Monday, January 16, 2012

The ‘what-ifs’ in Sabah politics


The reality in Sabah is that if elections were called today, BN will retain the state. However, that does not stop the Opposition from dreaming because anything can happen politically in Malaysia’s Wild Wild East.

“INI kali lah! (This is the time!)” is the Opposition’s battle cry in Sabah.

During my five-week Christmas holiday in my home state the mood among opposition-minded Sabahans is that this time the Barisan Nasional government which has ruled Sabah since 1994 will fall.

“In 1999, 2004 and 2008 we had the feeling that the winds of change would sweep Sabah but it did not happen. But this time the winds are blowing stronger,” said an opposition leader, referring to the state polls in 1999, 2004 and 2008 which Barisan National won convincingly.

Ini kali lah!” interjected a 40-something Kadazandusun man wearing a T-shirt with Datuk Dr Jeffery Kitingan’s United Borneo Front logo.

But the political reality in Sabah is that if elections were called today, Barisan will retain the state. However, that does not stop the Opposition from dreaming that it will form the next government as anything can happen politically in Malaysia’s Wild Wild East.

You can’t blame the Opposition from thinking that the political ground in the Land Below the Wind is shifting. There are so many what-ifs in the Wild Wild East.

Top on my list is what if an Umno warlord ditched his party, which is the backbone of Sabah BN (controlling 32 state seats out of 60).

“Yes, he is going to form a party. There are flags and T-shirts of his new party in his house,” an Umno mini warlord and assemblyman told me with confidence.

He listed the names of Umno leaders who would join the new opposition party – three incumbent MPs (one with a glamourous wife), a former chief minister, a former federal minister, a state minister and half a dozen warlords and former lawmakers.

The speculated list is impressive. It is as if the Manchester United reserve team plus Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes had ditched the Red Devils to form a club to contest against United in the FA Cup.

“Why do they want to be ABU (“Anything But Umno” or its original meaning “Anything But United”)?” I asked the politician.

“They’ve being sidelined or they think they are going to be sidelined. Most of them are (political) gamblers.

“They have nothing to lose. They think this is their last chance to throw the dice,” explained the mini warlord, who is speculated to turn ABU if he was dropped as a candidate.

If these dissenters do indeed leave Umno, they would enhance the stereotype that Sabah politicians are “Sdn Bhd (private limited)” individuals who are in politics for their own interest.

My top second favourite what-if is that a Sabah-based party will do what Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) did in 1990.

On the eve of the 1990 election, PBS led by Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan pulled out of BN to join the opposition Gagasan Rakyat (including Semangat 46 and DAP) alliance.

Speculation is rife – even among party diehards – that it is just a matter of time that the party will join forces with Datuk Yong Teck Lee’s Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), which left the BN on Sept 15, 2008.

There are other wilder what-ifs in Sabah politics.

“It is a poker game. Someone is bluffing,” explained a seasoned political analyst.

The only sure thing for the Opposition if elections were to be called today is DAP is assured of winning some seats in Sabah. The party’s result in 2008 (winning the Kota Kinabalu MP’s seat and the Sri Tanjung state seat) is an indication of its strength.

The “Ini kali lah!” mood is also fanned by the belief there is a curse that a Sabah government will fall every nine years. Usno (United Sabah National Party) ruled from 1967 to 1976, Berjaya from 1976 to 1985 and PBS from 1985 to 1994.

There’s some truth in this “curse” except that BN has ruled the state for 18 years since 1994.

But the political analyst has an explanation to “prove” that the nine-year curse happened in 2003.

“From 1994 to 2003, Sabah was ruled by rotation Chief Ministers,” he said, referring to Umno’s Tun Sakaran Dandai, Umno’s Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, SAPP’s Yong, Upko’s Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, Umno’s Datuk Seri Osu Sukam and LDP’s Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat.

“And when the rotation was stopped in 2003, Sabah has been ruled by one Chief Minister who is Datuk Musa Aman.”

An interesting theory. Notice that the last number of the year each subsequent government rose to power is reduced by one — 1967, 1976, 1985, 1994, 2003 ... and 2012?


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