Three men in a coffeeshop with nothing much to do.
DOGOL: Hey, Ragang, you think Sabah will fall to the Opposition this coming GE?
RAGANG: I don’t know.
LUNCHAI: You don’t know? You Sabahan and you don’t know?
RAGANG: I not God.
DOGOL: Umno is now praying to God to win the GE. Najib told the members at their general assembly last week, better pray hard!
LUNCHAI: As if God will side any political party.
DOGOL: God does not take sides, so to call on God to help Umno and BN win is itself ungodly.
LUNCHAI: Hahaha! You’re right!
DOGOL: Maybe Najib needs to pray because he’s worried Sabah is not a safe deposit for sure?
LUNCHAI: Ya, especially after the defections... Wilfred Bumburing from Upko, Lajim Ukin from Umno.
RAGANG: That’s not enough. Lajim is not so influential beyond Klias and Lumalan. Anwar Ibrahim wants Wilfred to try and win the KDM seats, but he will come up against Jeffrey Kitingan’s State Reform Party (STAR).
RAGANG: Kadazandusun and Murut.
DOGOL: Unless Wilfred and Jeffrey join forces lah.
RAGANG: But can they? If they can’t, they’ll be fighting 3-cornered fights. Their votes will be split. Like that, BN sure will win. Don’t forget there will also be Independents standing. If you remember, in 2008, for the Bingkor state seat, if it was a straight fight between BN and the Opposition, the Opposition might have won. But it was a four-cornered fight and there were two Independents who took away some of the anti-BN votes from the PKR candidate. If you count the votes the PKR man and the Independents got, they were more than the BN candidate’s.
LUNCHAI: Why can’t Jeffrey and Pakatan Rakyat work together?
RAGANG: Jeffrey wants STAR to contest almost every seat. Will he work with Pakatan, which is led by Anwar? You remember, Jeffrey was vice-president of PKR but he quit the party on the last day of 2010?
DOGOL: I remember he said he quit because he wanted to concentrate on the United Borneo Front to look after the interests of the people of Sabah and Sarawak. That doesn’t mean he can’t cooperate with Anwar and Pakatan for the GE. He can serve both causes at the same time.
RAGANG: There’s more to it bah.
DOGOL: It would be a real shame if the Opposition doesn’t win Sabah this time. Sabah looks like it’s ready to swing.
LUNCHAI: I heard if the Opposition get it right, they can win up to 15 parliament seats.
DOGOL: That could have an effect on winning the federal government.
RAGANG: Most urban Sabahans even want a change in the federal government, same like many people in Semenanjung. They also want a good government, no hanky-panky, use the people’s money rightly. But the rural people… many are very poor, so BN comes and gives money to them and they are happy, they vote BN.
LUNCHAI: Wah! Hard lah like that!
RAGANG: Pity. Sabah is the poorest state in the whole of Malaysia – although we have oil. We deliver RM15 billion a year to the federal government, but how much of that comes back to us, to fund our development? We also have the largest oil palm plantations in the country. We are also suffering because of the Cabotage policy. Prices of goods are higher in Sabah because of that. Now inflation has made it worse. How can our poor villagers survive? Semenanjung has Petronas Towers, plenty of expressways, what do we have? Where is our infrastructure? How do we develop? Our water supply not up to standard. If a government cannot provide good, clean water to every citizen, it is a failure. Water is basic.
LUNCHAI: Ya, the people of Sabah deserve better than what they been getting for so many decades. I was in KK earlier this year, so surprised to find it so backward, like KL in the ’80s. The islands off KK, like Manukan and Gaya, you can see those houses on stilts on the sea with thousands of illegal immigrants living there. This must be the biggest problem for Sabah, but still not solved.
DOGOL: I saw it in the streets of Tawau as early as 1986 when I was there for a week. It was already a problem then. The illegal immigrants had no jobs and many were on the streets, some selling cigarettes.
LUNCHAI: Now got RCI coming up, can solve ah?
