My posting Proud Sarawakian, Proud Penangite, Proud Malaysian? received some hard pecking from Bumi Kenyalan – the Land of the Hornbills. Thank goodness they weren’t tebuan (hornets’) stings.
One reader dismissed the idea of Penang being the same as Sarawak. I believe I did not say that but rather, that the ‘experience’ of Penangites had been akin to Sarawakians. Indeed, a Penangite would never ever agree to another State being the same as Penang even in our current pathetic conditions ;-)
Let’s review our history.
Reader Desmond has been correct in reminding us of the technical difference between ‘joining’ Malaysia and ‘forming’ Malaysia. The correct word used at that time was ‘merger’ which the good dictionary tells us is a union, of partners.
Going back a bit, like Penang, Malacca and Singapore [I am on dangerous territory again after being told that Sarawak and Penang aren’t and never will be the same, but just bear with me], Sarawak and Sabah were British Crown colonies or possessions, not unlike Hong Kong [but not Kowloon]. Legally, the Brits could have kept them in perpetuity, though practically, things might not have worked out quite nicely.
Starting off with Malaya [not Malaysia], when Tunku asked for independence, Penangites [and Malaccans], who were Crown subjects, weren’t even asked whether they wanted to join. They were surrendered to Malaya, whilst of course the Crown colony of Singapore wasn’t. Sarawakians and Sabahans had it better.
However, Penangites at that time could opt for British citizenships, which very few took up. The arrangement between the Brits and Tunku’s independence movement has been the reason that non-Malay Penangites born in Penang before 1957 were automatically Malayan citizens, provided they could prove it, birth certificates being sufficient proof. The Brits wanted to ensure their former subjects weren’t made stateless. The non-Malay counterparts of Penangites born on the Mainland [except for Malacca] prior to 1957 OTOH must have a citizenship certificate to prove their nationality.
Even today some Penangites mused as to their fate, had the Brits kept Penang as a Crown colony like Singapore when Malaya became independent, and for Penang to merge into the new nation of Malaysia only in 1963. Such wishful and profitless thoughts are signs of a populace dissatisfied with their national status, not unlike our Sarawakian friends.
That’s why I averred and still do, that Penangites would be the best people in Peninsula to understand the Sarawakians – because we have had similar modern political beginnings - mind you, we aren’t the same but had undergone similar experience in becoming Malayan or Malaysians.
Then, we must remember the Cobbold Commission, which found that 70% of Sarawakians accepted merger with Malaysia. 20% were strongly against merger unless Sarawak became independent first, meaning they were still open to the idea of merger. Even if independence for Sarawak was granted by the Brits, I doubt the Sarawakians would have enjoyed that status for long, not with Chakravarti Devaanaampriya lusting for possession of Sarawak.
I believe we need to keep in context the geo-politics at that time when Sukarno wanted Sarawak and Macapagal Sabah. That’s why most Sabahans and Sarawakians agreed to the merger with Malaya to form Malaysia. There’s safety in numbers against rapacious tigers
That today Sabahans, Sarawakians and Penangites are damn sick of the corruption, NEP [more at its corrupt abuse rather than its noble social aims], and any perceived inequality or lack of benefits, is a separate issue.
I did not intend to show disrespect for Sarawakian feelings but the reality is Sarawakians in agreeing to their State’s merger with Malaya have enjoyed, as reader Desmond mentioned, specific constitutional safeguards. The thing I ask of these constitutional safeguards is what I would ask of the NEP - How long are we Malaysians going to have these arrangements that divide us in different beings keeping us apart, making some of us foreigners in some parts of our own nation, that prevent the evolution of an equitable Bangsa Malaysia, where affirmative actions would only be on the basis of needs rather than race or a particular State?
Sadly there does exist the perception, particularly among Chinese Sarawakians that Peninsula Malaysians, even of Chinese ethnicity, are ‘foreigners’. By contrast, even when Chinese Penangites grumble about being disadvantaged by the NEP, they believe they are Malaysians, and have never viewed Sarawakians or Sabahans as foreigners.
Penangites just want to be treated as equal Malaysians and not 2nd class ones. As I admitted, when the times and the local mood are bad, some Penangites wonder whether they could have been another prosperous and well governed ‘Singapore’, but those moods have been the exception or occasional, rather than deeply ingrained in their citizenship psyche.
Quo vadis, Sarawakian friends?
Just as I about to publish this posting, reader Desmond posted an excellent comment relating the recent fuel price hike to the general dissatisfaction among Sarawakians. He reminded us Peninsula people of the vastness of Sarawak and its poor infrastructure, and how the fuel price problem would be magnified several times over by comparison.
Thanks Desmond, KTemoc is acutely aware of that unique Sarawak problem. Please read also my posting Help villages of Sarawak's remote areas.
But for equality of sufferings please have a look at Bloody No Light, Bloody No Water, Bloody Nonsense! and There are bridges & there are bridges!