(Kota Kinabalu, Thursday): The well-known pendulum swing in Sabah politics once in nine years, heralding a major political change, had worked three times in the history of the state – with the nine-year USNO government of Tun Mustapha toppled in 1976 by Berjaya, the nine-year Berjaya government led by Datuk Harris Salleh toppled by PBS in 1985 and the nine-year PBS Government of Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan toppled by the Barisan Nasional in 1994.
After the 1994 political change, the next nine-year Sabah political pendulum swing will fall next year. The question uppermost among Sabah politicians and political observers is whether this nine-year political pendulum swing is still operative and if so, what major political change is in store for Sabah next year.
What could happen in Sabah politics next year if the nine-year political pendulum swing is to be still effective and operative next year? The toppling of the Barisan Nasional state government, which is most unlikely under the current political scenario after the past dark history of constituency gerrymandering and phantom voters in the state as well as the capitulation of PBS symbolized by its return to the Barisan Nasional in November last year.
Barring a toppling of the Barisan Nasional state government next year, there is only one other political change which could probably qualify to mark the nine-year political swing – the end of the two-year Sabah Chief Minister rotation system.
PBS had all along opposed the Chief Minister rotation system, claiming that it is unconstitutional, impractical and unworkable. Now that PBS is in the Barisan Nasional, would the PBS leader Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan turn down the Chief Minister’s post if he is offered a two-year rotation tenure, standing on the important principle that it is “unconstitutional, impractical and unworkable because it promotes wastage, inefficiencies, abuses and discontinuities in policy and administration” and insist on a full five-year term of office?
Pairin serving a stint as a two-year rotating Chief Minister will not be of such enormous political consequence as to qualify to be the next nine-year political pendulum swing in Sabah politics – unless it is an end to the two-year Chief Minister rotation system altogether.
However, if there is an end to the two-year Sabah Chief Minister rotation system, it is unlikely that it is Pairin who will emerge to the next full-term Chief Minister as PBS does not have the numbers as compared to UMNO, which directly commands 29 Sabah State Assembly seats.
Will this mean that the well-known nine-year Sabah political pendulum swing which falls next year could mean the end of the Sabah Chief Minister rotation system with UMNO permanently occupying the CM post in Sabah Barisan Nasional so long as Barisan Nasional is in power in Sabah state?
This is an issue which Gaya voters should ponder in the by-election as it concerns the health of democracy in Sabah and Malaysia – whether there is going to be more or less room for democracy, or whether Sabah is heading towards greater political hegemony by the Barisan Nasional, in particular UMNO, with very little space for genuine public participation, consultation or opinion.
Already, the Gaya parliamentary by-election has been degraded into a battle about car parking fees in Kota Kinabalu, because the voters of Gaya have no other way to make their problems and grievances heard by the DBKK and Sabah state authorities.
If local government issues like the oppressive and burdensome car parking fees could only be raised during a parliamentary by-election, what avenues are there for the people to press their concerns about the big national issues about democracy, justice, equitable development, the rule of law, corruption and good governance?
There are a myriad of teeming problems facing Malaysia which concern all Sabahans who are also Malaysians.
For instance, if Malaysia becomes an Islamic state, there is no way for Sabah to exclude itself for the simple reason that it is part of Malaysia.
Similarly, when Malaysia is categorized as a “terrorist-risk” state, Sabahans who go to the United States whether for study, work or visit will also suffer the inconvenience, hardship and even indignity of being finger-printed, photographed and tracked in the United States as if a lowly common criminal, because Malaysia has been put in three of the four US Immigration “blacklists”.
The Gaya by-election should have provided a platform not only for the people of Gaya but also Sabahans and Malaysians to conduct a national post-mortem as to why Malaysia has fallen so low in international esteem as to be put in three of the four US Immigration “blacklists” in the US war, misguided in many aspects, against terrorism – which are also highly detrimental to Malaysia’s efforts to be an attractive foreign investment and tourist destination.
But all these great national issues have been displaced by local government issues like oppressive car parking fees and insensitive and undemocratic DBKK governance like the Jalan Sugar Bun (or Jalan Jati) issue.
The Gaya by-election should have focused on the great failures of good governance and the avoidable squandering of public funds, with a classic case in the midst of the by-election campaign.
Two days ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi flew into Kota Kinabalu to announce the allocation of RM38 million for the resettlement of squatters in Sabah – RM13 million for Gaya Island squatters who are voters in the by-election – whose squatter colonies were wrongly and “inadvertently” demolished during the recent clean-up operation of illegal immigrants in the state.
Abdullah said the Barisan Nasional government was ready to admit its mistakes in demolishing the squatter colonies of citizens where the illegal immigrants were concentrated. He said that “there’s nothing to be lost from admitting one’s mistakes” and that what was important was to take corrective steps when a mistake was made.
But the people are losing RM38 million for the Barisan Nasional government’s mistakes. Abdullah did not say that the Barisan Nasional government would not have been so ready to admit its mistakes if not because of the Gaya by-election, and this is why RM13 million has been allocated for the Gaya Island squatters who are expected in return to vote for the Barisan Nasional on Saturday.
Apart from the issue of money politics in a by-election, Abdullah had also avoided the real issue of good governance in the RM38 million colossal blunder of the Sabah State Government – as to how it could demolish thousands of squatter houses of Sabahans without realizing that they had made a colossal mistake? Furthermore, why should this “mistake” be borne by the taxpayers to the tune of RM38 million when the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Chong Kah Keat and the other Sabah State Ministers do not have to bear any responsibility at all?
Democracy and good governance is in a parlous state in Sabah and Malaysia and the Gaya by-election should be the start for the hard road to nurse democracy back to health in the state and the country.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman