Sarawakians from all walks from life just celebrated their July 22 Independence Day, ironically for only the second time since 1963; it will be the turn of the peninsula and Sabah on August 31, followed by Malaysia Day on September 16. In previous years, the emphasis was only on August 31, while September 16 has only been observed for the last two years, 50 years after Sabah and Sarawak along with Singapore came together in 1963 in a Federation.
Before 2013, the police in Sabah and Sarawak would arrest anyone who observed September 16 and shoo away speakers at any public gathering on the occasion.
The Sarawak Government was forced to acknowledge July 22, over the hostility of Putrajaya, after activists demanded that it state in no uncertain terms when their homeland became independent from British rule. They warned that they would not accept the official line in school text books that "Sabah and Sarawak achieved independence through Malaysia on August 31".
Not surprisingly, the perception in Borneo is that the new generation of leaders in Putrajaya knows very little about 1963.
The past has caught up with us in the present to haunt our future.
So, when matters are raised on Sabah and Sarawak rights, which activists in Borneo are really familiar with as only they could be as people on "the receiving end", so to speak, the Federal Government gets really disoriented. They don't know how to respond and simply lash out at all and sundry.
The Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, for one, demanded to know on the eve of July 22 whether the Sarawak4Sarawakians (S4S) movement was working towards the secession of the state from the Federation. He warned that the Sedition Act would be invoked against S4S activists. In response, S4S revised its slogan to the even more controversial "We are Sarawakians", for next year's celebration of July 22, with no acknowledgement that they were Malaysians at the same time.
Matters are not made any easier either by any number of sycophants in Sabah and Sarawak coming unasked, from time to time, to the rescue of Putrajaya in Borneo, albeit for their own self-serving reasons.
When the arguments of those ranged against Sabah and Sarawak are demolished, they really don't know what else to do. So, they end up thinking: "What's wrong with these people? Why are they suddenly so unhappy about everything?"
The best analogy that comes to mind is that of a long-suffering housewife, taken for granted all these years, suddenly deciding one day that enough is enough, has nothing but complaints about the husband day and night, about her slaving away at home, unappreciated. She wants out because there must be more to life than this, a life of slavery and drudgery. She wants the husband to set her free. "If you really love me, let me go," is her plea.
In the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the reaction of the man in the street is that Sabah and Sarawak are unhappy with Malaysia (they see Malaya as Malaysia and they are right) and can't understand "why are these people, so far away, with us, when they can be on their own?"
Such views are particularly voiced among non-Malays who tend to be more outspoken on the relationship across both sides of the South China Sea. Malays are even more confused and tend to hold their peace on the issue as they cannot fathom how it concerns them immediately or affects them. They can't afford the luxury of going beyond immediate bread-and-butter issues which are also the main pre-occupation of the others in the peninsula as well, including the media.
The media in the peninsula only takes notice of Sabah and Sarawak when matters involving their relationship with the Federal Government in particular are raised and turns acrimonious. Otherwise, they are not interested in covering Sabah and Sarawak. Kinabalu and Lahad Datu were seen as international issues.
It's important to educate the media in the peninsula on Sabah and Sarawak and get them to cover the two states. That's where the future of Malaysia (the peninsula) will be determined within less than 15 years. The signs are already there in Sarawak with the state government itself leading the way. The media can help make a difference for the better. This can only happen if activists in Sabah and Sarawak don't get into the nitty-gritty details. The media gets lost here.
Companies in the peninsula, and certain politicians, only see Sabah and Sarawak in terms of their bottomline and how it affects their individual pockets.
In Sarawak in particular, even more so than in Sabah, not a day has passed since 1963 among the people, without them waking up and asking themselves the question: "How did we get into this situation? Why are we with Malaya on the other side of this big sea? They are so far away, even further than the moon, at least the moon is something that we can see every night! Why can't we be on our own?"
The way forward in the view of some people like Adenan Satem in Sarawak is full autonomy.
The Federal Government, in principle, as stated by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak previously, agrees that Sabah and Sarawak should have more powers. He sees this as handing over the responsibility for Federal Departments in Sabah and Sarawak to locals and/or the Sabah and Sarawak Governments. As a rule of thumb, he thinks "what they can do, let them do".
He draws the line when it comes to the oil and gas resources of Sabah and Sarawak. For the people in Borneo, this issue is non-negotiable. Either Petronas has to play ball or leave the region.
He also belabours in the delusion that Sabah and Sarawak "belong to Malaysia (Malaya) forever". Patently, this is not reality, since it has no historical, legal, constitutional and political basis. Already, the Federal Government has been in non-compliance on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), and thereby compromised its legitimacy in Borneo.
Ironically, despite Najib's myriad other problems in the peninsula, more than any other Prime Minister, he has been willing to wrestle with the problem of Malaysia being in Sabah and Sarawak, and not extend his usual buat tak tahu (pretend not to know) mode of administration in the peninsula to Borneo as well. He has probably realised which side his bread his buttered.
The issue is simple: the people in Sabah and Sarawak want Malaysia to get out of the way. They want to be masters of their destiny. They no longer can accept Malaysia telling them what to do, or what not to do, in their homelands.
Patently, there's a need to focus on the relationship between Sabah and Sarawak on the one hand with the peninsula generally and on the other hand with the Federal Government.
The crux of the problem is three-fold: given the non-compliance on MA63, Malaysia has no legitimacy in Borneo and besides has been party to illegalities, in Sabah in particular. The RCI Report on Illegals refers.
Secondly, colonialism and/or internal colonisation has been correctly identified in international law as a criminal enterprise designed and driven by a desire to accumulate capital at the expense of its victims by criminally exploiting them.
Finally, all politics must be about the restructuring of political power; and the restructuring of resources.
Sabah and Sarawak must have power over themselves and control over their resources.
The only way that the Federal Government can get the people of Sabah and Sarawak immediately on its side is by helping them deal with the local elite who are seen at the moment as simply squatting on them. Given this situation, it's not defensible, no longer tenable or sustainable in going forward, for the local elite to be seen as proxies, stooges and rogue elements of the Federal Government, and patently working against the interests of the people.