A delayed visit by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to KadazanDusun and Murut heartland in Keningau, Sabah, may prove to be politically uncomfortable.
KENINGAU: The people in the interior divisions of Sabah are preparing to use the weekend visit of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the third this year, as an opportunity to deliver a strong message about what they feel about his party, Umno, and his leadership style.
Najib will be in Keningau today (Saturday) to officiate at the national-level Kaamatan Festival and then he moves to nearby Tambunan in the weekend to launch the ground-breaking of a Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS)-initiated KDM College.
In the works are plans to transport the thousands from the interior and other parts of Sabah to the town centres to give Najib a morale boost and show that support from his “fix-deposit” state is intact, ahead of the 13th general election.
Both Keningau and the sleepy town of Tambunan have been spruced up ahead of the prime minister’s two-day visit to shore up support for his coalition, battered in the 2008 general election and now facing defections by Sabah BN leaders, especially those likely to be dropped by him in an effort to revitalise BN, to opposition parties.
Observers said Najib, who was intially supposed to officially announce the setting up of a Royal Investigation of Inquiry (RCI) on the presence of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Sabah, was last week forced to announce it in Kuala Lumpur earlier to pacify potential defectors, especially Upko’s number two leader Wilfred Bumburing who had been outspoken about Najib’s dilly-dallying on the RCI.
Influential Sabah Umno leader Lajim Ukin, who was also rumoured to leave, had three weeks ago threatened to stage a “people’s rally” in Keningau to demonstrate to Najib the anger of Sabahans over the erosion of their special rights and autonomy by the federal government.
Whatever that means, Lajim remains an enigmatic personality at the moment, as he is said to be among those facing the axe even though he is still very popular especially in Beaufort.
Observers say Lajim would win handsomely even as an independent candidate in his former state seat, Klias, where Bisayas form the majority, and that it would be tough to defeat him even in Beaufort if he so decides to retain his MP seat.
Najib to see, hear Sabahans’ angst
In a related development, FMT learnt that a few groups in the interior plan a rally to commemorate the assurances and pledges granted Sabah prior to the formation of Malaysia Federation in 1963.
A State Reform Party (STAR) leader, who requested anonymity, told FMT that the groups had approached STAR to send a signal to Najib this weekend that the majority of Sabahans loathe the fact that they seemed to be still under colonisation.
To them, he said, Sabah has been colonised by Malaya and this explains why Sabahans remain poor despite living in a state rich in natural resources.
They have offered to debate the issue with Sabah Umno. They pointed to how the Sabah government cannot determine its own direction without first consulting Umno.
Which message gets through louder this weekend remains to be seen but Najib could be seeing first- hand how Sabahans have felt all these years.
While government leaders, including Chief Minister Musa Aman and his deputy Joseph Pairin Kitingan, who plays host, are expected to heap praise on Najib this weekend, some state BN leaders are embarrassed by their subservience.
Afraid to express their feelings openly, they are indirectly sponsoring a rally to show Najib the other side of Sabahans.
Erosion of ‘autonomy’ since 1963
None of these groups were willing to speak about their plans but their anger was palpable.
Sabahans, like Sarawakians, were guaranteed a degree of social and political autonomy when they agreed to form a new federation in 1963, together with Malaya and Singapore.
Singapore went its own way in 1965 while Sabah and, to a lesser degree, Sarawak have seen their autonomy slowly dissipate.
Since 1963, however, Sabah’s autonomy which included unfettered power over land, immigration, education, tariff and finance, health, was stealthily removed by the federal government.
This was evident by the Stephen Kalong Ningkan impasse in the 1960s and during the nine-year rule of the state by Christian-dominated PBS government from 1985 to 1994.
While Najib’s predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamad had once said during his iron-fisted rule that Sabah and Sarawak’s parliamentary seats were too small to affect the BN’s grip on power, the situation was turned on its head in 2008 when half of the 165 seats in the peninsula fell to the opposition.
Suddenly, Sabah’s 25 MP seats and Sarawak’s 31 became so precious to Umno-BN and Najib, who forced then premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to step down, was forced to bend over backwards to accommodate hitherto scorned leaders to hang on to power
It also explains Najib’s and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin’s frequent visits to Sabah and Sarawak to shore up BN support and contain the influence of the opposition.