Asymmetric Federalism and Protection of Indigenous Peoples: The Case of Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Federalism


In Malaysia, federalism is not in general designed to deal with the problem of ethnic differences. Sabah and Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, are, however, exceptions, as their identity largely reflects the indigenous people of those states. Having been admitted to the federation to form Malaysia in 1963, these states have extra constitutional powers and guarantees compared to the other 11 states of Malaysia. However, over the last six decades the autonomy guaranteed to them has been eroded by political interference, and there is a strong resentment of the federal system as it is, based on the federation’s failure, in the eyes of many Sabahans and Sarawakians, to honour the terms of the original agreement, or to respect the land rights and interests of the indigenous people. This paper argues that, despite constitutional safeguards and asymmetric powers, the autonomy of these states has not been protected.

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Posted by Andrew Harding in Case Studies, 0 comments