Monday, May 12, 2008

The Politics Of Federalism

Hantu Laut

Sabahans have always had an ambivalent relationship with the central government. This love and hate relationship goes as far back as the time of the USNO (United Sabah National Organisation) government under Tun Dato Mustapha Harun, a flamboyant, unmanagable and most feared Chief Minister Sabah ever had. The only leader of a state who had 2 stated-owned private jets (Grumman 2) and purchased another 2 customised Boeing 707 for his private use.At that time even the Prime Minister have to take commercial flights.

Mustapha, a tin-pot dictator was given wide-ranging power by the then Federal government under first Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman. His wide ranging power included the power to arrest political opponents and throw them in prison without trail.

Desirous of perpetuating Malay power in Sabah, the Federal government allowed Mustapha to do as he pleases and was assigned a special aide dispatched from Kuala Lumpur to be his special adviser. A lawyer by profession, Syed Kechik eventually became the most powerful man in Sabah, as powerful as the Chief Minister if not more.

He was also the most hated and was practically running the state on behalf of Mustapha, who spent most of his time in the play grounds of Europe and the Middle East.Mustapha spent most of his time in casinos in Beirut and London.

Mustapha not only collected private planes but also collected overseas properties, wives and mistresses at the expense of state resources. He was also responsible for opening the back door and allowed illegal immigrants to come in from southern Philippines to increase the Muslim population in the state and was notoriously responsible for mass conversion to Islam of some indigenous tribes in the state.

When Tun Razak took over as Prime Minister, Mustapha had become too powerful, completely out of control and was planning to take Sabah out of Malaysia and install himself as sultan. The authenticity and the truth of this story had not been established till today.

His refusal to sign the Petroleum Act agreement giving the Federal government and Petronas full power over oil resources and giving the state only 5 % in oil revenue angered the central government.Despite repeated attempts by the Federal government to get him to agree, Mustapha refused to negotiate any further. Razak was on the horns of a dilemma on how to deal with him.The Federal have to find an excuse to get Mustapha out of the way. The only way is to topple him democratically using his own men.

In 1975 the Federal urged Harris Salleh to leave USNO and form a new political party. Harris formed Berjaya with full blessing of the Federal government.Harris was later joined by Tun Fuad Stephen who resigned his head of state position and along with other Mustapha's trusted men ditched USNO for Berjaya. The machinery to topple Mustapha was launched and massive defections from USNO and other political parties to Berjaya followed.Election was held the following year and Mustapha was ousted.

The Federal backed Berjaya won the elections and formed the state government with Tun Fuad Stephen as Chief Minister. Unfortunately, Stephen, his son and some of his ministers died in a mysterious plane crash soon after his appointment. A tragic loss of Sabah's most colorful, amiable and down to earth leader. Harris took over the helm.

His first task as Chief Minister was to salvage the extensive damage to the state economy under Mustapha. He embarked on massive public expenditure to rebuild the shattered economy and made Sabah one of the most prosperous states at that time.His relationship with the Federal was excellent and helped in bringing more federal expenditure to the state. After a massive landslide victory for the second term of office and more than cordial relationship with the Federal, Harris got an illusion of invincibility and made some very unpopular decisions.

In spite of his success as a leader of a multi-racial party and outstanding performance as Chief Minister, there is a dark side to Harris Salleh, only known to those close to him.He can be very temperamental, aggressive and profoundly unreasonable.

The sacking of Joseph Pairin Kitingan, abrogation of Tambunan as a district, the giving away of Labuan to the Federal without any compensation to the state and erosion of state rights embodied under the 20 points was the straw that broke the camel back and one that brought him nemesis at the state elections in 1985.The election was won by PBS (Parti Bersatu Sabah) led by the estranged Joseph Pairin. USNO led by Mustapha took significant number of seats and was later accepted into the BN.He later brought UMNO into Sabah and almost all members of USNO automatically became members of UMNO.

Having obtained a simple majority PBS reneged on its promise of a coalition with USNO and formed the government on it own but not before overcoming the cloak and dagger antics of Berjaya and USNO and attempted coup.

The thumping defeat of Berjaya must have shocked Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad who had promised Harris to sink or swim with him.Sink or swim ? Harris soon realised there was no such thing in federal politics, there is no love and affection only desertion if you failed.

