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Leaders of the United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) said Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi should be prepared for a full renegotiation of the federal set-up for Malaysia so that Sabah and Sarawak can gain more autonomy.
They said this in response to Zahid's call to push for the amendment of the Federal Constitution to strengthen syariah law at the Umno general assembly yesterday.
"We wish to reiterate that not only was the Federation of Malaya established as a secular federation where Islam as the 'religion of the federation' plays only ceremonial roles, but more importantly, Sabah and Sarawak, which have never been part of the ‘Negeri-negeri Melayu’ proudly embrace their diverse ethnic and religious heritage.
"Malaysia is a secular federation, and no party should mistake Malaysia as an expansion of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.
"Umno must remember that Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a merger of four countries - the independent Federation of Malaya (a former British protectorate) and three former British colonies, namely, North Borneo (later known as Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore," Upko president Wilfred Madius Tangau, deputy president Donald Mojuntin and vice-president Ewon Benedict said in a joint statement today.
They said that the commitment to a secular and liberal society is reflected in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and enshrined in the Federal Constitution, which all Malaysian parliamentarians have sworn to uphold.
"For Sabahan natives, the social contract of becoming Malaysians is two-way traffic – loyalty for Malaysia is premised upon the guarantee of religious freedom.
"Constitutional changes involving the fundamental character of the Federation of Malaysia must be a package deal, and the social contract cannot be changed in a lopsided way.
"If Malaya wants to be more syariah-governed, then Sabah and Sarawak must be autonomous," the leaders said.
Wilfred is Tuaran MP, Donald serves in the Dewan Negara, and Ewon is Kadamaian assemblyperson.
On March 10, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that the government erred in issuing the 1986 ban on the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims.
The court allowed the legal challenge by Melanau Christian Jill Ireland.
In the long-running saga, Ireland initially instituted an action for the return of Malay-language Christian CDs and religious books seized by Customs officers at the Kuala Lumpur Low-Cost Terminal (LCCT), Sepang, in 2008.
Putrajaya has since appealed the ruling, and Zahid's pledge yesterday was also presented as a reaction to the court decision.
"Had the forefathers and foremothers of Sabah and Sarawak – Christians, Muslims, Animists, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Sikhs, followers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists – been told that their countries would become part of an Islamic federation where personal sins would be slapped with heavy syariah punishments, they would have outright rejected the formation of Malaysia.