8:27am 16/09/2022
Redesign the Jalur Gemilang
By:Mohsin Abdullah

Sabah and Sarawak remain just “states” of Malaysia despite the amendments made to the Federal Constitution late last year – amendments meant to right the wrongs of the past and restore Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia – if looking at the Jalur Gemilang is anything to go by.

Take a look at the national flag and we can see Sabah and Sarawak still placed among the 11 states of the Peninsula.

A quick recap on the history of the flag, to my mind, is necessary to put context to this article.

Our national flag is based on the flag of the Federation of Malaya which achieved independence on August 31, 1957.

Following the formation of the Federation of Malaysia on September 16, 1963, the Malayan flag was redesigned or modified rather, to reflect and honor the new members of the nation.

Three additional stripes were added to the Malayan flag and the star was drawn to be 14-pointed to reflect the 11 Malayan states plus Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. And the design remained even after Singapore left Malaysia in 1965, meaning the magic number 14 was maintained although there were only 13 members in the federation.

But when Kuala Lumpur was declared a Federal Territory in 1974, the “usage” of the number 14 was “conveniently justified” as the additional stripes and the points in the star were appropriated to represent the new addition to the federation.

And when Labuan in 1984 and Putrajaya in 2001 became Federal Territories, the 14th stripe and point in the star came to be associated with the federal government in general. The Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya together became the 14th state of the federation.

In 1997 when Malaysians were invited to name the national flag, then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad picked the name “Jalur Gemilang” to “project the nation’s onward drive towards continuous growth and success.”

The Jalur Gemilang’s 14 alternating white and red stripes of equal width represent the equal status in the federation of the “13 member states” and the Federal Territories while the 14-pointed star represent unity among the entities.

In other words, the “13 member states” are Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak. Add that to the Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya) you have the magic figure “14” as portrayed on the national flag.

This means Sabah and Sarawak are lumped together with the 11 states of the Peninsula and the Federal Territories.

This has never sat well among Sabahans and Sarawakians!

We also know (if we don’t, then it’s time we know) our brothers and sisters in Sabah and Sarawak have always felt annoyed (and angry even) by the “notion” among Orang Malaya (the name or should it be “moniker” they give to Peninsular Malaysians) young and the not so young, that Sabah and Sarawak “joined” Malaysia in 1963.

That’s a big NO. The right word is “merge” not “join.” Sabah and Sarawak merged with Malaya and Singapore to form Malaysia.

Sabah (then known as North Borneo) and Sarawak were British colonies. When both gained self government status, or autonomy if you like (Sabah on August 31, 1963 and Sarawak on July 22 the same year), they became sovereign nations.

And it was as “sovereign nations” that they entered the merger to form Malaysia.

But with the formation of Malaysia, both became “states” in the Federation of Malaysia (as reflected in the Jalur Gemilang till this day) resulting in some (OK many) quarters in Sabah and Sarawak voicing “unhappiness,” to put it mildly, over what they see as being “downgraded from a nation to just another state.”

It was as “sovereign nations” that Sabah and Sarawak entered the merger in 1963 to form Malaysia.

Now that’s just one of the wrongs the Federal Constitution amendments passed unanimously by Parliament on December 14, 2021 sought to make right.

But the wrong is still there if what is reflected in the national flag is taken into consideration.

Is using the flag (to put across the message) petty? Trivial? Definitely not. I would say it’s symbolic, because what you see on the flag is reflecting or symbolizing the state affairs as far as giving Sabah and Sarawak equal partner status is concerned.

The Constitution amendments has been hailed as something to elevate the status of Sabah and Sarawak. Yes, since the amendments the government has classified Sabah and Sarawak as Borneo states.

But as rightly pointed out by Sabah-born political analyst Dr Oh Ei Sun: “The amendment actually did not give special position to Sabah and Sarawak. It simply re-characterized Sabah and Sarawak as Borneo states. But ultimately still states.”

However, as far back as December 2021, almost as soon as the Constitution amendments were passed, several Borneo watchers opined that Sabah and Sarawak needed to bring a motion in their respective State Legislative Assemblies to determine whether to continue as states or change to “regions.”

In short, the onus is on Sabah and Sarawak politicians to act.

Blaming the Peninsula-controlled federal government is not good enough although at times I must say “justified.” And I admit politicians in Sabah and Sarawak have been championing the Malaysia Agreement or MA63 cause.

However in Sabah, the political situation is “messy and chaotic.” Perhaps they are “ too busy focusing” on the mess, yet I am sure they, like their counterparts in Sarawak, understand how important (for want of a better word) they are in deciding who rules Putrajaya, as proven during the Sheraton Move and when the Perikatan Nasional administration was toppled.

Sarawak seems to have understood better.

The ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak or GPS is showing or taking “statehood” (or “nationhood” perhaps) firmly and sternly in making decisions on their own regardless of what or how Putrajaya feels. Not all the time of course, but enough to show steel.

Critics, nevertheless, say there were many instances when politicians form the Borneo states pulled off baffling acts which at times did not do good to Borneo and its people.

Still we have the Constitution amendments which, according to Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, minister in charge of parliamentary affairs and law, would “ truly give recognition the demands and special status of Sabah and Sarawak.” This he said on December 15, 2021.

So what has been done since the amendments were passed? I asked political analyst Oh recently and this was the Sabahan’s response: “Nowadays I am almost numbed by the constant frustration on hope of restoring the rights and privileges of Sabah and Sarawak.” But he said, “We are still politely waiting.”

Not too optimistic, wouldn’t you say? However, there are folks who say although the amendments have not made the Borneo states equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia. it is “work in progress.”

I wonder if the “work in progress” includes the redesigning of the Jalur Gemilang to show that Sabah and Sarawak are not “states” of the same footing with the 11 Peninsular states and the Federal Territories.

If indeed redesigning is on the cards, it must not be mere cosmetics!

Obviously, there is lot of work to be done. Hopefully the work gets done.

Selamat Hari Malaysia everybody!

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)


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