Sarawak, show us the way
Writer: Fahmi Fadzil
Published: Fri, 29 Apr 2011
The recent Sarawak state elections were such a learning experience for many Malaysians. Irrespective of whether we were active participants in the political battles on the ground, or just curious observers reading the news on Twitter, it is clear that Sarawak – and the rest of the country – can never be the same again.
First and foremost on my mind is the fact that Malaysians can be denied entry into their own country without having to be properly explained why they were actually denied.
The move against people like political activists Steven Ng and Haris Ibrahim, Bersih 2.0 chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, political scientist Dr Wong Chin Huat, politician Sivarasa Rasiah and many others is quite baffling, and begs the question of a truly sinister undertone to the order “Atas arahan pejabat Ketua Menteri”, as in the case of Datuk Ambiga.
I am then reminded that this right of refusal of entry is one of the items in the Eighteen Point Agreement that Sarawak asked of Malaya upon its entry into Malaysia.
But these days, when we observe migration patterns within Malaysia, there appears to be more Sarawakians living and working in West Malaysia rather than the other way around (the calls for the Election Commission to enable the thousands of Sarawakians in the peninsula to vote via postal voting is perhaps testament to this, although I concede that more research needs to be made on such migration patterns). Doesn’t this render such a policy rather obsolete?
I was working in Kuching over the course of the campaign period, specifically in the Satok constituency. There, even a cursory trip to the corner Burger Ramly stall gave me a very, very strong reminder of the richness of Sarawakian culture – the fact that I could not fully understand the Bahasa being spoken, and the fact that I was immediately identified as “Orang Semenanjung” truly made me feel an alien in my own country.
This made me confront the question of what made Malaysia the country that it is, and what did we really understand about this land ... if any? Are we just a conglomeration of disparate ethnic groupings, “united” under one flag, one national song, one national government?
If so, then the idea of Malaysia as held by “West Malaysians” versus that of Sabahans and Sarawakians might be distinctly divergent, wherein those who live on the peninsula consider the latter two entities as two of fourteen states (although historically speaking Malaysia is a federation of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak).
How then do we reconcile these differing views of our Malaysia – ideologically, historically, politically and practicably?
Then it became clear to me that we must cease to project an idea of Malaysia that is KL- or Klang Valley-centric. But how is this to be done?
To be honest, I don’t have a panacea, any cure-all that would re-balance perceptions and help us understand the realities of such different polities (fact: Sarawak is nearly as large as if not slightly larger than Peninsular Malaysia), and therefore build more meaningful relationships not only between state apparatuses but really between peoples.
Nonetheless, I would hazard a guess that some answers lie through visiting and working in these “other” Malaysias, to bring forth more voices and narratives from East Malaysia through publications and other media, and not to limit such endeavours only during political campaigning periods.
At the end of the day, we must be cognizant of the fact that any idea – Malaysia notwithstanding – cannot be supported by spirit or slogan alone; it needs to be succesfully acted out. And so, perhaps the results of the recently concluded polls might serve as a sign that new considerations for Malaysia and its relations with its individual parts need to be better thought through.
But as always, it remains to be seen if there will be any political will for real change.
Yet as always, it is ordinary Malaysians who will clamour, call and truly force a change. And so, now, Sarawakians, show us the way!