East Malaysia’s Moment in the Sun with the Borneo Bloc

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Introduction

Malaysia is at a pivotal juncture, politically and socially. Amidst the tumultuous political climate particularly in the Peninsular Malaysia, a new force is rising in the East: the Borneo Bloc, an alliance that brings together Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) in Sabah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) in Sarawak.

This urgent call for regional unity is underscored by current political realities. The influence exerted by the alliance between Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) –viewed by some as incongruous – necessitates a strong Bornean presence to serve as a counterbalance.

This need is further magnified by the growing and increasingly unsettling influence of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) in the Peninsular Malaysia.

The Fading Halo of Pakatan Harapan

A scant week ago, Malaysia witnessed its own ‘Black Friday’. It was a day of disbelief – a day when promises of good governance were shattered, leaving in their wake an entire nation questioning its own systems. Although the implicated politicians chiefly belong to BN, the disquiet is palpable, given that PH shares federal responsibilities with them.

Discussing this matter openly is, for most, a line not to be crossed. But, as former minister Khairy Jamaluddin eloquently put it, ‘we were not born yesterday.’ Therefore, it seems prudent to leave the specifics undiscussed, permitting each citizen—endowed with both sight and hearing—to arrive at their own judgements concerning this disconcerting episode.

Other than that, the conduct of some MPs from both PH and BN – whether it be the issuance of threats to deploy police radio cars to apprehend online critics of specific ministers or the audacious declaration that their governmental status entitles them to act as they please – has been far from well-received by the public. We want our leaders to be responsible and professional after all.

Indeed, one might speculate that the current prime minister may have entered office with the noblest of intentions for the betterment of Malaysia. Yet, the question looms: Is he allowing this kitchen sinking exercise so early in his term in the hope that the electorates will forgive and forget by the time the 16th general election arrives? If that is the case, what assurance do we have that a second round of kitchen sinking will not happen again?

The Rising Shadow of Extremism: The Case of Perikatan Nasional

Amid the PH-BN ‘did they, didn’t they’ question of sweeping corruption under the rug, their political foe, PN has emerged as a burgeoning force, skilfully navigating the complexities of public sentiment. However, the means by which they have carved out their political space raises grave concerns about the future of our country.

Strategically appealing to religious and racial extremes, PN has managed to secure a formidable presence in the politics of Peninsular Malaysia. In the six state elections last month, not only they effortlessly retained control of Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, they also made notable inroads into Selangor and Penang.

While PN’s racial and religious rhetoric may find resonance in the Peninsula, it is a strategy fraught with danger, especially when extended to the ethnically diverse and pluralistic states of Sabah and Sarawak.

The spirit of unity, tolerance, and mutual respect that defines the states of Sabah and Sarawak is an anomaly within the wider context of Malaysian politics. It is an ecosystem that has been nurtured through years of effort and conscientious leadership. Any political party’s overt pandering to religious and racial extremes is an anathema to this intricate balance.

Such effort is viewed to be a threat like injecting venom into the veins of a cohesive society. This is not merely a theoretical concern but a tangible risk—one that could erode years of social progress, pit communities against one another, and rewrite the narrative of unity that has been the hallmark of Borneo’s diverse societies.

The Moral and Strategic Imperative of the Borneo Bloc

Robust Local Representation

For much of Malaysia’s political history, Sabah and Sarawak have languished as mere political outposts, their fates decided in the distant halls of Peninsular power. However, the emergence of the Borneo Bloc has already begun to alter this narrative. For instance, a recent initiative led by Borneo Bloc representatives successfully lobbied for a more equitable share of oil and gas revenues for East Malaysia. Furthermore, policies have been dictated by those far removed from our unique cultural and environmental landscapes. In contrast, the Borneo Bloc provides an unparalleled opportunity to elect representatives deeply rooted in local understanding and cultural sensibilities. With Borneo Bloc actively engaged in the governance of this federation, the era of monolithic, one-size-fits-all policy-making from Putrajaya could soon be supplanted by a more nuanced of the federal government with a more nuanced, locally-informed approach. This Borneo Bloc owes its allegiance solely to the electorates in Sabah and Sarawak, and not some political warlords in the peninsula.

A Grassroots Policy Framework

While previous political constructs have often paid mere lip service to regional needs, the Borneo Bloc represents a paradigm shift by grounding itself in the actual communities it serves. Far from being a symbolic figurehead, the Bloc embodies a robust policy framework that addresses an array of pressing issues, from indigenous land rights to the formulation of region-specific economic strategies.

Fostering Economic Autonomy

The exploitation of Sabah and Sarawak’s natural resources has historically functioned as a lopsided equation, one where the wealth generated seldom finds its way back to enrich the local communities from which it was extracted. The Borneo Bloc could redress this imbalance through equitable resource-sharing agreements that acknowledge the value of local contributions. By doing so, it empowers these regions to walk the path of economic self-sustainability, significantly reducing their dependence on the financial umbilical cords tied to Peninsular Malaysia.

A Shield Against External Ideological Invasion

In an age where extremism and polarising racial politics are pervading the socio-political landscape  of Peninsular Malaysia, the Borneo Bloc stands as a bulwark against such corrosive ideologies. It ensures that the distinct political ethos of Sabah and Sarawak remain unsullied and resilient in the face of divisive ideologies.

Nurturing a New Wave of Leadership

Detractors may dismiss the Borneo Bloc as a last bastion for political veterans resistant to relinquishing their hold on power. This perspective, however, is woefully narrow. The reality is far more dynamic. The coalition is a thriving hub of young, dynamic leaders, keenly attuned to the evolving challenges of modern governance. These individuals are not merely fledgling politicians; they are the vanguard of a new era of innovative, adaptable, and forward-thinking leadership.

A call for action

The Borneo Bloc should not be viewed simply as a coalition but rather as a revolutionary movement. It embodies a fervent demand for true autonomy, authentic representation, and comprehensive self-governance. As the voters of Sabah and Sarawak stand at a critical electoral junction, the way forward becomes increasingly evident. To secure a future that honours their unique cultural identities, guarantees their economic prosperity, and genuinely elevates them on the national stage, the Borneo Bloc is not merely an electoral choice. It is, unequivocally, a moral and strategic imperative for the people of Sabah and Sarawak.

Your voice counts; make it heard where it matters most. Stand for the Borneo Bloc.

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