COMMENT | With Malaysia’s 14th general election set to be held in the next six weeks, one issue not widely discussed enough is the role played by the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Unlike other states, Sabah and Sarawak are physically located in Borneo, far away from Putrajaya. These two states have a very different history, demography and social history from the other 11 states in the peninsula.
Politically, both states were unimportant to BN’s leadership, as voters in both states regularly voted for the ruling coalition.
In every general election since the 1990s, BN won more than 70 percent of the parliamentary seats in Sabah and Sarawak. The results were so predictable that the ruling party regularly referred to both states as BN’s ‘fixed deposits’.
There are 222 seats in Parliament, and the magic figure is 112. In the 2008 elections, when BN won 140 to the opposition’s 82 seats, Sabah and Sarawak contributed 55 of the 140 BN MPs.
In the 2013 elections, BN won 133 to the opposition’s 89 seats. This time Sabah and Sarawak contributed 47 BN MPs. In other words, the Umno-led BN government would have lost power without the MPs from Sabah and Sarawak.
Umno soon realised that without support from East Malaysia’s BN, they would be out of power.
The biggest political issue by far in Sabah and Sarawak is the Malaysia Agreement 1963, commonly referred to as MA63. This was the agreement signed by the founding states of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, which led to the formation of the federation of Malaysia in 1963.
Hence many Sabahans and Sarawakians are of the opinion that Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak (and Singapore before its expulsion from Malaysia in 1965) were the original founders of the federation.
They feel that Sabah and Sarawak should not be merely treated as one of the 13 states in the federation, but as two of the three founding entities. This distinction is important for Sabah and Sarawak nationalists...