[2921] A map of East Malaysian districts based on the 2019 median household income

So, I have managed to complete the map for Sabah and Sarawak yesterday after posting the map summarizing median income across Peninsular Malaysia at the district level. Here it is:

Some rights reserved. Creative Commons. By Attribution. By Hafiz Noor Shams

Just like the immediately previous post, these districts are colored based on the median household income, based on data from the 2019 Household Income Survey.

Out of 67 districts:

  • 20 districts have median of less than RM3,000 per month
  • 26 districts between RM2,999 and RM4,000 per month
  • 13 districts between RM3,999 and RM5,000 per month
  • 5 districts between RM4,999 and RM6,000 per month (Kuching, Samarahan, Miri, Penampang, Putatan)
  • 2 district between RM5,999 and RM7,000 per month (Kota Kinabalu and Labuan)
  • 1 district between RM6,999 and RM8,000 per month (Bintulu)
  • None with RM8,000 per month and above

This map is a bit of a challenge to me because unlike Peninsular Malaysia where I pretty much know almost all of the districts and their location, I could not immediately locate many of Sabah and Sarawak districts immediately.

Sarawak especially has complicated divisions, districts and subdistricts. The subdistricts threw me off a bit and I had to spend a little bit more time to draw Sarawak.

And a few notes:

  • Kuching has a spillover effect on neighboring districts. But I had expected Kuching to be more prosperous from median perspective. At least a green, but it is not.
  • Bintulu has the oil and gas effect, just like in Terengganu.
  • Miri gets a spillover effect from Brunei (and O&G)
  • Kota Kinabalu (and Labuan) is an exceptional prosperous city amid a state of reds.
Politics & government

[2749] For separation, we need a consensus

Because of my politics — the libertarian kind — I always find representing the collective will as something hard to do. I would think of voting as a way of settling such matter but there is always something to disagree with and I am mindful of the times when I might find myself in the opposition camp. It is tough accepting the result that one disagrees with. Even in a democratic system we use to decide on things — at least a liberal democracy, the one I like — the power of the majority is always limited to secure the rights of the minority.

In a mature democratic society, we must accept the results of an election under normal circumstances. Win or lose, we need to respect the results for if we only respect it whenever we win, why would others respect it whenever they lose? Trust in democratic institutions would quickly evaporate into thin air that way.

But I think acceptance is conditional on the understanding that the winner would not change anything significant, or effectively changing the institutional structure of the country, after winning the election. We are not playing a modified Calvinball. We are deciding the direction of our society. The winner does not take all.

For instance, in Malaysia, if you want to abolish the office of the Agong, I think winning a general election alone is insufficient to do so, especially if the election is a divisive one. Or if the winner suddenly decides to do away with elections to become a pure dictatorship, then it is hard to respect the authority granted by the election to the aspiring dictator. You would need a strong consensus to do so.

I think the need for a strong consensus is especially important where there is no opportunity to undo a policy that fundamentally changes the structure of a country. Winning the simple majority vote is not enough a backing. A strong consensus does.

I am writing this because I am thinking of Scotland. Scotland tomorrow will vote on whether they would stay within the United Kingdom, or become independent. I think it is safe to say that there is little chance for a u-turn if Scotland becomes independent, and opinion polls show voters are divided right in the middle. There is no consensus among the stakeholders, the Scots.

I do not know much about Scottish politics and while I think I prefer Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom, I do not have a strong opinion on the matter. I am not a citizen, I have never been too far north of London and it is quite an effort for me to think of ways which a Scottish independence would affect me directly. So, my opinion matters less than a Scot’s.

But clearly, the referendum is a template to further separatist agenda all around the world peacefully. This is the mature way of doing things, not by throwing those with separatist sentiment into prison or by going to war.

Here, I think of Sabah within the Malaysian context. But also on a more general level, within the context of a new country.

A country where the 50%+1 votes for independence and the rest opposing it sounds like a country that is  heading for a political disaster. There is little consensus to start with and the effort of building national institutions will be a big problem. How can you start when you disagree on the fundamentals at the very starting line?

If you had the consensus, then perhaps there would be a wide common ground to begin a new grand political project.

I wrote political disaster because I wonder, what would the 50%-1 resort to? Not everybody everywhere will conduct themselves in a peaceful way. At midnight Malaysian time, I am having trouble thinking and looking for examples. I wanted to use the Partition of India as one, but that might be stretching it since there was no voting. I looked through Wikipedia and I found the Partition of Bengal. While they voted in their legislative hall, I am too tired to read and make sense of it. I am so tired, I think I am making a lot of typos and grammatical mistakes more than usual. But in both cases, there were violence and even ugly population exchanges.

But I think the point I am making is that with such a large fraction of society, almost a majority even, disagreeing, you as a country will have recurring existential issues. It might not be violence but politically, I think there will be hostile exchanges and that will set you back.

Besides, would it not be utterly unfair for the 50%-1 to suddenly find themselves living in a different country that they do not want to be in? Such a new country will not begin with a clean slate. They will have a very large almost a majority fraction to appease. Again, it is not a case of winner takes all. The losers will form an important component of the new country.

I do not know what the “consensus benchmark” should be. All I know is that it has to be considerably higher than 50% but not too high as to make the referendum a joke. If 100% is a practical sign of consensus, then why bother have one? The 100% level risks a referendum its credibility, dishonestly tilting the results toward the status quo.

Two-thirds benchmark sounds reasonable to me only because it is the usual ratio used to amend the constitution in Malaysia. But I do not know. Finding a benchmark seems like an arbitrary exercise to me.

What I know is that in my ideal world, there need to be a strong consensus. In the context of Scotland, the need for a strong Yes before the Yes is actually implemented, and not merely a simple majority. But Scotland has agreed to their referendum and their benchmark. So they will have to live with it and I sincerely wish them all the best.

But for us Malaysians, if it ever comes to that somewhere in our federation, I think we need a higher benchmark. It has to be higher that 50%, beating some higher level signifying consensus. I think this is for the well-being of the almost majority in that state, and for the good of the Malaysian citizens, too.

Conflict & disaster Society

[2673] Integration, not expulsion for Sabah

There are several possible consequences that I fear from the ongoing armed conflict in Sabah. One of them is a public wide urge to expel Sulu and Filipino immigrants out of the state.

There is already considerable negative sentiment against the Sulu and Filipino people in Sabah even before the armed men landed to bring trouble in Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu. I do sometimes feel the sentiment borders on racism. Rightly or wrongly, they are blamed for many things in the state, ranging from high crime rate and job stealing to the grab of land from the indigenous people. Apart from that, the now postponed Royal Commission of Inquiry on Illegal Immigrants in Sabah highlights how illegal immigrants were granted Malaysian citizenship for political expediency.  For many Sabahans who suspect that that has been the case for a very long time now, the inquiry only confirms their suspicion.

At the same time, there is a clear security threat arising from the armed conflict. There is a question regarding the immigrants’ sympathy since many of them do share the same ethnicity as those who are or were part of the armed group. Add in the Sulu and Philippine claims of Sabah, the consternation among some Malaysians of the immigrants’ loyalty will be easy to understand.

The worst case scenario has the immigrants rebelling against the Malaysian authority in support of the claims.

The two factors — the negative perception and the possible security threat — provide for a possible recipe for the expulsion of the immigrants from Sabah.

I am unsure how widespread the support for such expulsion is and I am happy to read in the mainstream media that there have been calls not to stereotype all immigrants in Sabah, especially those with Sulu ethnicity. Nevertheless, some Malaysians do talk casually about the matter.

Given the number of immigrants in Sabah, and some of them are now legal residents of Sabah now, the policy of mass expulsion is unrealistic and inhumane. It is impractical because it will be a logistical nightmare to expel so many persons.

Besides, mass deportation has been done in the past in Sabah and in other parts of Malaysia but it does not appear to be working. And if it does work contrary to past experience, the mass deportation or expulsion will likely affect the economy of Sabah adversely.

If thousands of individuals are suddenly taken out of the economic equations, something bad ought to happen. The economic growth of the state will surely take a hit. And there is more than economic cost to the policy of expulsion.

There is arguably the more important human cost to it.

Expulsion is inhumane because for better or for worse, these immigrants have been living in Sabah for decades now.

They have built their new lives in Sabah. Their families are here. Their children were born and brought up in Malaysia. These children know Malaysia as home, and not the Philippines.

Expulsion or deportation — call it however you like — would uproot the immigrants from their lives. It would force them to begin anew when there was really no need for that. After all, they migrated to Sabah in search of a better life. They escaped the instability of southern Philippines.

