Time is ripe for leaders from Borneo to lead Malaysia

Recently, the Sarawak State Assembly amended its constitution to replace the designation of ‘chief minister’, with ‘premier’.

The word ‘premier’ is a French word meaning first minister, and is usually referred to as Prime Minister, in most countries.

But there have been instances, as in Australia, where provincial political heads of state are referred to as premier.

Why is there a need for this change in designation; is it just cosmetic, or a substantial upgrade of higher and larger responsibility in governance? It could also be an assertion of independence and autonomy, and to emphasise that Sarawak has its own mind.

How does elevating the position of chief minister to premier benefit the common Sarawakian in terms of opportunities and quality of life?

One would surmise that nothing substantial in the short term; the status quo would remain.

Perhaps, it may generate a feeling of pride, and a perception that their chief minister is a notch or two above the rest, and could even be on a par with the prime minister.

This assertion of autonomy could be the harbinger of claiming absolute dominion over its territories. In fact, such sentiments are already being displayed by the Parti Bumi Kenyalang Sarawak, which contested in the recent state election on a platform of seceding from the federation of Malaysia.

However, all its candidates lost, but it might yet gain traction in the future if the leaders continue to foment an adversarial stance against Peninsula Malaysia.

But for now, Sarawak premier, Tan Sri Abang Johari Openg (main image), has reiterated that such a move is not consonant with the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

It could have crossed his mind, and he may have weighed his options and the consequences of such a move.

It would result in problems that he would not be able to handle. Security would require an enormous injection of assets, and more importantly, the personnel for all the three branches of the armed forces, not to mention the police, and the maritime forces to counter internal and external threats.

Employment too, would pose a problem, as tens of thousands of Sarawakians are working, living, and studying in Peninsula Malaysia.

Thus, economic, social and educational imperatives would naturally dissuade any thoughts of secession.

Abang Johari is an astute politician, and if he successfully handles the issues plaguing his state, he will emerge as one of the few statesmen in Malaysia.

He knows that he needs to focus on alleviating poverty in Sarawak, which is conspicuous in the rural areas such as Baram, Bario, and Kalabakan, where there is a dire need for economic, educational and infrastructure developments.

He has to rectify the inequalities in wealth distribution as the wealth of Sarawak is concentrated in the hands of the few.

The matter of changing his designation to premier is not as pressing as addressing the issues affecting the daily lives of Sarawakians. The quality of leadership and governance is not reflected in the designation, but in the work output that is transparent, accountable, and that benefits the people, rather than the coterie of well-connected elites.

As an emerging statesman, Abang Johari needs to extricate himself from this myopia of provincialism and assume the mantle of a pan-Malaysian statesman.

If he can do that, he would not only have earned the designation of premier, but would have the necessary credentials of a prime minister.

Perhaps, it is time for a politician from Sabah or Sarawak to lead the country as prime minister.

Thus far, except for the four prime ministers since independence, the subsequent ones elected to this position have not lived up to the credentials of their predecessors.

There are political parties in the peninsula that are still condoning and justifying leaders who have been charged with, and sentenced for corruption. Quite a number of them use religion to serve their political agenda.

It is time that we shift the focus of national political leadership to Sabah and Sarawak and elect senior politicians from these two states to lead the country out of the current morass of economic fiasco, political turmoil, and racial and religious bigotry.

Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and Abang Johari are two senior East Malaysian politicians who fit the bill for the premiership.

Shafie Apdal is a capable, time-tested politician who took the right direction of moving out of the parochial Sabah enclave to the pan-Malaysian stage by expanding his party to Peninsula Malaysia.

This is a good move, not only for integration, but reflects a paradigm shift, from a provincial, to a national presence, discarding the provincial, and embracing the larger spectrum of national mentality.

Perhaps, by giving a chance to these two politicians, Malaysia can forge a new, and meaningful beginning.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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