TAN Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the former Sabah chief minister and current deputy chief minister, has won rightful praise and tribute in Kota Kinabalu from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for speaking out unambiguously as a “true Malaysian patriot”.
Participants performing at the Malaysia Day celebration in Kota Kinabalu. Calling for secession in any country is a treasonous act.
At the 29th Congress of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) over the weekend, Pairin, who is the party’s founding president, had come out with fighting words about keeping Sabah in Malaysia.
The need for such an assertion, coming personally from Pairin, has become unavoidable, given that his brother and longtime political thorn on his side, Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, had been making the rounds, whipping up anti-Malaysia sentiments.
The younger Kitingan brother had been doing his utmost in recent years, not just peddling a certain sense of political grievance and, by turns, an increasingly shrill tone of Sabah exclusiveness, and, across the state border into Sarawak, a brand of Borneo nationalism that seems to hark back to a concept bandied about and eventually rejected in an earlier, more politically tumultuous era before Malaysia came into being more than 50 years ago.
At a time of perceived political ferment and distraction on the Malaysian mainland, Jeffrey had obviously calculated that the moment was, perhaps, rather opportune for some revisionist political adventurism.
Upping the political ante now after his political campaigns had initially created some buzz, but always seem to eventually fizzle out for one reason or another, Jeffrey and his cohort betrayed, perhaps, a certain, if only logical, desperation.
That the federal authorities now seem to be coming down like a tonne of bricks on those who deigned to take Sabah and Sarawak out of the federation should come as no surprise. If these elements had felt that they could create any semblance of a civil dialogue on the very idea itself, they are, of course, badly mistaken.
Countries, without exception, come down harshly on citizens who commit treasonous acts, and those seeking to dismember one’s own country rank up there at the top of any country’s list of such acts. The surprise has been how very seemingly indulgent Putrajaya had been towards such elements. Until now, that is.
It is obviously one thing to campaign for a review of the terms of Sabah or Sarawak’s entry into the Malaysian Federation. It is quite something else altogether to have such a campaign morph into one to take either or both states out of federation.
To be sure, there have been recent examples of regions seeking to constitutionally break free of larger unions. Quebec in Canada and Scotland in the United Kingdom come readily to mind. After two failed referenda in Quebec’s case, Canada saw it fit to tighten the rules to make another such exercise more remote.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has had his detractors questioning the wisdom of his agreeing to the recent Scottish referendum, which, although unsuccessful, was nevertheless hugely divisive for even a democracy as mature as Britain’s.
Spain, meanwhile, had ruled out point-blank any moves by any of its constituent regions to go its own way.
Malaysia is leaving little doubt that it is taking Spain’s route on such matters. There is growing international resistance anyway — as Scotland’s vote on independence had highlighted — for greater international political fragmentation at a time when entire multinational regions are trying to consolidate and integrate economically.
Any campaign in Sabah or Sarawak for so-called self-determination is likely to be met with bemusement at best by the international community, especially if such a campaign did not first pass muster with a Malaysian government enjoying strong international support.
With Pairin’s latest declaration, the “battle” is now joined. His political career and PBS’ history are synonymous with asserting Sabah’s rights in the Malaysian Federation.
There is always room for greater debate on how best to create a better Malaysian Federation, and a Federal Government more eager than ever to listen to the grouses from voters in Sabah and Sarawak appears to be all ears.
But, no self-respecting national government will countenance political blackmail by any quarter brandishing a gun, threatening the nation’s very integrity.
The vast majority of Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak are loyal, law-abiding citizens of a nation that they helped create. Their pride in being Malaysians is beyond question. If anything, they only want to be taken more seriously as true and equal Malaysians, in every sense. They will need to tell off the noisy fringe that seeks to abuse such patriotic aspirations by crossing a dangerous, unconstitutional line.