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Sarawak activist says constituent province to denote state better option compared to using region

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUCHING, Jan 16 — A Sarawak pro-autonomy advocate today called on Premier Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg to propose the term constituent province, instead of region, for Sarawak in his coming meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Peter John Jaban said it will reflect the political aspirations of the Sarawakians for greater autonomy.

He said the term constituent province, either in Malay, English or French and other international languages, will convey an appropriate status for Sarawak.

“It is used, for example, in the Province of Quebec in Canada or the Province of Aceh in Indonesia, both of which have autonomy over various matters including language, economy, taxation, education and even resource rights.

“Moreover, it is not a term currently in use within the Malaysian Constitution,” Jaban said when asked to respond to the on-going debate especially on social media on the proposal to change the status of Sarawak and Sabah from states to regions.

Abang Johari is due to meet Anwar this month in Kuching, to discuss, among others, issues relating to the implementation of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Abang Johari had said that he would raise with the prime minister on whether the region status has been gazetted or when it would be gazetted.

The region status for Sarawak and Sabah was raised by two former prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in the past, and recently by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Jaban, who is also the information chief of the Sarawak Association of People’s Aspiration (SAPA) civil society, said the term “region” has no defined political meaning internationally.

“It is a geographical term. Territory is even less appropriate as it suggests, in international terms, a subordinate relationship,” he said, asserting that in Malay, the term “wilayah” becomes problematic because of the way it has been applied under the Federal Constitution.

“Clearly neither Sabah nor Sarawak will accept the same description as that of Labuan or Putrajaya,” he said, insisting that both Sarawak and Sabah are constituent states of Malaysia.

“But we need a term to distinguish them from the Federated States of Malaya,” he said.

He called for a quick decision to be made.

“It must be made clear through legislation that this is not simply a geographical description but also a statement about our political and legal status in the nation.

“We need to settle on a term that represents our position as equal partners within Malaysia, both nationally and internationally,” he said.

Jaban also reminded AbangJohari that the need for autonomy is to further Sarawak’s own self-determination and progress and to fulfil the terms on which the founding fathers agreed to the formation of Malaysia.

“We have waited 60 years for proper recognition of our rights. The national unity government today does indeed have ‘a considerable legal and moral obligation’ towards us,” he said