No two-thirds majority for Bill to make Sabah, Sarawak equal partners

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KUALA LUMPUR (April 9): The Federal Government has failed to get the nod from the Dewan Rakyat for the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, which sought to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Out of 197 MPs who attended the Dewan Rakyat, 138 MPs voted for the Bill, while none voted against.

However, another 59 abstained from voting for the Bill which requires a two-thirds majority or the agreement of 148 MPs to pass under Article 159 of the Federal Constitution.

This followed a separate failed motion by Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (Gabungan Parti Sarawak-Santubong) for the Bill to be submitted to a special committee of Parliament for a review. The motion received 60 votes for and 136 votes against, while one MP abstained.

The motion was tabled amid calls for a select committee which would allow MPs from other States to participate in the discussion. Among other reasons put forward were that the Cabinet steering committee on MA63 is still at work.

Article 1(2) was amended in 1976 to put all Malaysian States on an equal footing within the Federation.

The initial Bill tabled on April 4 this year sought to group Sabah and Sarawak into category (b) while the rest of the Malaysian States would be in category (a).

The latest amendment aimed to provide an extension to the original wording in 1963 where group (a) was described as the States of Malaya whereas group (b) was described as the Borneo States.

Earlier when tabling the Bill for its second reading, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that the amendment “is the first step in realising the wishes of the people of Sabah and Sarawak in line with MA63”.

“The new Malaysia and the Pakatan Harapan government are aware of this and will restore the status of equal partners to Sabah and Sarawak. This is part of the process that will be implemented after the MA63 review is completed. This is the first step in the implementation of this matter,” said Dr Mahathir.

Accordingly, Dr Mahathir said the amendment will exclude a sentence: “This amendment does not, in any way alter the functions of the Federal and State Governments under the concept of federalism” which was proposed in the Bill previously.

The Bill was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong on April 4.

Touching on the rights of the people of other States following the amendment to the Constitution, the Prime Minister gave the assurance that their rights were guaranteed under the Constitution.

However, he also recalled that the MA63 negotiation involved three entities namely Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

“First we have to recognise the three entities as having the legal rights to negotiate on behalf of themselves,” he told reporters outside the Dewan Rakyat.

“From then on, they can negotiate if they have some unhappiness about some provisions,” he added, pointing to matters such as the issue of oil royalty to the two East Malaysian States.