by Joe Fernandez
COMMENT The initial word from Demokrasi Sabah (Desah), an NGO just set up by former Sabah state secretary Simon Sipaun to encourage one-to-one contests at the forthcoming 13th General Election, has not been too encouraging.
For starters, there’s the little matter of the NGO declaring that it wants to help further strengthen and entrench a two-party system in Malaysia. These two parties, or rather coalitions and/or alliances, i.e. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) are both Peninsular Malaysia-based.
Desah is yet to commit itself to the need for a Borneo-based national alliance as a 3rd Force in Parliament to rival both the BN and PR and secure/ensure the rights of Sabah and Sarawak under the Malaysia Agreement.
For another, Desah remains silent on the “parti parti Malaya” crossing the South China Sea over to Sabah and Sarawak to further strengthen and entrench themselves in Parliament and which can only be at the expense of the two states.
This coming of the parti parti Malaya to Sabah and Sarawak follows closely on the heels of these parties collectively having, in Peninsular Malaysia alone, more than the “one less than two-third” seats envisaged for them in Parliament under the Malaysia Agreement.
Having breached the Malaysia Agreement on the balance of power in Parliament, these parti parti Malaya are adding insult to injury by brazenly stealing even more seats in Sabah and Sarawak to outdo each other in the power game at the expense of the people of Sabah and Sarawak.
Thirdly, the parti parti Malaya are positioning themselves early in Sabah and Sarawak to take further advantage of the situation when more seats are created in future for both these states to redress the imbalance in Parliament. New parliamentary seats for Sabah and Sarawak, to redress the imbalance of power, are among the recommendations of the just-concluded parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) headed by Federal Minister and Kota Marudu MP Maximus Johnity Ongkili.
The NGO appears too focused in any case on PR giving the ruling BN a run for its money.
The NGO seems oblivious to the fact that there’s nothing in this simplistic approach for both Sabah and Sarawak.
Politics cannot be all about just winning seats in the legislature, when the system of party politics since 1963 has failed both Malaysian Borneo states. Politics without change and reform is meaningless. It has been repeatedly said even by PR that what we need in this country is not a regime change – from BN to PR – but a system change. The jury, except among the BN, is not out on this call.
Desah would be more relevant if it urges all eligible voters in Sabah and Sarawak to not only register as voters but turn out in full force on polling day to speak with one voice and defeat the illegal immigrants on the electoral rolls especially in the marginal and mixed seats and the numerous tiny seats held by BN along the eastern seaboard of Sabah.
This will more than make up for the almost total decimation of the opposition in Sabah in 2008 despite chalking up, collectively, more votes than the BN in at least eight state seats and two parliamentary seats that were lost.
This theory was proven in the Kota Kinabalu parliamentary seat which was won by Dap in 2008 despite the Pakatan Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) also entering the fray against it to make it a three-cornered fight with BN. It will not be the done thing the next time for PKR to repeat its foolishness of the last time.
Having said all that, Desah must nevertheless be credited with coming up with the idea of hosting public debates to gauge the caliber of aspiring candidates eyeing seats at the 13th GE.
Hopefully, the public debates mooted and being planned by Desah would be held at the primary level among aspiring opposition candidates, at the secondary level between the opposition and the ruling coalition, and finally at the tertiary level between the MPs on both sides of the political divide in Sabah AND between the parti parti Malaya in Sabah and the local parties.
The focus of the debates at the state seat level should be on local issues in particular and for Sabah in general in relation to Putrajaya while that at the parliamentary seat level should cover Sabah and Sarawak within the context of the Federation of Malaysia and the Malaysia Agreement.
It’s pointless debating, as Desah plans, whether more women should be involved in politics and given important government positions and what to do about unemployment among youths. These are mundane subjects best left to women NGOs and subject matter experts to take up elsewhere during other forums.
The purpose of politics, it should be kept in mind, is the re-distribution of political power and the re-distribution of resources.
Hence, the topics for debate should draw from those two key points.
Let’s not have debates on what this or that politician will do to develop this or that area or has done to develop this or that area. This is nothing more than mere propaganda fostered by the politics of distraction and politics of disruption. It’s the work, role and function of the government of the day to bring development to a particular area.
The words that should generally be banned from the debate are projects, development and implementation used within the context of propaganda.
However, participants should be allowed to bring up janji janji kosong and janji janji manis and generally the trail of broken promises left by the government of the day. Sabah Baru within 100 days is a case in point of the mother of all promises broken by BN since 1994.
The participants from the government side should not be allowed to claim and/or allege that the opposition can only talk big, talk “sh .t”, cannot develop any particular area or solve the problems of the people and that it (the opposition) has no money unlike the ruling coalition. This kind of thinking fosters the erroneous belief that members of the ruling party can put their hands in the cookie jar at their whims and fancies, directly and indirectly, whether for public or private purpose.
The money that the government has comes from the people and does not belong to the ruling coalition to do with it what it likes.
The people’s mandate is not a carte blanc but comes with the proviso that sovereignty still lies with the people.
It’s not the work of the opposition to develop any area although it can be conceded that helping bring about development is another matter altogether.
Also, as part of efforts to combat the scourge of corruption, participants should be ready, willing and able to explain their respective lifestyles to their opponents and the public if something seems quite out of the ordinary.
The most important aspect of the public debates, as evident from the presidential debates in the United States, is to adopt the cross-examination style from Court and not allow participants to refer to prepared notes of any kind although they can be allowed to take notes, or make fresh notes, during the debate process itself.
This is the best way to avoid afterthoughts and public relations-kind of answers and get at the heart and truth of the issues at stake.
The public will then be able to judge for themselves which aspiring candidates are speaking the truth, are leadership material or at least have potential, and are credible in their eyes.
The rest will be up to the voters on polling day.