The defeat at the polls did not stop them from staging an Istana coup to swear in Mustapha as Chief Minister in spite of the fact USNO and Berjaya didn't have simple majority to form the government.They almost got away with it if not for the interference of Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam who still have respect for the democratic process and avoided an incident that could have given Malaysia a bad name internationally.Prime Minister Mahathir was away overseas and Musa was acting on his behalf.

Sabah had two chief ministers for a while until the case went to court and Mustapha lost. The incident also brought violent street demonstration in Kota Kinabalu organised by leaders of Berjaya and USNO and purportedly supported by a few federal leaders.

Sabahans have always felt marginalised and remained at the lowest rung in term of economic development.

When it was in the opposition under the PBS government it received very little developmental expenditure from the Federal government.All development funds from the Federal were channelled through JPPS (Jabatan Pembangunan Persekutuan Sabah), which was specifically formed to avoid channelling funds through the state government. Trengganu got the same treatment when PAS took over the state in 1999.The double standard and undemocratic actions of the federal government is unbelievable in a country that practises democracy and a Westminster-styled parliamentary system. It is a brand of politics called Mahatirism.

In Sabah the federal development expenditure which used to go through the state before the PBS era is still being channelled through JPPS.Many Sabah members of parliament had complained about the way these funds have been administered and that many big federal projects were given to companies from the Peninsula with Sabah contractors only getting the crumbs, if they are lucky to get any. Most federal departments also deployed their senior officers from the Peninsula to the ire of Sabahans who felt they are as much qualified if not better. To make matters worse some officers were abhorrent and treat Sabah more like a colony rather
than as an integral part of Malaysia.

Sarawak didn't have this problem as most things agreed upon when it joined Malaysia are still intact and under state control.

In the 1994 Elections, PBS won the election with a simple majority of 25 seats against BN (Barisan Nasional) 23 seats. Joseph Pairin had to wait 36 hours outside the istana (palace) gate before he was sworn in as the Chief Minister.The PBS government only lasted two weeks before it was ousted by undemocratic menouvering of the BN. Majority of its assemblymen defected to BN parties with some of its leaders forming new Kadazan-based parties.Pairin resigned as Chief Minister on 17 March 1994 and handed over the government to the BN who won the government through manipulations and undemocratic menouvering. The then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad introduced the rotational system of chief minister among the major races in the state, which many Sabahans deemed as unconstitutional and an attempt to divide and rule.

Now, without two-thirds majority the BN government can hang in the balance if there were defections to PR ( Pakatan Rakyat) of dissatisfied BN members of parliament.The irony is the BN or particularly UMNO is contemplating passing an anti-hop law when it had in the past abolished a legislation by a 1992 High Court ruling on anti-hop in the 'Sabah State Constitution' that was passed by the PBS government on the excuse that it was ultra vires the 'Federal Constitution' and are,therefore, illegal and that it contravened the freedom of association enshrined in the Constitution.

What about freedom of speech, isn't it part and parcel? If the Federal Constitution allows freedom of association than it must also allow freedom of speech in totality, without any restriction,hindrance and persecution.

In March 1999 State Elections PBS still managed to get 17 seats against the might of the BN and got 213,432 total votes against the combined BN total votes of 240,110.It showed that the PBS had maintained its popularity.

On 22 April 2000, six PBS Assemblymen led by Jeffery Kitingan(brother of Pairin) defected to PBRS, a BN component party.In January 2002 PBS was re-admitted into the BN.In April 2002 five PBS Assemblymen who defected to PBRS returned to PBS.

The KDM politics has for a long time strive more on self interest rather than interests of the community.There are three predominantly KDM-based parties for a community of less than 500,000 people. It definitely does not believe in "united we stand, divided we fall".

A Kadazan friend once opined to me and said "the biggest enemy of the Kadazan community is Jeffery Kitingan, all he does is bring infamy and disgrace to the community for his selfish act, and the sad thing is many of our people think he is fighting for them tooth and nail"

In 2004 General Elections the BN won the biggest landslide victory under the new leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and delivered a crushing blow to the oppositions. It was Abdullah glorious moment and the beginning of his soured relationship with his predecessor, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.

The bitter falling out of these two men would eventually weaken UMNO and the BN, partly due to Abdullah own faults and boosted by Mahathir incessant "remove Abdullah" campaign which has effectively divided UMNO into two camps.

