In this webinar, Dr Anantha Raman Govindasamy traces the major political developments that occurred in East Malaysia from 2018 to the present, beginning with the advent of the Pakatan Harapan, its substitution by the Perikatan Nasional administration in February 2020, the Sabah state elections in September 2020, and concluding with the recent declaration of Emergency.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Friday, 26 February 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Dr Anantha Raman Govindasamy to deliver a webinar titled “From Pakatan Harapan to Perikatan Nasional in East Malaysia: A Missed Opportunity for Greater Autonomy?” Dr Anantha is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Promotion of Knowledge and Language Learning, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), and Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. His research publications focus on Malaysian and Southeast Asian politics.
Dr Anantha began his presentation with an overview of the history of Sabah and Sarawak, starting from British colonial rule until their incorporation into the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. He argued that the Barisan Nasional (BN) entrenched its presence in Sabah and Sarawak by cultivating patronage with the political elites in both states. BN component parties in East Malaysia were politically dependent on the BN federal government prior to the 2018 General Election (GE2018), while neglecting to bring about economic development to their states. Underdevelopment remains a salient issue in East Malaysia, while poverty is widespread particularly for Sabah.
Next, Dr Anantha provided a succinct description of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in East Malaysia. The PH opposition coalition allied with the Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan), and successfully wrestled control of the federal administration in GE2018. As several BN Sabah state assemblyman defected and pledged their support for PH, Warisan-PH became the Sabah state government. Dr Anantha argued the PH federal administration attempted to implement several reforms to improve the status of Sabah and Sarawak during their 22 months in power. Restoring the 1963 Malaysian Agreement (MA63) was an important priority for the administration. One of the most significant initiative was to amend Article 1(2) for Sabah and Sarawak to be equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia, but the bill failed to receive the required two-thirds majority threshold in parliament. Dr Anantha opined that the bill did not receive bipartisan support, with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) abstaining from the vote.
Dr Anantha subsequently described the perceived lacklustre efforts of the present Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration in following up with MA63. He argued that despite the establishment of a cabinet portfolio for Sabah and Sarawak Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department, the PN administration has not made much progress to improve the status of Sabah and Sarawak. In addition, the final report of the Cabinet Special Committee to review the implementation of MA63 has been classified under the Official Secrets Act.
In the question and answer session, participants raised questions pertaining to the upcoming Sarawak state election, Bersatu-UMNO relations in Sabah, and the rationale for GPS in abstaining from the vote on Article 1(2) amendment bill. The webinar attracted 55 participants from Singapore and abroad.