Barely 25 kilometres away from where Prime Minister Najib was busy attending 'staged' functions in Sabah, about 500 protesters called for 'independence' for Sabah.
KENINGAU: As Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak went about wooing support for his embattled government in this interior district of Sabah, he was kept blissfully unaware that the natives here are restless.
The stage-managed show of support for the federal government which is bitterly resented here for failing to raise the quality of life in one of the richest states, was in stark contrast to the heartfelt show of protest and call for freedom just down the road in a tamu (local bazaar) ground.
A mere 25 kilometres away from the Keningau town where Najib was busy attending special functions arranged for him by the state government, a group of about 500 locals waved half a dozen banners calling for ‘independence’ for Sabah.
The group led by State Reform Party (STAR) Sabah chairman Jeffrey Kitingan was celebrating a Kaamatan or harvest festival at the Apin-Apin Tamu Ground but they took the opportunity nevertheless to make their own political statement.
Denied use of a stage at the shaded tamu ground by the District Council they built a makeshift stage to put on their Kaamatan show.
An organising committee member told FMT that Umno and PBS politicians had pressured the District Office to deny them use of the stage.
Early this (Sunday) morning the organisers and Kaamatan revellers put up banners along the Apin-Apin road which Najib, his wife Rosmah Mansor and entourage will pass on the way from Keningau to Tambunan for the launch of a community college called KDM College.
The crowd in Apin-Apin though dwarfed by the nearly 20,000 who turned out Saturday night for the national level Kaamatan celebration at Keningau Stadium, was high-spirited and intense.
Bias local media
Jeffrey, whose elder brother Joseph Pairin Kitingan, the PBS president and a deputy chief minister was busily escorting Najib on his two-day visit to Sabah, described the mood in Apin-Apin as excellent.
“We cannot any longer tolerate the colonisation by Malaya where we continue to be treated as a mere colony when we are so big and rich and yet our people are the poorest in Malaysia. How can we accept this?
“Just look at Keningau parliamentary seat itself is bigger than the states of Perlis, Penang and Malacca combined and yet we in Keningau only have one MP and two state assemblymen and one District Officer. This is unfair,” he said.
The wording on the the banners read: “Sabah adalah negara bukan negeri ke-12 Malaysia”, “Kami mahu Perkara 20 dilaksanakan“, “Hentikan penjajahan Sabah, laksanakan Perjanjian Malaysia” “Tolak Umno penjajah, Sabah negara merdeka“, “Kami menuntut hak NCR“, and “RCI untuk siapa?, Hapuskan Projek IC Mahathir”.
The local press though aware of the protest in Apin-Apin refused to acknowledge it and focused on Najib’s visit.
Those who attended the Apin-Apin Kaamatan celebration questioned the selective reporting in the face widespread disquiet in Sabah over its political future under the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition.
A resident who wished to be known only as Rayner told FMT they were disappointed with the pro-government slant to all news in the local mainstream media.
“Maybe it is their policy, maybe they are on the take, who knows with some editors being given datukships and JP and so on. They have become more vulnerable to exploitation, and certainly some have compromised their so-called independence,” he said.
Meanwhile, STAR flags were seen fluttering in many places here and in some areas side by side with the Barisan Nasional and PBS party flags recently put up to coincide with the Prime Minister’s visit.