Sarawak, Sabah demand more seats under equal status

Desmond Davidson

The Dewan Rakyat currently has 222 seats but Sabah and Sarawak say it is peninsula-biased as the two Borneo states only have 56 members of parliament. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, March 12, 2019.

THE proposed amendment to Article 1(2) of the federal constitution to restore Sarawak and Sabah’s status as equal partners in the federation of Malaysia must include according the two states a third of seats in Parliament, Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister James Masing said.

He was referring to the arrangement when Malaysia was formed in 1963, when Malaya held two-thirds of parliamentary seats, while Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore held the other one-third as a constitutional safeguard.

With Singapore’s departure from the federation, the one-third of seats should be redistributed and shared between Sabah and Sarawak to maintain the constitutional safeguard, Masing said.

But this has not been done and currently, Sabah and Sarawak hold just under 25% of parliamentary seats, or 56 seats, he said. There are 222 seats in the Dewan Rakyat.

“With the secession of Singapore in 1965, the creation of federal territories and the general increase of seats over the years, Sarawak (is left with only) 18% of seats, or only 31 seats.

“Therefore, the proposed constitutional amendment to recognise Sarawak and Sabah as regions of similar stature to Malaya must include this amendment which would increase seats (in the two Borneo states),” Masing said.

The parliamentary seat allocation is contained in the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report at the founding of Malaysia to ensure that the constitution would not be freely amended by Malaya representatives alone.

Giving the two Bornean states a third or 74 out of total parliamentary seats would provide them “veto power” if they voted as a block in the event of unfavourable constitutional amendments that required a two-thirds majority, Masing added.

The Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president said in Sarawak’s case, its parliamentary seats should be increased from the present 31 to at least 38. The remainder of the 74 seats could go to Sabah.

More seats to beat racial, religious rhetoric

Increasing seats for Sarawak and Sabah is important given the current trend among Malay-Muslim parties to use race and religion to win back support from peninsular Malays, he said.

He cited specifically Umno and PAS, which sealed their political cooperation through the setting up of a joint technical committee to explore further collaboration.

“The seat allocation (for Sabah and Sarawak) is, therefore, crucial to determine who is in control of the political administration.

“In 1963, the Alliance, which was later reconstituted as Barisan Nasional (BN), was a multiracial political organisation.

“Now with Umno-PAS coalition, Malaysia’s political scenario has changed. It has become more critical that Sarawak and Sabah get their percentage of parliamentary seats as agreed in 1963.”

Masing, however, said the two states did not want to derail the proposed amendment to restore their equal status and assured that his party’s MPs would support it, with a caveat.

“We will remind Putrajaya that without the increase of seats, it is not a complete bill.

“If Putrajaya is sincere towards Sarawak and Sabah, it must take cognisance of the need to increase the parliamentary seats when tabling the bill.”

Masing’s views are shared by Piasau assemblyman Sebastian Ting, who said without one-third of parliamentary seats given to Sabah and Sarawak “our rights in the federal constitution would always be at risk as the peninsula can easily remove them at will”.

The Sarawak United People’s Party secretary-general said it is a fair and reasonable request if Sarawak and Sabah are to be equal partners with the peninsula.

“We want to have a louder voice in Parliament so as to protect our interest as equal partners.”

STAR Sabah chief Jeffrey Kitingan has since 2015 been calling for the restoration of a third of seats as part of parliamentary reforms. – March 12, 2019.

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  • How many percent of Malaysian voters are from Sabah and Sarawak? Do they make up 33% of the total or are they asking for entrenched gerrymandering. We are equal in that we all have 1 vote, but just that they are more equal because their vote has more weightage?

    Posted 5 years ago by Yoon Kok · Reply

  • Aiyoo cant you understand that there was and still there is an agreement for the formation of Malaysia which is registered with the UN (1541) . Please study it and get your facts right !

    Posted 5 years ago by Chen Fui Chin · Reply

  • Aiyoo cant you understand that there was and still there is an agreement for the formation of Malaysia which is registered with the UN (1541) . Please study it and get your facts right !

    Posted 5 years ago by Chen Fui Chin · Reply