Any person with a hint of humanity in them will think twice about turning those immigrants away or forcing them to return to the very place they ran away from.

In fact, I am of the opinion that expulsion would contribute to the worst case scenario more than the case where the authority would leave the immigrants alone to their lives.

In an environment where immigrants may already suffer from discrimination, the policy of expulsion would create even further discrimination against them as the authority actively tried to catch all illegal immigrants.

Naturalized immigrants would also come under the unwanted spotlight. Really, the only thing that separates legal residents from illegal aliens is identification papers. Imagine having to go through security checkpoints: profiling is inevitable in that case. More often than not, profiling creates anger. It is a pointing finger that always points accusingly and nobody likes to be accused of something, especially if they have nothing to do with the things they are accused of.

So, expulsion — regardless whether they would actually be expelled — could create anger among the immigrant communities against everything Malaysian.

That anger might translate into something more sinister.

The only humane way to address the security fear is to take that high and tough road. That demands that we integrate the immigrants into our society.

With integration, they can feel that they do have ownership of Malaysia, rather than seeing the country as a foreign land that they have no stake in. This may mean the expansion of government services like education, health and security to immigrant communities in Sabah.

Once they feel fully Malaysian, the question of loyalty will be irrelevant.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in the Selangor Times on March 15 2013.

ASEAN Conflict & disaster Politics & government

[2671] The last refuge of scoundrels

The United States was entrenched deeply in two major wars throughout most of the first decade of the 21st century. Just after the shocking September 11, 2001 attacks organized by al Qaeda, the US responded strongly by invading Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power.

After a quick initial success in the landlocked country, the US went to war against Iraq on less convincing grounds. The world, which was solidly behind the US for the Afghanistan War, stood divided on the eve of the Iraq War. While the rationale for the Iraq war was shaky, the might of the US military was not. The Saddam Hussein regime was toppled soon after.

By 2003, the anti-war movement was in full swing in the US. War was firmly in the mind of the politically conscious. By now, there were wars abroad and at home. Supporters of the war presented their case and the anti-war side presented theirs everywhere. At times, it was not a debate. It was a shouting match.

It would take some years before temperatures cooled. The anti-war side eventually gained the upper hand. Barack Obama campaigned as an anti-war candidate in the 2008 presidential election. He won that election. The appetite for war was gone by the end of the decade. The US began to withdraw its troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq to focus more on its economy.

I remember the war rhetoric employed then by the pro-war groups. I remember exactly the phrase war supporters used to put down criticism of the war. The thought-terminating cliché was this: Support our troops.

Underneath the cliché was a stark case of false dichotomy. One has to either wholly support the war or oppose it unpatriotically. It is either you are with us or you are against us. There was no room for criticism. There was no in between. As George W. Bush infamously put it then, ”Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

And here we are in Malaysia at a stand-off with an armed Sulu group in Lahad Datu, Sabah which has turned into an armed conflict. There is a possibility that it may turn into a wider conflict still but I am sure we all hope that it will end as quickly as possible without further escalation.

It is unfortunate that the conflict has cost lives on both sides. It is regrettable that the Sulu group refused to negotiate the matter peacefully. Ample opportunities for a peaceful outcome were placed on the table but the peaceful option was rejected by the armed Sulu group.

The armed Sulu group had themselves to be blamed and a bloody outcome was inevitable. In that sense, many Malaysians support the current action of the Malaysian government and its military.

That, however, does not mean there are no criticisms mounted against the Malaysian side. There are signs of incompetence in the handling of the crisis. The fact that a large group of armed men entered Malaysia so easily without early detection in the first place speaks volumes of the failure of those in charge of border security.

As the crisis progressed, various ministers were still politicking with eyes inappropriately set on the upcoming but as yet undeclared general election. One of the relatively trivial top stories highlighted by RTM, Bernama and TV3 during the crisis was the expansion of the ”transformation centre” by the prime minister.

Indeed, during the crisis, the prime minister launched his Instagram campaign. He did not care to comment substantively about the ongoing crisis until, again, very late in the game.

Thanks to this misplaced priority, the public was left in confusion. Both the Malaysian authorities and the mass media failed to provide timely and accurate information about the situation on the ground.

