Colonising Sabah Part 1

If colonisation means to wipe out or displace the indigenous population of that particular state or place then Sabah is in a very precarious position.  The Spaniards and Portuguese did it in South America and the Native Americans were forced to defend themselves from the stampede of European intrusion.  In North America the Europeans brought with them diseases of both mind and body, the consequence of which the population of the Native Americans nearly disappeared from the face of this earth. The British called their exploitation “expedition”, of course with the intention of colonizing. When the British came to Borneo they were no different to the other colonizers as they manipulated the local population into submission with the pretext of “just” being an advisor to the local leader.  Little did we know then because as soon as we know we were calling them “Tuan”…here in our own home! Yes. We called them TUAN without hesitation. Today we have a new TUAN and in the same breath we call our local leader “Yang Berhormat”…sigh!!


The Malaya Formula: One for you - All for Me

The formation of the Malaysia Federation in 1963 was just an extension of this concept, the new Coloniser.  Instead of the British, the new TUANs came from Malaya.  The most obvious approach now is they ask the Sabahans to walk by their side, to be seen as equal. But with a sleigh of hand they take away the Sabahans ability to determine their own future and destiny. This approach of walking side by side, seem to make the indigenous people of Sabah powerless and to fall into the trap of dependency. So in order to survive we must beg for what is ours in the first place from the orang Malaya. In short, the people of Sabah are not given the choice to decide their future. Be observant because although we seemed to be walking side by side with them, they are actually walking one step ahead!!

Sabah powerless in Parliament

This is reflected clearly in the number of Parliamentary seats that is given to the Borneo states today compared to the original formula during the formation of Malaysia in 1963.  In the original formula, which was recommended through the Inter-Governmental Committee Report the distributions of powers are as follows:

Table 1: The Original Distribution of Power in Malaysia

Members Seats   Percentage
Malaya 104  


Sabah 16


55 seats


Sarawak 24
Singapore 15


It is very clear in this formula, that even when Malaya holds the majority seats of 65%, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore combined still have 35% of the seats.  This gives the combined strength of the Borneo states + Singapore the right of VETO against amendments or passing of Acts in Parliament. The right of VETO against amendments or passing of Acts only requires 33.3% of the votes in Parliament.

It is an unfortunate episode in the Malaysian history that when Singapore left Malaysia in 1965, the 15 parliamentary seats held by Singapore was not given to the Borneo states. Instead these seats were conveniently deleted! The reason could be Sabah and Sarawak did not have any elected representative to Parliament until after the 1969 election to voice their demand! But if this is the reason then I feel the leaders at that time did not have the foresight to protect Sabah’s future! We don’t need parliamentary sittings to voice our concerns!!

When Singapore left the distribution of parliamentary seats remain the same minus the 15 seats. This means Malaya have 104 seats (72% which is an increase of 7%) and Sabah (16 seats) and Sarawak (24 seats).  Even if Sabah and Sarawak were combined, they only have 28% of Parliamentary seats.  This is against the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963, which gave protection to the Borneo States and Singapore in the event they need to VETO against amendments or passing of Acts, which may be detrimental to the Borneo states’ interest.

This unequal distribution of power is maintained to this day.  Every time there is a re-delineation of electoral boundaries, Sabah and Sarawak will instantly lose part of their voice in Parliament. This happens every time. Today out of the total 222 seats in Parliament, Malaya holds 166 seats (75% an increase of 10% from the original number) and the Borneo States combined holds only 56 seats (25% which is a 10% decrease from the original number).  Sabah and Sarawak do not have the numbers to protect themselves or to determine their future.  This gives Malaya the unfair advantage in Parliament to decide the fate of the Borneo States.

The Cabotage Policy and the Petroleum Development Act 1974 is a good example where our rights have been eroded and compromised.  The Cabotage policy has been in existence for more than 28 years and we can justly say is the cause of the high cost of living in Sabah. The Petroleum Development Act was signed 35 years ago and unfortunately during all that time we Sabahans only got drips of our own oil.  Sabah and Sarawak is being plundered left, right and centre and there is nothing we can do about it, at least for now.

Change or be Changed

Two things have happened in which Malaya may well adjust their thinking in the distribution and allocation of Parliamentary seats in future.  First, the Tsunami of 2008 changed completely the political landscape in Malaysia.  Racial and religious issues are not the main determinant to political power anymore.  The outcome of the previous election saw the Malaya government hanging by the thread.

For example, the results in the last election clearly showed that Malaysia nearly experienced a “hung parliament”, if not because of Sabah & Sarawak:

Table 2:  The result of 2008 General Election

Total Parliament Seat


Total Parliament Seats in Sabah 25


Total Parliament Seats in Sarawak 31
Total Parliament Seat in Malaya 166


Total Seats Captured by BN including Sabah & Sarawak 140


UMNO Seats (without Sabah) 65  
MCA Seats 15  
MIC Seats 3  
Gerakan Seats 2  
Total BN Captured Seats in Malaya 85


The result in Malaya shows Malaysia nearly had a HUNG PARLIMENT
Total Seats Captured by PR in Malaya 82


PKR 31  
PAS 23  
DAP 28  


If it was not for Sabah and Sarawak delivering the BN seats, Najib could well be leading the Bersih procession on the 9th of July 2011 instead of Ambiga Sreenevasan.  The leaders from both sides of the political divide must rethink that Malaysia is greater than the sum of all its parts.  Malaya is not the sole decision maker that must determine the future of this country. Sabah and Sarawak have equal strength as well.

Second, the current global economic uncertainties require massive paradigm shifts in the minds of the leaders in Malaya from both sides of the political divide.  The run-away success of industrialization in Malaya in the 80’s and 90’s was halted by the Economic contagion in 1997 and the emergence of India and China as economic powerhouse in Asia.  The decline of manufactured goods in their traditional export market makes the situation worse.

The economic salvation that Malaysia need right now can be found in Sabah and Sarawak and not in Malaya.  It is the commodities (Palm Oil and Petroleum and Gas) that promise to drive sustained growth momentum of the Malaysian economy.  In this context, the leaders in Malaya from both sides of the political divide have no choice but to factor Sabah and Sarawak into their political equations.

The re-delineation of electoral boundaries that is currently being carried out by the Election Commission must take into account the importance of Sabah and Sarawak.  Particularly in reverting to the original power-sharing concept as contained in the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 where Malaya holds 65% of the seats in Parliament whilst Sabah and Sarawak gets 35% of the seats.

Sabah Sifu

Note: This is the first part of the article; the second part will discuss the most appropriate allocation of seats and their justification.


About sifusiber
A husband & a father who wants his children to have a better future

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