nothing to prevent Singapore for exiting, is there anything to stop Sabah or Sarawak from leaving too? That is the multi-million dollar question!”

When the reporter asked whether a referendum is possible and whether the prime minister will allow it, I replied: “A referendum is possible. It has been conducted elsewhere in recent times. It is also not the decision of only one man. A secure leader heading a secure government will be bold enough to heed the voices of the citizenry”.

Sarawak leaders were also very unhappy with Putrajaya of late. Last Thursday, Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg said he was furious with the federal government.

“How can we trust Putrajaya when it does not fulfil its promises? They said they would build bridges in Sarawak. Then it was cancelled but announced 28 new bridges to be constructed in Sabah. That’s why I’m furious!”

Abang Jo also claimed that Malayan leaders do not understand the multi-racial and multi-religious façade of Sarawak, telling Putrajaya to lay off Sarawak affairs as Sarawakians know best how to handle their own issues.

A day earlier, Sarawak Education Minister Michael Manyin also fired a salvo at Putrajaya, saying that Putrajaya’s inconsistencies in decision-making would make Sarawak-federal relationship arduous and troublesome.

He was referring to the latest U-turn by Putrajaya on the Sarawak government’s RM1 billion contra-deal to repair dilapidated schools.

It is clear that all is not well and rosy between Kuching and Putrajaya. Leaders do not get along because there is no trust nor sincerity on both sides.

Meanwhile, Parti Bumi Keyalang, a new kid on the block, has declared that it would be going all out on the “Independence for Sarawak” agenda come the next Sarawak polls in 2021.

On April 28, a local NGO will be staging a referendum rally at Padang Merdeka in Kuching. They are inviting all patriotic Sarawakians to attend.

To add to that, the Sarawak for Sarawakians (S4S) group had already organised several “Sarexit” (Sarawak Exit) rallies over the past years.

These are signs that many in Sarawak prefer to opt out. If we are unhappy with each other, why continue to live a life of pain, mistrust and misery. The only sensible thing to do is to separate.

A referendum is the best way to prove that prevailing sentiment among Sarawakians right or wrong.


FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at: [email protected]

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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