KOTA KINABALU, April 9 — Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Hajiji Noor said the rumoured reclassification of the Borneo states to “regions” on par with the peninsula would be a welcome step towards the restoration of their standing in the Federation of Malaysia.
Commenting on rumours that Putrajaya would move to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s status that was previously reduced to that of states, Hajiji said Malaysia’s founding fathers envisioned a country where the two Borneo regions and Peninsular Malaysia were equal partners in all matters.
“Maybe that is among what is needed by the people in Sabah and Sarawak, to be a region on its own again, not just be considered one of the states in Malaysia. That is most welcome and to me, is a good way to unite Malaysians,” said Hajiji.
Previously, Hajiji’s Sarawakian counterpart, Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg, revealed that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has agreed to review Article 160 of the Federal Constitution and realign this with the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
Muhyiddin confirmed this later but said he would need a strong mandate to do so.
While Hajiji was optimistic, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan urged against overexcitement before the full details were revealed.
“I don’t know where it came from but as long as there is no order from the Prime Minister’s Department on this yet, we cannot simply change a term, we have to wait,” Jeffrey said.
“But just because it is a region does not mean it is of higher status. Some interpretations put Labuan as a federal territory but Sabah higher than that. Sabah should be higher than the states of Peninsular Malaysia, if you look at it during the formation of Malaysia.”
He said that rightly, Sabah and Sarawak should be on par with the entirety of the Malaysian peninsula and not be just one of the 13 states and federal territories to make up the country.
“Maybe in future, we will only refer to Sabah and Sarawak as it is without adding ‘states’ to it and then we will be seen and acknowledged as equals with peninsula Malaysia as three individual entities,” he said.
Rumours of the reclassification grew after a purported memo from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) directing that Sabah and Sarawak should no longer be referred to as “states” was leaked online.
Finas is an agency under the Multimedia and Communications Ministry.
Sabah and Sarawak had been considered regions equal to the peninsula until a constitutional amendment in 1976 listed the two as among the 13 states of the federation.