For some weeks, information provided by the authorities even proved to be false and it was contradicted by later developments. It raises the question of whether the authorities were on the ball at all. The home minister is especially guilty of this. In fact, I am honestly curious what the home minister did until the military stepped in.

Instead of relying on Malaysian institutions, the public had to rely on Philippine news outlets instead. I take this as an incredible failure of the Malaysian government and the media establishment, specifically those in television and radio.

And what do these individuals and institutions ”• which have failed us ”• want us to do now?

Support our troops.

Yes, let us hide behind our collective patriotism to hide our incompetence.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
First published in The Malaysian Insider on March 6 2013.

ASEAN Liberty

[2668] The Sulu and the Philippine claims of Sabah are undemocratic and unlibertarian

I have a fundamental objection to the Sulu and the Philippine claims of Sabah. Calling it the claim of Sabah is somewhat inaccurate because if the Philippine claim is wholly based on the Sulu claim, then by right the claim only covers roughly the eastern half of Sabah. Nevertheless, the objection that I have is not based on nationalistic sentiment. It is based on democratic and libertarian values.

Know this. The claim by the two parties are undemocratic and certainly unlibertarian. It is both undemoractic and unlibertarian because it completely bypasses the will of the people in Sabah.

The Sulu claim especially is made by a pretender to the throne of the Sulu Sultanate, a monarchy which practically has been extinct for a long time now. The claim by the monarchy highlights how it is undemocratic and unlibertarian.

The term libertarian that I use here is almost democratic and almost committed to a liberal democracy.

Libertarians come from the tradition that the state derives its legitimacy from its people. After all, the most important component of any society is the individuals who form it. Libertarians seek to secure freedom of individuals and the best way to do so within the framework of the state is to make the state answerable to its citizens.

The Sulu claim certainly does not fit into the libertarian framework. If the claim is realized by the Sulu Sultanate, then it will be clear that it is the sultan who will be in power. The Sultan, after all, is running the show, ordering the doomed incursion into Sabah. Any political power will originate from him and that is unacceptable to any libertarian.

Of course, the new Sulu power in Sabah can institute democratic infrastructure to turn the direction of the origin of power more libertarian and that will solve the democratic and libertarian concern. But the fact remains the claim has its origin from a very autocratic nature.

If one compares the Sulu claim to Malaysia’s, it is clear that the Malaysian claim is more libertarian. This is not to mean that Malaysia is a libertarian utopia but relatively, Malaysia is far above the rung compared to the Sulu Sultanate.

The most libertarian argument for Malaysia is that the Malaysian claim is not really a Malaysian claim. It is a Sabahan claim. The people of Sabah decided to be part of the federation of Malaysia and as a federation, all states within Malaysia is responsible toward the security of Sabah. In the face of armed adventure embarked by the Sulu Sultanate, the self-defense action by the Malaysian security forces is legitimate from the libertarian perspective, especially from the libertarian concept of non-aggression axiom. The axiom can be problematic at times by in the case of Sabah, its application is straight forward.

And this brings us to the Philippines, which for all intents and purposes is the successor state to the extinct Sulu Sultanate. What makes the Philippine claim more legitimate from libertarian perspective when compared to the Sulu claim, is that the Philippines, like Malaysia, is a democracy. Both democracies may not be perfect and there are flaws in the system but principally, they are. There are democratic institutions and there are guarantees of individual rights although the guarantees do not go as far enough as a libertarian would like and there are deplorable violations of those rights.

Of course, comparing Malaysian and Philippine democratic institutions to Sulu’s, which do not exist, is unfair because they have not been given a chance to develop it. Nevertheless, the setup highlights the origin of power. For both states, the origin of the power comes from the people, not some autocrats like a sultan.

That however does not make the Philippine claim very much more agreeable from the Sulu claim. The Philippine claim still bypasses the people of Sabah. So, the only libertarian (and democratic) way of solving the claim is by going back to the people. Let us have three options. Malaysia, independence or the Philippines. I have a feeling that the first two options will be more popular to the last one.

And then finally, the Malaysian setup is far more likeable to libertarians than the Philippines. Malaysia is a federation and the Philippines is a unitary state. Sabah has considerable autonomy within Malaysia. Even then, there are accusations that Kuala Lumpur is meddling in the affairs of Sabah. Imagine the Philippines with its unitary state mentality. That would be ugly not just to libertarians, but more so to Sabahans and the Philippines.