PM: Sabah and Sarawak want autonomy, not independence

This article was written by Tracy Patrick for FMT News

Dr Mahathir says he is granting Sabah and Sarawak the autonomy they are seeking. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad believes Sabahans and Sarawakians will not ask for independence, even though there is no provision in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) that they cannot do so.

Speaking at a dinner event with Malaysians in New York on Friday, Mahathir said he was given the impression that Sabahans and Sarawakians only want autonomy over some matters.

“They never asked for independence but they asked to have autonomy over certain matters, so we are granting them that autonomy.

“In fact, when I made an announcement in Sabah that we will recognise the three states of Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya, people cheered heartily because that is what they want, but not independence,” he said.

Mahathir, who became a prime minister again for the second time, was asked whether he would support the Bornean states if they wished to assert their right to self-determination to achieve their independence.

This followed Mahathir’s promise to restore the special status of Sabah and Sarawak as territories that form the Federation of Malaysia.

“No. I do not support their independence but we told them that we will go back to the 1963 agreement in which the participants were Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

“It was a tripartite agreement that we wanted to form a federation. That was the agreement,” he said.

Historically, the agreement to form Malaysia was sealed by the British, as colonial masters of Sabah and Sarawak and involved a few leaders from both provinces who were handpicked by the British themselves.

‘Consider wishes of people’

According to International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation Asia coordinator Andrew Ambrose, the process failed to consider the wishes and voices of the people which could have been achieved through a proper referendum as was done in Singapore and Malaya.

Sabah and Sarawak, he said, are now left in the limbo because of this lack of democratic process and disregard to the principle of self-determination by the colonial powers and their successors.

For this reason, he said the Philippines still wants to claim Sabah.

“The people of Sabah and Sarawak have the right according to international law to self-determination.

“The New Malaysia must not repeat the previous government’s mistakes and must now carry out the due process.

“The people of Sabah and Sarawak can stand on their own feet now and thus they should be given the opportunity to move forward and decide their own future,” he said.

Ambrose believed the federal government has nothing to fear in allowing a proper referendum in both provinces, as shown by what happened in Scotland in 2014.

In the referendum, the Scottish voted not to be an independent country, preferring instead to stay with the United Kingdom.

“Now, after 55 years, the time is ripe for Sabahans and Sarawakians to have a similar referendum.

“This due process is important for Sabah and Sarawak to realise their potential and reconcile with their past in the context and challenges of today as self-determined indigenous people,” he said.