KUCHING, Sept 12 — Civil rights activist Peter John Jaban today said the rise of regional sentiments in Sarawak and Sabah is “best for the future” of Malaysia. 

He claimed that it will be an antidote to race-based politics and policies that have been practised since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s 22-year tenure as prime minister.

He alleged that the dominance of race-based politics and policies was systematically aimed to wipe out regional identity and, simultaneously, allowed Peninsular Malaysia to dominate the two Borneo states politically and culturally.

“The second is the extreme centering of power within Putrajaya and the Prime Minister’s Office, also implemented and strengthened during Dr Mahathir’s tenure,” he said in a statement to comment on a recent claim by Dr Mahathir in an interview with the Great People Television on Facebook Live, titled “Leadership Reflections and Perceptions with Dr Mahathir Mohamad”. 

“Both of these are indeed the basis behind calls for the restitution of Sarawak’s rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963,” said Jaban, who is the founder of Saya Anak Sarawak (SAS) civil movement.

He said Dr Mahathir’s indifference to the Borneo States had prompted former Chief Minister, the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem, in the past to ask how many times the former prime minister had visited Sarawak during his reign.

“This shows that he did not care much for Sarawak,” he said quoting Adenan, who died in 2017 while in office. 

He said Dr Mahathir’s past record had prompted Adenan to embark on a policy direction calling for more autonomy for Sarawak, which is still followed by the present state government under Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Openg till today.

He said during Dr Mahathir’s tenure, the New Economic Policy was strengthened, Internal Security Act was deployed to stifle freedom of speech, English was removed as the medium of instruction and race-based politics then took its hold.

“Dr Mahathir instructed us to ‘look east’, but he rarely did so. So why should he now lecture the Borneo States on how to feel and behave?

“The reality is that most Sarawakians are proud to be Malaysians before this. Many Sarawakians live and work on the peninsula, with an estimated 40,000 Ibans living in Johor alone,” he said.

He reminded Dr Mahathir that Sarawak’s wealth is based on its natural resources and not on policies implemented during his tenure as the prime minister.

Jaban also reminded the former minister of his administration’s failure to give due recognition to September 16 as a public holiday to commemorate the formation of Malaysia as Malaysia Day. 

He added only Sarawak and Sabah declared September 16 as Malaysia Day before 2010.

“Prior to that, it had always been eclipsed by and conflated with Merdeka Day in Malaya, the date that was always preferred in the national psyche and political agenda. 

“Since 2010, there has also been an annual parade of Malayan politicians telling Sarawak and Sabah that they are ‘better off’ being part of Malaysia and should celebrate national unity,” Jaban said.

Dr Mahathir, in the interview, had said he was disappointed with groups in Sarawak and Sabah who came with the slogans “Sarawak for Sarawakians” and “Sabah for Sabahans”.

He had said they should consider themselves as Malaysians first.