OUTSPOKEN: I am not married but it does not take marriage to understand this simple fact: if your spouse asks for divorce, then there must be something wrong with the marriage. No one will want to tear apart a working and happy union.
The same can be said for political unions. If a region asks for separation from the rest of the country, then that region must be unhappy. If a political union works for all its member regions, there will be no market for separatism.
How do we deal with separatism then? There are two ways as in marriage: you silence your disgruntled partner with domestic violence, or, you seek reconciliation so everyone can stay happily in the union.
To me, the crackdown of the so-called Sarawak and Sabah separatists is akin to domestic violence. The latest unfortunately happened this week with nine suspects being nabbed for handing out an allegedly seditious pamphlets and mounting a signature campaign.
What is the crime here? The first question we need to ask is: is violence being planned, advocated or at least contemplated as the mean to achieve the goal of separatism? If not, what crime did they commit then?
Seriously, intention to change the status quo should not be criminalised when violence is not employed to impose the change on others.
In other words, status quo must be able to withstand peaceful challenge. Status quo should be embraced because it is good, not because it is protected by state violence – what police arrest essentially is.
Let’s face it. What is the supposed status quo? Some like to talk about the 20/18 Point Agreement which signs away Sabah and Sarawak the right to secede (point 7).
But if the 20-point Agreement is our reference point, then what about Point 1 – “While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia, there should be no State religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo”?
What kind of contract we are talking here if only some points are upheld but not others?
Come on, altering the political and legal system is as much a change as altering international borders. If separatism of Sabah and Sarawak should be criminalised, what about the advocacy to turn Malaysia into a full-fledged Islamic state?
I support neither separatism of Sabah and Sarawak nor the establishment of an Islamic State in Malaysia because I believe in the secular and democratic federation envisioned in the Project Malaysia.
I support neither of these but I think the right to advocate these ideas must be defended when they are not advocating or threatening violence, whether it is riot or revolution.
I believe Malaysia must not tolerate the use of violence as a political means. All parties and groups must commit themselves to peaceful means. They must believe in counting heads – rather than chopping heads – as the only way how political decisions are made.
Because I believe that Malaysia should stand for democracy, freedom, equality, secularism and ultimately love of fraternity. I believe Malaysia can withstand the challenges of both Bornean separatism and theocracy in the market place of ideas.
If we are truthful to the original promise of Malaysia in 1963, if most Sabahans and Sarawakians do not feel that they are de facto colonies of Malaya, if the socio-economic development of Sabah and Sarawak is commensurate with their abundance of natural resources in the states, why should we fear any advocacy of separatism?
Sabah and Sarawak should stay in Malaysia because the people in these two states are happy and proud to be Malaysians, that no advocacy of separatism can appeal to them.
If Sabahans and Sarawakians are Malaysians only because they fear jail, then Malaysia has lost her moral high ground for existence. Then the cursing words of Indonesian president Sukarno that the only change that would come through with the formation of Malaysia is but “the transfer of Colonial Office from London to Kuala Lumpur” would have ring true.
Vindicating Suharto would be tragic. But this is exactly what the police is doing by arresting nine Malaysians for leafleting and collecting signatures. These nine persons believe they have lost their freedom by being Malaysians – haven’t the police just prove their point?
Are the police “separatists in closet” secretly supporting “Sabah dan Sarawak keluar Malaysia” (SKMM)?
If not, why should the police suppress Malaysians’ constitutional freedom of peaceful expression? Why should they think that Malaysia is so fragile that all her achievements in 52 years cannot even beat a leaflet and a signature collection form?
How can the police have so little confidence in the popularity and legitimacy of this great country called Malaysia?
The police should immediately release the nine detained persons and stop all harassment of the separatists or Borneo nationalists.
Malaysia can only be strengthened with love, not fear. Terrifying and silencing the Sabahans and Sarawakians into accepting Malaysia will only be counter-productive.
All patriotic Malaysians, let us all stand up for the freedom of the Sabah 9. Not because we support their cause, but exactly to show that they are free citizens, not colonised subjects, in Malaysia, that when the authorities violate their rights, fellow citizens will stand up for them despite we disagree with their call for divorce.
I oppose divorce but I oppose even more domestic violence. Defending my Sabahan brothers and sisters is exactly what I do to make the marriage work.
So, to the police and the Home Ministry, don’t even try to accuse me of supporting separatism and jail me under Sedition Act, unless you want to tell the world that for the Najib Government, domestic violence is the key to keep a marriage!
Dr Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist at Penang Institute. Having seen enough of dramas and fiascos, he believes the most relevant question to ask in Malaysian politics may not be “why”, but “so how?”
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