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Sabah’s defeatist mentality biggest hurdle

Luke Rintod of FMT

KOTA KINABALU: Sabahans’ defeatist mentality is the single biggest challenge to bringing change in the state.
Former chief minister Yong Teck Lee sees Sabahans facing a bleak future where they will continue to be mistreated under unfair federal policies because of this ingrained “Sabah mentality”.

“Ordinary Sabahans are defeated mentally… they say even if we (SAPP) win, we still cannot govern.
“After 47 years we have been brainwashed to believe that we cannot do it on our own.
“So defeated is the mentality of some that many in Sabah too believe in the BN (Barisan Nasional) leaders’ mantra that Sabah is BN’s perpetual fixed-deposit as far as election is concerned,” said Yong, who is also the president of Sabah Peoples’ Party (SAPP).
In a candid exclusive interview with FMT recently, Yong said the perceived strength of the ruling BN and its alternative, Pakatan Rakyat, has sunk so deep into the minds of the people that they feared looking further and as such, accepted the shabby conditions in the state.
(According to a World Bank Report, Sabah, with its abundant natural oil and gas resource, is the poorest state in Malaysia.)
“Economically speaking, I don’t think ordinary people have money here… it’s the same in the Peninsula. This Chinese New Year, for instance, has been very quiet.
“The dragon dance companies here received less than half their usual bookings… everything is expensive now,” he said.
But can the once strong opposition capitalise on the consumers’ angst against rising prices, corruption and land grabs?
Yong thinks not. He is worried that the opposition will be unable to take advantage of any revolt against the status quo.
“It is important to have a combined (opposition) force here before the election so that we can remove the (BN) fixed-deposit tag here which in turn influences the people in the Peninsula.
“But if the polls is called now, we are definitely not ready” he said.
Two-faced DAP
Another thing that worries Yong, who is known as “taiko” or master, is the clout DAP has over the Chinese voters.
Last year’s Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election was an eye-opener for political pundits when most of the Chinese votes went to PKR candidate Ansari Abdullah, a controversial figure, and not to Yong, as many had expected.
“In Batu Sapi, they proved a point that DAP can move considerable number of Chinese votes,” Yong said.
He added that men like DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and other DAP Chinese leaders “did a fantastic job of attacking” him instead of BN, two days before the polling.
Yong said that Batu Sapi is now a reference point on how the opposition shot itself in the foot.
“I was up against BN and Pakatan’s combined force,” he said, adding that this was why he eventually finished third behind winner Linda Tsen of the BN and PKR’s Ansari.
Yong said that before the Batu Sapi polls, there was some understanding that SAPP and DAP would “worked together where possible” but things had changed since then.
“All our relationship now is with Pakatan. We are friends, not Pakatan coalition partners.
“As far as we are concerned, all DAP leaders were formerly from other parties including SAPP… like Kota Kinabalu MP Hiew (King Chiew) and Jimmy Wong (Sri Tanjung assemblyman)” he said.
Yong, who himself was once with Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) for many years before forming SAPP, said that the local opposition is formulating an election plan.
“Our plan is being crystallised. By March or April, we will have a plan.
“We are working towards having a one-to-one fight with BN, but I cannot guarantee this 100% because Pakatan has three components (PKR, DAP and PAS).
“Maybe there will be DAP-sponsored candidates against SAPP this time (too).”
New twist in Sabah politics
Yong may be hinting at the possiblity that local opposition parties may band together to form a united front in a new twist to Sabah politics.
Is it coincidental then that another influential Sabah leader, Jeffrey Kitingan, had recently announced that he will be forming a new political party by March?
Jeffrey’s United Borneo Front (UBF), an NGO, has already reached some an understanding with leaders in Sarawak Nasional Party (SNAP). SNAP in turn is aggressively wooing Dayak-majority parties to back Jeffrey’s Borneo Agenda.
In an interview with FMT recently, Jeffrey had hinted that SAPP would be a local partner in UBF’s campaign to collectively wrest 56 seats in Sabah and Sarawak.
Said Yong: “I am quite familiar with Jeffrey’s struggle but am not very clear on his methodology… his political vehicle… we will know soon.
“But what I do know is that no peninsular party will survive in Sabah without the support of a local component.”
Asked what his reading was on the current political climate in Sabah, Yong said the frequent visits by political leaders from the peninsula to Sabah and Sarawak “points to unease at the top”.
“Peninsular leaders used to ignore us, now they are coming here so often.
“There is uneasiness among the BN elite that the Borneo electorate may be seeing a new window of opportunity,” said Yong.
BN crumbling within
Yong said that a seemingly calm Sabah is not good for BN, which is already saddled with internal problems. BN Sabah comprises PBS, PBRS, Upko, LDP and peninsula-based MCA and Gerakan.
He recalled that in 1985 when he was still with PBS “people looked down on us in PBS but in our three-week campaign we created a change”.
“There are situations here… Upko will not leave BN, but Upko’s grassroots will leave, making it a hollow party.
“The same with PBS. PBRS is gone. MCA (supposedly a Chinese party) relies on Malay votes and mixed areas,” he said.
With Sabah and Sarawak together contributing 56 (including Labuan, 57) of the 222 parliamentary seats in Malaysia, many are convinced that the battle for control of Putrajaya will be fought in the Borneo states.
Most believe that it will be a stalemate in the Peninsula with seats shared equally by BN and Pakatan after the 13th general election.
Yong, meanwhile, who is known for his wily ways, hasn’t missed a trick.
His Batu Sapi adventure can be seen as a “testing of the waters” as he moves towards making SAPP relevant in Sabah.

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