Redesignate CM’s post in Sabah, S’wak as prime minister

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | Somehow, I feel vindicated. Following the initial backlash I received on my article “Are Sabahans, Sarawakians, only good as No 2?” published in Malaysiakini recently, I am glad that many of my fellow Sarawakians also share my views.

Initially, there were negative remarks such as “Don’t dream, Sarawak will always be No 2. Be contented”, “Do you have the numbers to become PM?”, and “Sorry, you are not even No 2”.

As a writer, I do not expect readers to agree with everything I wrote nor share my thoughts or sentiments on certain issues because only a fool will agree with you all the time. I do appreciate serious and sincere rebuttals.

There is one Malaysiakini reader in particular whom I wish to thank. He goes by the pen-name “Prudent”. His was the most logical and sensible reaction, one which has become the subject of this article.

Prudent commented: “If Sabah and Sarawak are re-designated as ‘territories’ and not merely the 12th and 13th state in Malaysia, then their chief ministers can be re-designated as ‘premiers’ – same title as Lee Kuan Yew when Singapore was part of Malaysia.

Certain devolution of powers to Sabah and Sarawak as per the Malaysia Agreement can be enacted. Of course, there is no question of Sabahans and Sarawakians being only good for No 2 as alleged. If Parliament so willed, any MP can be No 1, including any MP from Sabah and Sarawak.”

I agree wholeheartedly. I have not thought of that option. It’s definitely better than the so-called Pakatan Harapan (Harapan) promise of creating a second deputy prime minister’s post for Sabah and Sarawak if it wins the forthcoming 14th general election.

Being No 2 to No 2

Let me say this again. What is there to gloat about when you are a mere No 2 to the No 2? That is no giant step forward. It’s an insult to the people of Sabah and Sarawak.

A senior Sarawak DAP leader whom I met this week said that he did not agree with the creation of a second deputy prime minister’s post. When I mentioned the option of “the prime minister of Sarawak and Sabah”, he agreed that it was a better idea.

Yes, re-designate the post of chief minister to prime minister. Lest we forget, both the state BN and Harapan leaders have given a tacit understanding to revisit the Malaysia Agreement (MA63). So whichever party comes to power after GE14 should seriously consider this new option.

In the case of Sarawak, it was the late chief minister Adenan Satem who rightly pointed out in no uncertain terms that Sarawak agreed to join the new nation of Malaysia as a territory and not as the 13th state.

“Sarawak wants to be treated as an equal partner and it is only fair that the rights of Sarawak as stated in MA63 be given back because it is only just and fair to adhere to the terms of the agreement.” Adenan had gone on record in making that statement, the strongest and most vocal demand to come from a Sarawak BN leader thus far.

If the head of government of Sarawak or Sabah remains a lowly chief minister, then it’s the same rank as that of the chief minister of tiny Malacca and Penang.

The Singapore experience

One may ask whether the re-designation of the chief minister to prime minister will really make a difference. To answer that question, let us relook the early history of Malaysia and learn from Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew.

Why did Lee insist that he should be the prime minister of Singapore in 1963 even though Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra became the first prime minister of the newly-formed nation of Malaysia?

Because Lee was a visionary and not blind, unlike the leaders of Sarawak and Sabah (North Borneo) back then. Lee wanted to secure as much autonomy for his island state as possible and knew that unless he was on equal footing with Tunku, Singapore would easily be “swallowed” by the bigger and more powerful Malaya.

Today, 54 years later, all of Sarawak and Sabah will surely agree that Lee made the right decision by demanding that he should be prime minister of his island territory in 1963. Why, perhaps even the whole world today will salute Lee’s determination to go it alone when Tunku decided to expel Singapore from Malaysia in 1965.

Look at Singapore today and look at Sabah and Sarawak now. Some Sabahans and Sarawakians are probably wishing today that Tunku would also have expelled their Borneo territories back then.

But here we are – still stuck with Malaysia, so let’s make the most of it.

The Hong Kong experience

Perhaps, it is worth taking a look at Hong Kong as an example. The island state officially became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and it remained an autonomous territory after its handover by the British to China in 1997. Its head of government is known as the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

This is an example of a government, vested with all its autonomous powers, within a government that works.

But let us be wary too of the failures of power-sharing within a coalition. An example of a total flop was the co-prime minister set-up in Cambodia of Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen in 1992.

Ranariddh of the Funcinpec party became the first prime minister while Hun Sen of the Cambodians Peoples’ Party took the job as second prime minister. This co-prime minister set-up was probably the first of its kind in Asia, if not in the world. As expected, this uneasy, uncomfortable tie, only lasted five years until 1997.

But Malaysia is different, of course. Somehow, we are more blessed – we do not share the violent history of Cambodia. Power-sharing among coalition partners does work as evidenced by both the Alliance and BN coalitions over the past 60 years.

So, to BN or Harapan, after GE14 when the dust settles and when the beautiful rainbow can be seen clearly over the horizon, it may be prudent to let Sabah and Sarawak have their own prime ministers.

That is the first conciliatory step in letting the Borneons know that “hey, we in Malaya do not lord over you now; you are the master of your own destiny”.

In the case of my dear homeland Sarawak, we will still have the BN in power after GE14 as our next state elections are not due until 2021.

And “The Right Honourable Abang Johari Abang Openg, Prime Minister of Sarawak” does sound quite nice and authoritative too.

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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