KOTA KINABALU, Sept 16 — In his first address to Sabahans since becoming prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Putrajaya is committed to returning the two east Malaysian states to their rightful status as one of four equal partners in the federation.
Dr Mahathir acknowledged that when Malaysia was formed on this date 55 years ago, Sabah and Sarawak joined forces with Malaya and Singapore as four equal partners of the same status under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
“The following years saw Singapore leave shortly after, and Sabah and Sarawak saw its status slip from equal partner to one of the 13 states in Malaysia.
“The PH (Pakatan Harapan) government under New Malaysia has taken note of this and will return the rightful status to Sabah and Sarawak as part of its review of the MA63,” he said in his speech during the Malaysia Day celebration here to thunderous applause.
Dr Mahathir said that the restoration of the status of the two states to their original standing in MA63 was a solid foundation to forge closer ties between Sabah, Sarawak, and peninsular Malaysia.
Sabahans have been pushing for recognition of the state’s status as one of three equal partners in the formation of Malaysia, instead of just one of 13 states.
The Federal Constitution was amended in 1976 to downgrade Sabah and Sarawak to the 12th and 13th states in Malaysia.
In his speech, Dr Mahathir also said that Sabah and Sarawak needed special attention because there were many poverty-stricken districts without basic necessities, and the government will not neglect its responsibility and find a way to develop the infrastructure that is needed.
“The review of MA63 will almost certainly give rise to the need to review some of our current practices.
“But our hope is that whatever review is done, it will be in the spirit of kinship, mutual respect and tolerance. Without it, our hopes to unite as one country and one nation will not last long,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said that the journey under Malaysia has not always been smooth and there were times when its people lost direction.
“The important thing is we pick ourselves up and get back on track,” he said.
Earlier, Dr Mahathir, clad in a red batik shirt, said that he had never seen such a big gathering in Sabah in all his visits here.
“It is a special Malaysia Day because it is led by a federal government from different political parties,” he said.
Malaysia Day was celebrated in the presence of many federal and state ministers at the historic Padang Merdeka.
The prime minister is in the state capital until tomorrow. This is also the first time Dr Mahathir has been here for Malaysia Day since it was declared a nationwide celebration eight years ago.