It's an odd thought, but some children in the interior of Sabah are actually 'calling' the shots on their future.
“Ini kali lah, guru!” which loosely translates as “this time lah, teacher” in reference to changing the government, is shouted out as a salutation to Hasmin Azroy Abdullah, a young government primary school teacher who recently resigned from his job.
Azroy, as he likes to be called, is STAR Sabah youth chief and also head of the party’s branch in Tenom.
He may have stepped down from his post as a teacher but his informal, rights awareness talks attended by the parents of his pupils is already having an effect.
It comes in the form of a comic twist to his serious political talks which end with those attending the gathering joyfully shouting “ini kali, lah”.
His former pupils have also enthusiastically taken to shouting it out as a greeting. They learned it as result of accompanying their parents to the meetings.
Azroy is among scores of young, educated and upwardly mobile locals who want to wrest Sabah from what they see as the unkind clutches of greedy and unthinking Peninsular Malaysia-based federal politicians.
And, they are calmly preparing for a democratic revolution.
“Ini kali, lah” is the war cry of STAR, more formally known as the State Reform Party and is being joyously shouted out in greetings in any situation here.
It’s music to the ears of those hoping to end Kuala Lumpur’s stranglehold on politics in the Borneo state.
“The message is getting through,” said Azroy.
‘People are listening’
His hometown, Tenom, is about 45 minutes drive from here. It is where he works and was until recently employed at a local primary school as a teacher.
Tenom is Murut country, where local leader Ontoros Antonom, according to the ‘history’, united the natives in an uprising against the British colonists in 1915.
Azroy sees the germ of a new but calmer rebellion taking root in the fertile lands famed for its coffee and cocoa plantations as well as its orchards.
It’s coming with education of rights and democracy and it’s trickling down from parents to children.
The fact that the popular chant at “Borneo Tea Parties”, the informal civics programmes in the villages around the state, has caught on with children accompanying their parents to the talks indicates a fledgling political awakening of sorts here.
At least that’s what Azroy, who is 35, thinks.
“We are not doing too badly. People are coming and listening. If we can get people to think differently … different from the older generation then we have a chance for change.
“We are not looking at change overnight … we are preparing people for future elections.
“If we can win a few seats in the next elections it will be a bonus but what we are really doing is preparing the ground for future elections.
“The youths are thinking for themselves now. They are not blindly following what their parents tell them. The older generation may still be swayed (to vote for a candidate) by a few zinc sheets and some money but that is not the case with the young,” said Azroy, who admits to having been ‘BN friendly’ in the last election.
The country is set to call its 13th general elections any time and politicians of various hues are hoping to take advantage of a new-found power born out of the ruling coalition’s near disastrous showing in the last general election in 2008.
Many see the Bornean state bordering Sarawak and the oil-rich kingdom of Brunei as ripe for the picking.
Years of misrule by a succession of governments aligned to Kuala Lumpur has left a bitter taste for Sabahans.
Sabah contributes about RM40 billion in revenue annually and gets a small portion of that because the state has lost its autonomy to collect taxes.
Now many are hoping to take advantage of the new ‘liberation’ to reverse that injustice and regain financial control, savings, fund development and tariffs for the state guaranteed in pre-independence agreements.
Political observers see Sabah and Sarawak as potential “king-makers” in any new government from this point onwards after the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition unexpectedly lost its two-thirds majority in parliament in 2008 and came close to being ousted from power.
Azroy and his party leader, Jeffrey Kitingan, the brother of deputy chief minister Joseph Pairin, are among those who see a window of opportunity opening for Sabah to turn back the clock on half a century of dominance by Kuala Lumpur and a return to the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement that had guaranteed the then British colony of North Borneo a measure of autonomy.
Several state government leaders have already paid the price over the last 30-odd years for surrendering several of Sabah’s rights as well as its vast treasure of oil and gas, while piped water and healthcare remains a dream for many.
And as the resource-rich state labours in its misery, politicians in the state the ruling coalition government is sensing another revolt looming.
It’s an odd thought, but some children in the interior of Sabah are actually calling the shots on their future.
[main photo from http://bomborra.com]