Wan Saiful: Racial, religious divisions being sown in Sabah


PETALING JAYA: A sociopolitical analyst has warned that Sabah, which has been widely held as an example of ethnic and religious harmony, is losing its tolerant multi-racial character as politicians sow insecurity among the people there for their own ends.

Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said he was saddened to see partisan politics beginning to create ethno-religious divisions among Sabahans.

“It troubles me to see some Sabahans beginning to debate politics by using ethnic and religious sentiments,” he said.

If this continues, Sabah will lose its claim as a state that can be looked upon as an example of ethnic and religious harmony.

“Politicians in Sabah should think twice about this. They should not destroy the harmony enjoyed by the state just for short-term political gains,” he said in a commentary in Sin Chew Daily yesterday.

Wan Saiful said he found a number of people using “language of ethnic and religious division” usually heard in Peninsular Malaysia during his recent visit to Sabah.

He said he heard comments that only a Muslim should be the chief minister, with some people suggesting that Christians and non-Muslims would take over the state government if Sabahan Muslims were not vigilant.

“This is a worrying development. Granted, as the general election gets closer, it is expected that many things would be politicised.

“But for race and religion to be used as an issue, especially in a state like Sabah, is a sign of desperation,” Wan Saiful said.

Wan Saiful added that he specifically heard accusations that supporting opposition Parti Warisan Sabah would lead to Christians controlling the state even though its president Shafie Apdal is a Muslim.

He said the party’s opponents have claimed that its deputy president Darell Leiking would promote Christianity.

Wan Saiful said it is wrong to make religion a campaign issue as the focus should be on the real policies offered by parties.

He also said Sabah has a long history of forming state governments without undue concern about the ethnicity or religion of elected leaders.

He said they had included a number of non-Muslim chief ministers like Peter Lo Sui Yin (1965 to 1967), Joseph Pairin Kitingan (1985-1994), Yong Teck Lee (1996-1998) and Chong Kah Kiat (2001-2003).