The news that Sarawak government’s claim for one-third of the seats in the House of Representatives is still at the discussion stage and that it would take two to three years for a resolution comes as no surprise to the Rise of Social Efforts (Rose).
After all changes in the composition of the House of Representatives in the federal legislature would mean a constitutional amendment to Article 46 of the Federal Constitution, and other states would certainly want to have a say on the number of members of Parliament as well.
Fadillah Yusof is of the view that the “one-third parliamentary seat allocation for Sabah and Sarawak was important as it would not allow the peninsula to amend the Constitution that may eliminate the rights of the two states as enshrined in MA63 [Malaysia Agreement 1963].”
We therefore surmise that for Fadillah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, the endgame of increasing Sabah and Sarawak’s parliamentary seat allocations is for constitutional safeguards for both states.
Some uncomfortable assumptions underpin this demand, namely:
- that the more MPs Sarawak has in Parliament, the better our interests will be protected
- that all Sabah and Sarawak MPs (in government and in opposition) will vote the same way on all parliamentary bills
- that all MPs from all Malayan states will vote the same way when it comes to making amendments in the Constitution affecting Sabah and Sarawak rights
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These assumptions somehow have not been addressed by GPS in their demands for more seats. They fail to inform that constitutional safeguards were built into the founding documents of Malaysia starting from the Inter-Governmental Committee Report, the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and later in Part XIIA and in particular Article 161E, which contain the provisions of “Safeguards for constitutional position of states of Sabah and Sarawak”.
In other words, does having more MPs mean better policies made and basic needs met for the people of Sabah and Sarawak? What would make Sarawakian voices or interests heard and addressed would be MPs who truly play their role as lawmakers whether they are in the front bench (ministers in the ‘unity government’) or as members of the opposition. We hope to see policies that are effective and also sensitive to the needs of all who reside in Sarawak.
We are of the view that this demand for one-third of the seats has no historical or legal basis or support. There is nothing in MA63 that guarantees Borneo states one-third of representation. The 1962 IGC Report that led to MA63 did guarantee 25% of the seatss for Sarawak and Sabah in relation to the total seats in House of Representative but only for seven years after the formation of Malaysia. And that period expired in 1970! There were no further provisions for the subsequent years, and we will have to fall back to general provisions based on the population of the electorates.
Furthermore, in terms of representation in Parliament, Sabah and Sarawak with 25% of the seats are currently over-represented as our total electorate is only one-sixth (16-17%) of the total Malaysian electorate. This means that we are already not following the principle of one person, one vote, one value.
As an example, the biggest parliamentary seat, Bangi has about 300,000 voters, the smallest seat Igan in Sarawak has about 28,000 voters. Each are represented by one member of Parliament. If Sabah and Sarawak seats are increased to 35%, the over-representation would become greater. It would not augur well for the upholding of the democratic principle of equality.
For the above reasons, we support the recommendation for the Senate or Upper House of Parliament to be reformed to include elected members so that they will have real veto powers. That way Sabah and Sarawak rights and interests can be protected by these senators when there is a need to exercise veto powers.
Sarawak state is due for a constituency boundary redrawing exercise under the requirements of the Constitution, as the last one was carried out eight years ago in 2015. Groups of voters of any affected constituencies are empowered under the 13th Schedule to make objections to the recommendations proposed by the Election Commission on the boundaries of their constituency. The redrawing of boundaries was preceded by an increase in the number of state assembly members in the state legislature in the last exercise.
Needless to say it is therefore more worrying that Fadillah also revealed a request by Sarawak for administrative autonomy over health and education is also at the discussion stage. However he did not elaborate further on the reasons why. Many local Sarawakian leaders and politicians had been calling for such health and education autonomy prior to the state elections. – Rose