KOTA KINABALU, April 10 — Expressing disappointment and frustration, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said Sabah missed the opportunity it had been waiting for so long when the Federal Constitution (amendment) Bill failed to go through in Parliament last night.
Stopping short of blaming anyone, Shafie said that the Bill to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution to revert Sabah and Sarawak’s status as equal signatories in the Malaysia Agreement was only the stepping stone to more changes and reinstatement of rights but failed even there.
“This is the first step after 55 years to get something done and we can’t do it. To reinstate what is in the Malaysia Agreement is not so difficult because it is just to legitimise what has been spelt out in 1963 and putting it back in 2019 Constitution. It is not so difficult,” he said.
He said that Sabah and Sarawak could have been well on their way to being one of three parties respectively in Malaysia instead of another state like Johor and Perak, but conceded that those who abstained last night’s vote had some valid reasons.
“Of course we have to listen to their opinion, some amendments here and there. But we are not saying ‘no more.’ The struggle still continues, if there is a need to amend, by all means, we will support it but this was a stepping stone for us, the way forward to get what Sabahans have been hoping for.
“We wanted it but now that it’s in Parliament, we didn’t take it. There are some things we might not agree, but if we wait for 50 years, there will be a lot more to consider,” he said, explaining that the federal government was finally supportive of efforts to reinstate the two states’ rights, and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had even made concessions to their requests during his winding-up speech in Parliament yesterday.
When asked whether he thought Sarawak was to blame for placing their politics above the Bill, Shafie said he did not want to speculate.
“I wouldn’t say that but of course they did vote in blocs. I get that... it’s ok, I don’t want to accuse my counterparts, we are working together with them.
“I will reach out to them how to make sure it can be done. There are issues that they submitted to the committee that I agreed with without question.
“I hope that we can get through it in the future. It will take another effort, another hurdle to make sure it is tabled in Parliament — it’s not easy getting that sort of numbers,” he said.
Shafie said that he hoped there would be another opportunity to table the Bill, and that it would be done within Dr Mahathir’s term.
“We have to wait until the Prime Minister’s Office determines a time and date to sit down again. I am hopeful it will be during my term.
“And the prime minister because he knows quite a lot, I was listening to him during the winding-up speech and when posed questions about 1957, he explained it thoroughly. He was an MP and it’s worthwhile having someone with that experience explain it.
“But anyhow it’s not the end of the road, we will continue what’s important — the effort to realise what is due and get rights for the state, not only the amendment but in the Constitution and also revenue,” he said.
“What really saddened me is that the Bill was there and we had our chance, but of course if you look into it, 138 voted for the Bill, and the rest abstained, meaning they didn’t reject, meaning they also didn’t vote for it,” he said.
The government last night failed in its first bid to secure the two-thirds support of the Dewan Rakyat for the historic amendment.
Some 59 MPs from the Opposition had abstained from voting after a seven-hour debate where Sarawak MPs had asked for the amendment to be postponed until existing issues are ironed out, with some suggesting that it be discussed in a special parliamentary select committee first.
Other MPs, however, called on them to put aside their political differences and vote in favour of the proposed amendment, bearing in mind the well-being of the Sabah and Sarawak residents.