PERCEPTIONS may vary on the balance of power in Sabah’s political arena and the outcome of the impending elections, 60 state seats and 25 parliamentary seats are up for grabs, but observers as well as practitioners of different brands of politics agree on one thing: that elections, scheduled to be held soon, could well be the most significant in the history of Sabah in the past two decades. They have arrived at this conclusion after studying the situation from their own view points.
According to Chief Minister Musa Aman and the Barisan National led by him, Sabah has witnessed a social, political and economic paradigm shift in the last eight years under his rule. Musa Aman contends that this shift will be reflected in new political parameters with development as the key factor, pushing aside considerations based on Kuala Lumpur’s dominance and interference that have for decades dominated the State’s electoral politics.The Barisan National’s coalition partners in the state, largely shares this perception, though some sections in the party are sceptical.
The Pakatan Rakyat and the SAPP led by Taiko Yong Teck Lee, which constitute the main opposition, dismiss the “paradigm shift” premise as baseless and assert that these elections will, as always, be dominated by “Sabah For Sabahan” (Sabah Rights) sentiments and community considerations and illegal immigrants.
“Sabah for Sabahan” sentiments and illegal immigrants, of course, have traditionally dominated elections in Sabah. Elections have been fought and won on the basis of careful manoeuvreing of “Sabah for Sabahan” sentiments coupled with some deft social engineering via illegal immgrants. This time, however, a significant number of political activists and observers agree with the Chief Minister’s assessment. Governance under the Barisan National government in the past eight years, they say, has changed society and politics in the State, allowing the urge for “development” to sideline “Sabah for Sabahan” considerations.
At a ceramah recently, Musa Aman said: “In the past eight years, the whole political grammar of Sabah has changed. The beginnings of the same were seen even in the 2008 polls when Sabahans decidedly voted for a change and gave Barisan National 59 State seats out of the 60 State seats and 24 Parliament seats out of 25. Over the past eight years, more and more sections of society have joined that process on account of the policies and governance we had adopted and the net result has been the concretisation of the change in political grammar.” He added that despite this obvious change, his principal adversaries, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Taiko Yong Teck Lee and even Chong Kah Kiat now, were clinging to the “old syllabus” based on sentiments, confrontation, race permutations and combinations. “They will soon be brought to realisation with a thud,” he said.
A large number of people in and outside the State endorse his view. They believe that development has been brought firmly on the State’s radar and that nobody would want to upset that. However, the other side sees the Chief Minister’s claims as just so much rhetoric. For Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang and Taiko Yong Teck Lee, the “development” story is a creation of a pliant media rather than a realistic assessment of the situation on the ground.
As for the UMNO, which heads the ruling Barisan National at the Centre, it is ready to admit that the State has witnessed better development under Musa Aman than under earlier governments since 1963. But it asserts that this was made possible by the substantial funds that Kuala Lumpur made available, the political stability and the security factor “The Feds” has provided his government.
Several other significant issues are expected to come into play in the run-up to and elections and during the polling process. One of these is the so-called political magic of Musa Aman and its impact on the Barisan National’s prospects. Musa Aman was credited with being the man behind Barisan National’s reasonably good performance in the Batu Sapi Parliamentary elections recently. Was that a flash in the pan? Or does the scion of the PBS, Pairin Kitingan have a real hold on the people in Batu Sapi?, just a joke! Jokes aside, a poor performance by the Barisan National in the Batu Sapi Parliamentary elections would have put question mark on Musa’s ability, but no, he got full marks.
Clearly, the stakes are high for all the players. Shafie Apdal – form a third factor in the equation and have pockets of limited influence in different parts of the State because in his own Semporna he is seen as a failure. Shafie served as Member of Parliament since 1995, appointed Deputy Minister of Housing and Local Government on 1999, and then moved to Defence Ministry, and then was appointed Minister of Domestic, Trade and Consumer Affairs on 2004, and then Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage and now Minister of Rural and Regional Development, but no real development is seen in Semporna up to now. Semporna is still lagging in infrastructures and economic opportunities and in many places the roads are in a deplorable condition and illegals from Southern Philippines dominate the town, in spite of Shafie having high powered position in Kuala Lumpur since 1995.
Meanwhile, the principal players are pursuing their respective agendas before the election dates are announce, albeit with some clever nuancing. While Musa Aman swears by the new development-oriented agenda, he has also roped in leaders with overt race and community appeal, such as former Chief Minister Salleh Said Keruak, another former Chief Minister and PBS supremo Pairin Kitingan and intellectual Dr Yee Moh Chai. Taiko Yong Teck Lee has not compromised on his “Sabah for Sabahan” sentiments and inducted former USNO leader Tun Mustapha’s son Datu Baharudin and one time Umno leader and assistant state minister Nahalan Damsal, belonging to the Suluk community.
The Barisan National’s campaign thrust will be the perceptible changes in the State, especially improvement in the law and order situation, continuously deporting illegals across the State. The number of cases of kidnapping in the East-coast of Sabah, which had acquired the status of an industry during the 9 years of PBS rule, has gone down considerably. The sprucing up of the infrastructure, including road connectivity, and the strengthening of the health care and educational systems will also be highlighted. There have been also some appointments, including ones aimed at empowering women, and the Native Communities given greater opportunities through jobs in local bodies. The Chief Minister’s personal integrity will be a significant part of this campaign and he projected as a visionary capable of steering Sabah into a prosperous future.
Musa Aman’s development credentials and his Muslim support base will presumably dictate his stance.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, have their own political dynamics. The DAP has to be generous to the SAPP by according it more state seats. The opposition’s basic calculation is race-oriented. It hopes to ride on the Chinese votes, the USNO vote base, the new-found attraction of Internet/FaceBook voters and woo a section of the native vote base of the Barisan National and also Muslims.
Musa Aman hopes to repeat the 2008 result in spite of the SAPP/ Pakatan Rakyat alliance in the making. His contention is that this election will not be about “Sabah for Sabahan” arithmetic but about the hopes and aspirations of Sabahans.