ON THE BEAT
BY WONG CHUN WAI
Sabahan politicians are voicing their grouses, and a good piece of advice for Putrajaya would be to take what they are saying seriously.
THE voices of Sabahans are literally being heard in the Dewan Rakyat these days. Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia speaks in his heavily accented Sabah Bahasa Malaysia, which his fellow Members of Parliament are learning to follow.
Reporters on the parliamentary beat now have to check with each other what Pandikar is saying to ensure they get his quotes right.
But that’s not all. Sabahan MPs are now the centre of attention as speculation over the possible crossover of these politicians to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) fires the imagination of the nation.
They have cleverly voiced their unhappiness at the state of affairs back home in the Dewan Rakyat, issuing subtle threats of crossing over but remaining non-committal to any side. In short, they have said plenty but have not committed themselves to anyone.
Sabahan politicians are known for their political skills, having pulled the carpet from under the feet of the Barisan Nasional before.
I remember the PBS pulling out of the Barisan on the eve of a general election. Then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was at Angkasapuri for a concert when Datuk Joseph Pairin in Sabah announced that his party was pulling out from the coalition.
Ironically, the 70s catchy disco song, Hands On, by Ottawan was being sung as the power play took stage.
As the finale ended, Dr Mahathir adjourned for supper, and it was then that Information Minister Datuk Mohamed Rahmat whispered the bad news to him.
Dr Mahathir displayed no emotion and continued to eat. He finally decided to speak to the press close to midnight.
But he struck back hard at the rebellion, which he described as “a stab in the back”, and he used the full federal authority to punish the PBS.
Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili was arrested under the Internal Security Act on charges of endangering national security while Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, who headed a PBS think-tank then, was arrested for plotting to take Sabah out of the federation.
That was not all: Umno decided to expand to Sabah and by 1994, splinter parties from the PBS had been formed.
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the PBS deputy president, had set up the United Pasokmomugun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation with himself as president.
Datuk Yong Teck Lee, another PBS deputy president, formed the Sabah Progressive Party and the MCA also set foot in Sabah, splitting the Chinese clout deeper.
It took a long time before the PBS was allowed back to the Barisan.
Now, more than a decade later, PBS leaders, having learnt the painful lesson of being left out in the cold, prefer to be less vocal even as the country’s political temperature shoots up and the uncertainties continue.
But Yong and Dompok are speaking up again. Together with other Sabah leaders from Umno, they are grumbling that they have got a raw deal.
Citing issues from the allocation of seats and positions to the lack of development in Sabah, they are now demanding to be treated rightly and fairly.
We have delivered the votes and now, it’s your turn to deliver: that’s their call, if not an ultimatum, to the Prime Minister.
Last week, both Yong and Dompok warned Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of the very real possibility of crossovers to PR, saying the Sabah MPs were frustrated.
It is reliably learnt that when Yong met Abdullah, he appealed to the latter three times to take it seriously in order to drive home the point.
Yong gave Abdullah until August, barely three months from now, because the Sabahan politicians are aware that if the defections cannot be executed, the issue would fizzle out.
PR also realises that it needs to show some results, at least a few defections, or its threat would not be taken seriously.
The media-savvy Sabah politicians understand the short attention span of Malaysians.
If it takes too long, then the likelihood of a strong crossover to reduce the numbers on the government bench, if not topple the Government, would diminish.
From the media focus on the Olympics to the fasting month in September, it would also have its impact on the timing of the defections.
A good piece of advice for Putrajaya would be to take what the Sabahans are saying seriously