RAGANG: That’s a joke bah. Why did Najib rush down to Sabah to announce the RCI only after Wilfred and Lajim jumped to the Opposition? How sincere is the federal government? It’s only because the GE is coming. They want our votes bah. We’ve been asking for the RCI for so long, the first time nearly 20 years ago, but nothing. Anyway, the problem is so big, we don’t expect them to solve it in six months – that’s the time limit Najib gave the RCI. How can? So we don’t believe it. We are not fools.
DOGOL: You don’t think Sabahans will vote BN for establishing the RCI? The Merdeka Centre survey done in September found that the illegal immigrant problem was the number one issue for them.
RAGANG: I think the RCI is all for show. That same survey said only 54 percent of the people are confident the RCI can address the problem. And 36 percent said it’s only to make Sabahans feel less angry before the GE.
DOGOL: I keep thinking this is the best time to take Sabah from BN. There is infighting among BN in Sabah. Musa Aman is under pressure for allegations of corruption, for getting tons of money from granting timber licenses. The Merdeka Centre survey shows that Sabahans think the Sabah government is not doing so well. From 66 percent approval in 2009, it has dropped to 54 percent in September 2012. And this comes from all races. Rural and urban.
LUNCHAI: I saw that survey too. The big surprise is the reaction from the Muslim Bumiputeras. They were the biggest drop from 79 percent to 62.
RAGANG: Yes, they are usually the biggest supporters of BN.
DOGOL: The KDM support also dropped about 9 percent. Now is the time for the Opposition to strike. Never mind if they can’t win the state; if they can win many parliamentary seats in Sabah, they can stand a good chance to win Putrajaya.
LUNCHAI: But Ragang is right, it must be one-to-one fights. Like in 2008 in Peninsular Malaysia. Very effective.
RAGANG: In 2008, the Opposition failed to form an electoral pact in Sabah. So like in Inanam, PKR was standing against DAP. Their combined votes were much higher than the BN victor’s votes. If either PKR or DAP had stood alone, the Opposition would have won.
DOGOL: That failure to form a pact did hurt the Opposition.
LUNCHAI: It mustn’t be repeated in the coming GE if they want to do well.
RAGANG: Pakatan must work with the local parties, share power. PKR and DAP must realize that Sabahans, especially the KDM, want local parties to represent them at the federal level. These parties understand the local needs better. That’s why people vote PBS and Upko. So the Semenanjung-based parties must form alliances with local parties. Pakatan may win just a few seats on its own, perhaps Pensiangan, Penampang, KK. That’s why it must come to an agreement with Jeffrey because he is still a force in Sabah politics. His brother, Pairin, and PBS are losing support because Pairin is seen as a BN man and afraid to speak up on local issues. So STAR is gaining ground in KDM areas. Jeffrey talks of getting Sabah a bigger oil royalty, of getting autonomy for Sabah. And he wants to contest in all the KDM parliamentary seats. Anwar has to negotiate with him.
DOGOL: I asked Anwar the Sabah question at a fundraiser where he was the guest-of-honor the other day, and he said Pakatan was for one-to-one contests and would negotiate with all parties. With STAR, he said he had asked Wilfred to continue negotiating with Jeffrey, but if Jeffrey wants to contest in all KDM areas, “that will be a problem”. He also said SAPP initially asked for 40 state seats, but that was “way too much”, and now they’ve brought it down to 25.
RAGANG: Everyone is thinking big, that’s the problem! But SAPP could be a problem for DAP because they are both after mainly the Chinese votes. They also need to give and take. I hope Anwar is doing all it takes to resolve the seat-sharing issue.
LUNCHAI: The future of Sabah depends on that huh?
RAGANG: I don’t know about that, but Sabahans who have woken up now realize we can influence the outcome of the GE in some way, so we should vote for the benefit of Sabah. No point giving our vote and getting little or nothing in return. And by the way, changing the government is nothing new in Sabah, we have done it before.
LUNCHAI: So can we say if the Opposition get it right this time, got chance for new government?
RAGANG (laughs): Boleh bah kalau kau.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, available in bookstores together with its Malay translation, Jangan Kelentong Lagi, Kita Semua Orang Malaysia. - MD