The consequence of Abdullah's failure to keep his promise of reforms and Mahathir's unrelenting attacks on him are shown in the results of the 8 March 2008 Elections.

In the March 2008 Elections, Sabah and Sarawak outstanding performance were nothing less than admirable especially Sabah, which held both its parliamentary and state elections simultaneously, while Sarawak only had its parliamentary.Unlike Sabah, Sarawak stills control its state election and does not need Puterajaya's consent.

The was huge outcry of unfair treatment from politicians and ordinary Sabahans soon after Prime Minister Abdullah announced his cabinet line up. It didn't reflect the contributions of Sabah and Sarawak and gratitude for saving the BN from biting the dust.Without Sabah and Sarawak delivering almost all of the parliament seats, UMNO would, today, be seating on the opposition bench. MCA, MIC and Gerakan with whatever seats they have won would have abandoned the BN if they can't form the government.

The first to express dissatisfaction over the unfair treatment was the MP for Kimanis Anifah Aman (brother of Musa Aman) who turned down the offer of deputy minister and subsequently followed by the MP for Merotai Ghaffur Salleh who had accepted a deputy minister post but resigned two weeks later.

Ghaffur Salleh was initially dropped by Chief Minister Musa Aman but was later included in the list of candidates upon his appeal to Abdullah.It must have made Abdullah see red for someone he had helped to embarrass him in such a way.

At a recent Parliament sitting Kimanis MP Anifah Aman spoke his mind after being taunted by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi whether Sabah backbenchers were tempted to crossover to the oppositions.

This is another example of stupid politician asking stupid question and forgot if not for Sabah and Sarawak he wouldn't be in the cabinet and so are the rest of his colleages.There seems to be plenty of them in the Federal cabinet who think they are smarter but came out sounding pathetically stupid.

Anifah response was most appropriate and the most serious note so far coming from a Sabah politician.He said if there were no more room in the big bungalow what's is wrong to move to a smaller house.If you are ignored, marginalised and treated like a stepchild what's the point of staying.You can read "Anifah speaks his mind" here.

What Anifah brought up in Parliament has reverberated throughout the state with many politicians and the people of Sabah starting to speak up. Former Chief Ministers Harris Salleh and Yong Tat Lee have thrown their supports behind Anifah and described his speech as worthy of praise and support.

Harris said he hopes the Federal will take heed and seriously implement some of the ideas presented by Anifah for the two East Malaysian states.

The voters in Peninsula Malaysia had shown their displeasure at the arrogance and antics of those in power and there is strong possibility that Sabah and Sarawak would be tempted to change even before the next general election if nothing palatable coming out from the Federal government.

Sabah has lost its decision-making autonomy since UMNO assumed power in the state.It has lost the power to administer the state independently. The basic functions of government embodied in the State constitution are no longer the authority of the Chief Minister and the cabinet. Unlike Sarawak, it has lost its independence to dissolve its Assembly and call for elections.

The BN is safe at the moment but the picture might change once Anwar Ibrahim is elected to Parliament.

The kataks (frogs) waiting at the front gate at the moment may decide to change ponds when Anwar enters Parliament.


Anonymous said...


Good article.
The end began the moment UMNO "entered" Sabah.
It's only a matter of time before the Sabahans (& Sarawakians) wake up & "smell the coffee". Anwar & the PR are waiting in the wings with the "sugar & milk" for them.
The way AAB & the BN (read: UMNO) are's only a matter of time!
Who knows, the rumour about some "kataking" may even start tomorrow (Weds)!!!!!

Mat Salo said...

Great write-up Sir! Thanks for the review as most of us 'orang Malaya' had forgotten the color that Sabah politics brings. Brought back memories too.. of a time in Labuan and Miri in the early to mid-nineties. I clearly remembered the '94 elections being a real cliffhanger ..

Once Anwar is in Parliament.. we know the stage for is set for Act II.

Anonymous said...

Haris salleh is also a playboy!

Only Pairin really loves Sabah, He tried to wrestle back Sabahan Rights by back stabing BN but failed!

Anonymous said...

excellent article and well written...

