Sabah and Sarawak in the 14th General Election 2018 (GE14): Local Factors and State Nationalism

James Chin


Many would argue that the main factors in Pakatan Harapan’s victory were the 1MDB scandal, anti-Najib and anti-UMNO sentiments, and Mahathir’s ability to penetrate the rural Malay constituencies so as to split the UMNO/PAS vote. In the East Malaysia states of Sabah and Sarawak, however, it was local factors and state nationalism that largely decided the outcome of GE14. In this article, I will argue that the rise of state nationalism means that the most potent political issue in contemporary East Malaysia is MA63 – or the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. MA63 gives Sabah and Sarawak autonomy in a wide range of areas. For the past half-century, the East Malaysia polity has felt that it has lost its autonomy in many areas stipulated in the MA63 agreement, due to the centralisation of bureaucratic powers by the federal government. This has created a strong sense of historical grievance among Sabahans and Sarawakians, especially the non-Muslim native communities. The MA63 issue combined with local factors such as the selection of candidates and internal party disputes as well as sabotage together better reflect the on-the-ground experience of GE14 in Sabah and Sarawak.

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