Sarawak’s state parliament. Source: Wikimedia
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Kuching acknowledged Sarawak’s desire for more devolved powers from Kuala Lumpur after the Barisan Nasional (BN) victory in elections for the state assembly.
Acknowledging calls for “Sarawak for Sarawakians”, Najib promised to begin the next stage of negotiations between the Malaysian and state governments on Sarawak’s demands for the autonomy set out in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. BN won 72 of 82 seats in the state assembly and Chief Minister Adenan Satem, in power since February 2014, was sworn in for a second term.
“The victory we achieved shows voters’ confidence in Adenan Satem’s leadership as chief minister,” Najib said after the results. “The win also represents voters’ confidence in the strong partnership between the federal and state governments. This strong and enduring partnership will allow Barisan Nasional to fulfil our campaign promises.”
Najib said the talks would be based on the principle of Sarawak independence within Malaysia.
In the 1980s the idea fell into disuse after increasing centralisation in areas such as education, citizenship and religion.
Demands for further autonomy have grown louder in recent years with a small, outlawed secessionist movement developing under the radar.
Adenan has set out a new political path by reviving calls for a return of Sarawakian autonomy as set out in the Malaysia Agreement.
He has exercised the Borneo state’s powers on immigration by preventing politicians and activists in peninsula Malaysia from entering Sarawak, sparking anger among opposition parties who were unable to campaign ahead of the election.
Najib was a frequent presence in Malaysia’s largest state before the election and promised generous development funds. He needed a convincing victory for his coalition as he fends off a campaign led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad to unseat him. Najib loyalists are already saying the Sarawak victory is an endorsement of him, neglecting the popularity of Adenan.
The prime minister “was personally down on the ground and was well received by many voters in the places he visited”, Minister of Communications and Multimedia Salleh Said Keruak blogged. “In a way this proved the prime minister’s critics wrong regarding his popularity.”
Najib said Sarawak had been granted more administrative powers in the first phase of negotiations with the state government before the election.
“In the second stage, we will look at what legislation and legal provisions can be considered by the federal government based on the consensus between the federal and state governments,” he said.