Two-thirds majority: Will Putrajaya have it to restore Sabah, Sarawak to equal partners?

Mahathir had earlier said the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition lacks the required two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for constitutional amendments that will restore equality to the two Borneo territories. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Mahathir had earlier said the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition lacks the required two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for constitutional amendments that will restore equality to the two Borneo territories. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — The prime minister’s promise to return equal partnership status to Sabah and Sarawak drew excitement from east Malaysians, despite his caveat.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said no time frame could be set as the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition lacks the required two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for constitutional amendments that will restore equality to the two Borneo territories.

Looking at PH’s numbers after the 14th general election, it has 97 MPs from peninsular Malaysia and 18 more from East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) — including two independent Sarawak MPs who later joined PKR. That adds up to 115, which already exceeds the simple majority figure of 112 in a 222-seat Dewan Rakyat.

But to achieve two-thirds majority, 148 is the magic number.

Even after adding in PH’s allies in Sabah — Parti Warisan Sabah ( eight MPs), Upko formerly of Barisan Nasional (one), PH-friendly PBRS also formerly from BN (one); PH will only have 125 MPs.

Going by the unique east Malaysian political scenario where there are strong public sentiments to regain eroded rights after Sabah and Sarawak’s status were downgraded from equal partners to states, it would be foolish for MPs there not to give their support.

In the words of Sabah Umno secretary Datuk Masidi Manjun, failure by any MP from Sabah and Sarawak to vote in favor of such constitutional changes would be tantamount to ”political suicide”.

So with the 125 MPs from PH and its east Malaysian allies, adding on 19 MPs from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (formerly Sarawak BN) and eight MPs from Gabungan Bersatu Sabah (formerly Sabah BN and STAR) and one independent MP (Datuk Seri Anifah Aman who just quit Umno today), the grand total would come up to 153.

This would exceed the required two-thirds majority by five MPs.

It would also make the idea of changing the Federal Constitution’s Article 1(2) back to its original wording — where Sabah and Sarawak were equal partners and not mere states in Malaysia — sound feasible.

But that of course is only the start, as a restored status does not necessarily immediately translate into restored rights. Some East Malaysian MPs have also said Putrajaya can still give effect to certain rights, such as revenue rights, without changing the Constitution.