A Sabah flag flies along Malaysian flag at Kundasang, Sabah.

After 45 years – we are still Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya.

We are not merely separated by the South China Sea, but also by so many things including our contrasting culture. I still remember being called “orang Borneo” the first time I set my foot in ‘Malaya’.

Later, when some of my friends set their foot in Sarawak, they refused to eat in a Chinese shops, even after being shown there were Muslims (or should I call Sarawak Muslim) with the ladies wearing tudung’ drinking and eating in the shop.

It is a common sight in Sarawak and Sabah but rather shocking experience to them. They were speechless seeing Chinese (non-Muslim) stalls selling ‘kampua mee’ next to a Malay nasi lemak stalls under one roof in Sibu, Sarawak. They can’t understand why a Muslim stall can sit next to “haram” stall and their patrons didn’t mind sharing table with each other.

Another shocking experienced to them was when they saw what we call “Borneo Highway” actually look more like a “kampung” road somewhere in Pekan, Pahang. Let’s face it. We are different. Hence the different treatment, development and opportunities we get.

We may be the riches state in Malaysia, but that doesn’t mean we not amongst Malaysia’s poorest states. Take for example Sabah. About 24% of the households in Sabah still living below the national poverty line and child poverty rates are 42%; more than one fifth of Sabahans aged six and over has never been to school.

Mind you, all this happen when Malaysia enjoys the unflattering distinction of having the highest Gini coefficient in Southeast Asia attributable to the high incidence of poverty in Eastern Malaysia. Sabah’s GDP per capita is less than 50% of the national average.

We may be called bumiputera, but not an equal or the same UMNO bumiputera. If we are equal why then most of Sabah and Sarawak’s poor come from the bumiputra (non-Malays) population (61% of Sabah and more than 50% of Sarawak).

What does this mean? It means one thing – the affirmative action ‘New Economic Policies’ benefiting UMNO (Malays) more the (non- Malays) bumiputera and that it has failed in alleviating (non-Malays) bumiputera from the grip of poverty.

Why then, when our development has lagged under decades of Barisan Nasional and UMNO rule, did our local parties such as SPDP, PRS, PBS, UPKO etc, continue giving the Barisan Nasional so many seats in parliament? Why are we still begging for development grants and projects, when our states contributes billions of ringgit to the federal coffers in oil and gas royalties?

Obviously, the are much more to Malaysia’s 12th General Elections than meets the eye. Not least, it provides a pivotal opportunity for the us in Sabah and Sarawak to exercise more influence over national policy and get a better deal for ourselves.

We have solid basis for more recognition, certainly not in the form of “jaga muzium” and “jaga cuaca’ ministerial seats; given 5 ministerial seats when we gave them 54 seats in parliament – even Selangor which were taken by opposition getting 4 ministerial seats.

If they didn’t listen to us now, they never will. To Sarawakians and Sabahans, let’s make them pay for it in the next the 13th General Election.