Anonymous said...

sabah and swk are/were malaya partner to form malaysia not a state

sabah, sarawak parties should withdraw from BN and form their own alliance with PR...pakatan rakyat parties should be closed their 'shop' in east malaysia

alliance of 54mps bargaining value can be higher than masuk any of PR parties(jadi ahli parti)

ask for

75% oil royalties to recover the previous royalties
1/3 of parlimen seats each
1/3 of dpm each
1/3 of annual budget each
1/3 of development each
1/3 of ministerships each

regain the 20points in 1963 perjanjian special rights
peninsular cant campur tangan in east malaysia politics etc
peninsular cant simply impose dasar2 that against east malaysia interest
east malaysia states can veto any peninsular decision can effect east malaysia interest. e.g dubai can veto abu dhabi decision

me said...

The KDMs having three parties is not the problem.

The problem is that we require race-based parties at all.

I do not want to suppress my political leanings just for the sake of ethnic unity.

In any case, BN has been used to subjugating aggressively any dissenters. So Zahid's taunting of Sabahans is typical. They don't know how to play nice with people they consider below them, and BN certainly considers Sabahans below them.


Anonymous said...

Very good, better than history book. By the way Tun Faud is no better than the Mustapha. He is the one who sold Lee Kuan Yew when they suppose to luanch Malaysia Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Thumbs up! very well written & refreshing. I am hoping the wave of change is soon taking place in sabah & sarawak. We want to see major developments and prosperity for these lands.

Anonymous said...

Mustafa alone cant spend most of Sabah Revenue.

Those money are use by the Federal Gomen to develop KL!!!

Left us Sabahan Dry!

Sandakan was once the town with the most millionaire in the world but now what happen!

Be responsible!

goldart said...

It is truly amazing to finally know what exactly happened to the relationship between Sabah and Malaya that led to Sabah being the poorest state in The Federation of Malaysia.The Malayan people especially the UMNO Malays has been trying very hard ever since the formation of the federation to control our mind and our soul but God is forever greater than the mightiest power on the planet earth and very soon we will witness the birth of a new era for the people of Sabah.What Mustafa did to Sabah is exactly what Taib is doing to Sarawak now.UMNO raped Sabah through their proxy UMNO Sabah and they also raped Sarawak by allowing Taib to have a freehand on the Land of The Hornbill.In both cases the poor voters are the victims at the receiving end.It is high time for the people of Sabah and Sarawak to demand for their ancestral rights to be recognized.Sabah for Sabahan and Sarawak for Sarawakian,better still if both Sarawak and Sabah is declared an Independent and Sovereign Nation.Damn the British who betrayed us and allowed us to be colonized by the malayan.

gram.kong said...

The longer Anwar wait to enter Parliament the lesser would be his chance of taking over the government.

The BN lawmakers would not cross under the present circumstamces.They are only prepared if Anwar is already elected and firmly in his seat.

To move now without Anwar in Parliament is too risky.I will explain in my next post.

gram.kong said...

Mat Salo,

Thanks mate.Anwar shouldn't wait too long.This may be is only chance to have a go at it.

First thing he must do is get elected and the safest seat for him is to takeover his wife's seat.He must stand in predominantly Malay area to prove to UMNO that the Malays are also with him.

gram.kong said...

Every politicians has their good and bad sides, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they are ok.

Mahathir is probably an example of the good outweigh the bad.You either hate him or love him.

gram.kong said...

Thanks.Please come back more often.

gram.kong said...

free sarawak,
Lots of thing are easier said than done.

Sabah and Sarawak are better in Malaysia than outside.We have poor and dangerous neighbours at our doorsteps.

gram.kong said...

What to do, some politicians are just stupid.To look down on another person is not the quality of an intelligent man.

We all are born equal, not all are born lucky.

gram.kong said...

anonymous 6.28,

I am sorry, I can't decipher what you are trying to convey.

gram.kong said...

Thanks.Please come back.It would be better if you all can use a name, any pseudo name.

gram.kong said...


You have some nice paintings there.I collect art.I have left message on you website.

Back to politics,I think no point crying over spilled milk.As you rightly say our own leaders are more to blame for what happened to the two East Malaysian states.If they have not been selfish and corrupt, the state and people wouldn't suffer so much.

Sabah is an example of a state plundered by every succeding leader.We have only ourselves to blame, we voted them in.

Anonymous said...

sabahans and sarawakians had been cheated by the british, suruhanjaya cobbold and by the malayas

the only danger if we independence is the people disunite and have race/religion-based mentality like what in malaya nowadays. it just like time bomb

when and how on earth cobbold did the survey in short time...