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Bitter harvest for land below the wind

 | June 4, 2012

Kaamatan or harvest festival in Sabah this time round is tempered with weariness and to some extent anger over the way genuine Sabahans have been treated.

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KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is holding its collective breath as talk gathers steam that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is expected to visit this week bearing a long-awaited “gift” to drum up support for his stumbling Barisan Nasional coalition government.

But the mood among non-partisan Sabahans as the Kadazandusun and Murut communities celebrate their biggest festival is a mixture that suggests bad temper and weariness.

Najib, as the leader of the BN who is fighting to stay in power for a second term, has, as expected, played the federal government’s vote-buying trump card by announcing on Friday the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the extraordinary population increase in the state over the last 20-odd years.

It is to settle a long-held demand for answers on how hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants gained citizenship and even special Bumiputera privileges that have almost wrested control of the state from the locals.

Najib is due in the state during an auspicious time for the local community. The Kaamatan or harvest festival celebrations started last week.

While the festival itself is a time of merry-making and fellowship, especially in the kampung, this year’s celebration comes with a bitter edge.

“There’s this general air of change in the state like what we saw when PBS came to power,” said Charles, a retired civil servant who has witnessed the various political and social changes taking place in Sabah from the time it was a British colony.

“It’s the feeling I get… like when PBS won,” he said, referring to the shock overthrow of the Berjaya government under Harris Salleh in 1985 by the newly-formed PBS [Parti Bersatu Sabah] under the leadership of Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

“I get this feeling even though I don’t go out much anymore. I even saw a car with a sticker saying ‘Ini Kali lah’,” said Charles, who admitted that he usually voted for the ruling coalition in the past.

“It’s different this time. These people are so arrogant. They will say anything to escape from criticism… it’s not logical.”

RCI may mean nothing

He is referring to statements by government leaders explaining events and incidents that people are now privy, too, with the advent of the social media and online news portals.

Charles is not alone. Others have piled up the criticism with phrases like: “Harap ini kali lah” (hopefully this time) and the Chinese have decided “anything can happen… we threw out the BN before.”

“They have seen how the government has given illegal immigrants in Sabah privileges that were for Bumiputeras. They can say ‘no’ but I personally know many who even have ASN (a profitable investment fund open only to natives),” said a doctor working at a government hospital.

Confidence is low that the RCI and its “terms of reference” will right a situation that was welcomed by those in authority for years in order to change the social structure of the state.

Simon Sipaun, a former state secretary and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, in comments made recently believes the royal commission is just a bit of plaster for a fatal wound.

Like many others, he asked why after years of denial the federal government has just realised there is a big problem in Sabah and also the timing of that realisation.

As Sabahans wait for Najib to come bearing gifts and other what-nots, the sobering thought lingers for most: a toothless RCI serves no purpose other than to acknowledge that the federal government is looking into the problem but it still going to lose its state.


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