The fear that one day Malaysians will wake up and find that they no longer have control of their country is already happening in Sabah.
It used to be that if you wanted a quiet, almost idyllic place to live, you come to Sabah. And they came, thousands of them, from neighbouring countries along with those from Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia.
With them came major changes – language, religion, education, political guarantees and special rights – all went under the hammer and a quiet uneasiness spread.
Hints of a state and population morphing into something “foreign” have long been in the making in the Bornean state known as the “Land Below the Wind”.
And that has reawakened a long dormant nationalistic feeling among locals who believe they have been steadily losing ground in the fight for control of their future.
The more they hear the mantra “remember all the good things we have done for you” from fickle leaders, the more wary they grow.
Sabahans in general want a split from their Kuala Lumpur-centric or more specifically Umno-centric leaders, who, they believe, have been using illegal immigrants to wrest control of the resource-rich state from them.
The coming 13th general election will perhaps be the one last chance for Sabahans to remain relevant in Sabah and Malaysian politics.
To turn the tide of years of manipulation by fickle leaders and a domineering federal government, many believe they will have to torpedo the ruling Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition and their hangers-on.
The fear is that one day Malaysians will wake up and find that they no longer have control of their country. They are already seeing it happening in Sabah.
Former state secretary Simon Sipaun, along with other prominent pro- and anti-government figures, said as much at the Human Rights Promotion Association (Proham) roundtable discussion on citizenship issues in Sabah held at Universiti Malaysia Sabah recently.
The glaring absence, he said, of any steps to address the “reverse takeover” of Sabah by foreigners would see the migrant population by their sheer numbers take control of Umno, the main political party in the country.
“The proof is all over the place,” said Sipaun, a former Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) vice-chairman, who now heads Proham.
Sipaun, who commands vast respect in both government and opposition circles, also gave notice of a “distant possibility” that based on the current scenario, Malaysia could break up and Sabah become part of a separate new country which would include part of the Southern Philippines where a separatist movement has been in existence for decades.
The former state secretary’s view is that even the much-vaunted Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the unexplained population explosion that had taken place in the state over the last three decades would do little to resolve the illegal immigrant issue in the state.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is expected to announce the RCI along with the terms of reference during a visit to the state later this week to soothe the feelings of Sabahans and save face for the struggling Sabah BN component parties which are seeing an exodus from their ranks.
But Sipaun sees it as mere window-dressing in a state the BN has unequivocally called its “fixed deposit state” in any election.
He sees it as unlikely that the government would take action to clear up a self-inflicted problem as long as those responsible remain in power as it would be a conflict of interest.
The sham in the RCI, he said, could be seen in the way the RCI was “set up” before ironing out the terms of reference for it to deal with the issue.
He said if the government was sincere, the terms of reference should have come first and displayed for public feedback.
“To decide on the RCI without knowing its terms of reference is like putting the cart before the horse,” he said, adding that the question of why illegal immigrants from across Sabah’s borders had been able to flood the state without hindrance would always haunt the state.
After years of denial, he said, timid attempts to address the issue was only made a few years ago when the federal government established a “Federal Task Force” to look into ways to resolve the problem.
But the half-hearted nature of the move was immediately exposed when it took a year just to create the post of the head of the task force. The task force is still in existence with little evidence that it has accomplished anything while the problem has grown bigger and more complicated.
“The government owes Malaysians who are living in Sabah some serious explanations. Illegal immigrants should be immediately deported. If their labour is needed they can return with proper travel documents… no one should be allowed to enter Sabah illegally.
“Those who are currently in Sabah should be distributed equally among the 13 states in Malaysia. This is a national problem… why should Sabah alone shoulder the burden?” asked Sipaun.
Adding to Sabah’s and Malaysia’s headache is the failure of the Philippines to acknowledge that its citizens are in Sabah illegally, which they would be doing if they set up a consulate in the state as requested by Malaysian authorities.
The Philippines has not formally withdrawn its claim over Sabah. With its population of over 90 million and Indonesia’s over 250 million, neither country can afford to have more.
Until that can be sorted out, the fungal-like growth of water villages along Sabah’s coastline will continue, slowly turning Sabah into a slum.