In a little more than a week the people of Sabah will return to the polls to elect a new government. No doubt, a number of issues will weigh on their minds as they decide who to cast their ballots for. Certainly, the political frogs who precipitated this election by their treachery need to be punished; for so long as elected officials think nothing of betraying the trust of the people, our democracy will not be safe.
Economic issues will also loom large. More than five decades after the formation of Malaysia, Sabah remains one of the least developed parts of the country. Many parts of the state are still without electricity, water, health services and other basic infrastructure. That it should happen in a country where billionaire politicians boast that RM2 million (more than 600 times the median salary) is but loose change is nothing short of outrageous. That it should happen in a state which is also the top crude oil producer in the country is more than criminal.
The people of Sabah have every right to feel neglected and they are fully justified in demanding a greater share of federal revenues. The benefits of nationhood must be shared fairly and equally; it was, after all, implicit in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement and it’s time Putrajaya lives up to both the spirit and the letter of the Agreement. There’s no need for more MA63 committees; just sincerity and political will.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says Sabah should stick with the parties that hold federal power; change won’t come if Sabahans keep doing the same thing over and over again.
But there is another equally pressing issue that requires urgent attention – an existential threat to Sabah’s way of life and its culture of tolerance and respect for diversity. Sabah (and Sarawak) is the Malaysia we had hoped to be before bigots and racists hijacked the national agenda and weaponized race and religion to serve their own ends. Sabah (and Sarawak) is now all that remains of Tengku Abdul Rahman’s vision of a nation “inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty, a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.” All that is now under threat.
Thanks to years of racial and religious discrimination, we now have in Putrajaya politicians who are unashamedly racist and proud of it. They think nothing of promoting supremacist ideas like “Malaysia is for Malays”, the rest be damned. Every little thing outside their bigoted and narrow framework is offensive or incompatible with their vision of Malaysia – the way we dress, a cross on the side of a church building, a few words in a Bible translation, Chinese New Year or Christmas decorations, even Ponggol and other religious and cultural festivals.
In considering who to vote for, Sabahans must ask themselves if they want to end up with the same toxic culture of bigotry that divides, that incites, that provokes, that accuses, that excludes, that stirs up animosity and hate that the rest of the country that has overtaken the rest of the country.
They should take a good hard look at PAS, in particular, to understand where our nation is headed. With just 18 of the 222 seats in Parliament, PAS is pushing a radical agenda to remake Malaysia in its own image. In the very short time since PAS became part of the government (thanks to the treachery of power-hungry politicians), it has been pushing for greater religious control over all aspects of national life.
They are calling for tougher penalties for religious offences, the closure of pubs, gender segregation, the end of vernacular schools and the exclusion of non-Muslims from senior policy making positions in government. (Note that even the appointment of a non-Muslim bumiputra from Sabah as chief justice was too much for them).
And now, the same PAS leader who thought nothing of insulting Christians with his remarks that the Bible is distorted wants the government to put shariah advisers (which PAS is, of course, happy to supply) in every government department to “guide” them! If they have their way, the mullahs will soon rule and the Malaysia we know will be gone forever.
The people of Sabah should have no illusions that this is purely a ‘Semananjong’ problem; PAS and its allies in the Malay-Muslim supremacist movement fully intend to hold sway over the entire nation. Already PAS, for one, has been busy establishing branches across Sabah and recruiting new members. It would have contested in the upcoming election but backed away because of the fallout from their MP’s inane remarks about the Bible.
It is only a temporary pause, however. If Perikatan Nasional (PN) and parties allied to it win power in Sabah, UMNO president Zahid Hamidi has promised to use the state’s constitutional provision to appoint up to six members of the state assembly to bring PAS into the state government. Once they get in, you can be sure they’ll start agitating for the introduction of the same extremist policies they are pushing in the peninsula.
The fact that PN party leaders are already fighting over which of their proxies should be appointed chief minister should they win is also an ominous sign, an indication that Sabah is just a pawn in a wider power struggle. With 56 seats in parliament, Sabah and Sarawak ought to be kings and king-makers instead of mere pawns. Certainly, they should not be allowing PAS to exert undue influence over the country’s direction.
Warisan’s Shafie Apdal, on the other hand, is offering the people of Sabah a different vision and a different future. His vision is to “build a nation not a particular race or religion.” No politician since the Tunku has embraced multiculturalism with such passion and conviction. It’s exactly the message of hope that our nation desperately needs, the only antidote to the poisonous culture of bigotry and intolerance that has engulfed the peninsula and now threatens Sabah as well.
Dark clouds hover over our nation; many have already lost hope convinced that we have gone too far down the road of racism and religious extremism to pull back. The people of Sabah have one chance to save themselves and protect their unique way of life. If they do, they might just save Malaysia as well.
[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 17th September 2020]