SakSaMa: Opening An Eastern Front in Malaysia’s Politics


July 19, 2016

SakSaMa: Opening An Eastern Front in Malaysia’s Politics

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Sabah and Sarawak have been seen as Barisan Nasional’s fixed deposits since the formation of Malaysia.

But instead of rewarding the two states for their loyalty to the ruling coalition, the two states, especially Sabah, have been treated like step children and unequal partners in what, under the terms of the Malaysia agreement signed in 1963, has been viewed by the Borneo side as a federation of three equal components comprising the two East Malaysia states and the states of Peninsula Malaya as a whole.

The list of perceived injustices, discriminatory treatment and broken promises endured by the two states at the hands of an UMNO dominated Barisan polity runs to more than a few pages. According to pro-autonomy activists, it includes the following:

  • disproportionally meager returns from the two states’ oil and gas resources.
  • de-secularisation and creeping Islamisation
  • internal colonization by the federal civil service establishment which has marginalized local Sarawakians and Sabahans in the running of their own states
  • Putrajaya’s collaboration with corrupt leaders which has enriched a small minority and despoiled the environment at the expense of the native communities
  • Dr Mahathir’s infamous “project IC” which resulted in a massive influx of illegal immigrants, their registration as voters in Sabah, and the consequential adverse repercussions on the local citizenry.

Resistance to what some critics see as a Kuala Lumpur-orchestrated “new colonialism” has been smoldering intermittently and ineffectively during the past 50 years.

This resistance has now reached a new stage with the formation of Gabungan Rakyat SakSaMa, the latest of opposition coalitions to emerge in the country but with the key difference in that it is the East Malaysia partners that are playing the leading role in this, the most recent attempt to break the nation free from the monopoly of Barisan rule.

SakSaMa, the new pact of political parties from Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia for now includes Sarawak Reform Party, Parti Sejahtera Angkatan Perpaduan Sabah (Sapu), Pertubuhan Perpaduan Rakyat Kebangsaan Sabah (Perpaduan), Parti Rakyat Bersatu Malaysia (MUPP), Parti Kebangsaan Sabah (PKS), Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) and Parti Alternatif Rakyat from the peninsula. It may include more parties such as Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru).

Individually the present grouping can be regarded as ‘mosquito’ parties. Collectively, can it amount to more? And if the grouping is able to make an impact, what kind of change can it help bring to a nation that is tired out by the poisonous Peninsula brew of race and religious politics and the surfeit of 1MDB and associated scandals?

Individually the present grouping can be regarded as ‘mosquito’ parties. Collectively, can it amount to more? And if the grouping is able to make an impact, what kind of change can it help bring to a nation that is tired out by the poisonous Peninsula brew of race and religious politics and the surfeit of 1MDB and associated scandals?

Why East Malaysia Can Make a Difference

In the aftermath of the implosion of Pakatan Rakyat and the weakness of the newly formed Pakatan Harapan, the announcement of the new front has left many analysts unconvinced that SakSaMa can make a difference. Some analysts have predicted a quick demise. Others have noted that the new coalition may in fact strengthen the Barisan by further dividing the opposition vote.

For now, little has been publicly disclosed of the ideology of the new coalition. But one of its leaders has provided an inkling of its political objectives and how it aims to carve out a niche in national politics.

According to Lisa Soo, President of the Sarawak Reform Party (Reform) which is part of the seven-member Saksama, the new coalition would be happy to join forces with “other parties from Malaya” who have the same agenda, that is, for a better Malaysia. “But such [a] pact must be on the principle of three equal partners comprising the regions of Sarawak, Sabah and peninsular Malaysia in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement signed in 1963,” she said. “Therefore, opposition political parties from the peninsula must respect our regional status by not going to Sarawak and Sabah. Likewise, we, in Sarawak, will not be putting up candidates in the peninsula or Sabah. We will confine ourselves to our turf.”

This uncompromising stand has been accompanied by the warning of a “free for all” in East Malaysia in the next general election should Pakatan Rakyat and SakSaMa fail to reach agreement on seat allocation and a common platform.

Hopefully cooler heads among the other SakSaMa partners will prevail because there is no possibility of Saksama having a future without the cooperation and support of the more established Pakatan parties, even if they may be perceived as less committed to the cause of Borneo rights.

Should the two opposition coalitions be able to avoid conflict, what is being injected into Malaysian politics by SakSaMa’s strong stand on the Borneo states’ rights issue and other concerns related to the failings and misgovernance of Barisan rule based in Kuala Lumpur will be less a game changer for the opposition Pakatan Harapan than it is for the ruling Barisan coalition.

This is because, together with the new Sarawak Government’s attempt, under Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, to quietly press for devolution of power to the state in key areas such as internal affairs, taxation and education, in addition to the open demand of a larger share of development funds and increased oil and gas revenues, the two Borneo states push for greater autonomy could portend a sea change in our political landscape.

A resilient and growing SakSaMa, should it survive the initial turbulence and avoid the pitfalls of narrow regional parochialism, together with Adenan’s quiet diplomacy to re-balance power between the federal center and Sarawak, have potentially far reaching consequences for our national politics and its center of gravity that appears hopelessly mired in the politics and political personalities of the peninsula states.

No less momentous could be its implications for a wide range of issues – socio-cultural, economic and environmental where the unitary federal system has a history of mismanagement, retrogressive policies and bad outcomes and where local interests have been sacrificed or ignored.

Personally, I view any potential consequence as positive. But we must also anticipate attempts by diehard UMNO leaders and supporters of a narrow Malay nationalism to demonize these initiatives from the East Malaysia states as unacceptable, subversive or anti-national.

We live in more interesting times than what many had hoped can emerge from the 1MBD and the personal donation scandals. This – perhaps – could be the real history in the making.

One thought on “SakSaMa: Opening An Eastern Front in Malaysia’s Politics

  1. Najib knows Sarawak and Sabah can be bought. The weakness of BN in Sabah and Sarawak is their partnership with PAS and its real. If these Sabah and Sarawak opposition parties concentrate on “unfair” they will fail. They need to get TRIBAL and their way of life is threatened – AND ITS REAL..Like it or not, the Islamic State agenda for all of Malaysia is already a runaway train – these Sabah and Sarawak parties, cannot only not stop it, they will not step in front of the train to stop it which means they don’t know how to..

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