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Lahad Datu – a dangerous game

Why haven't the Sabah police acted against rumoured
disturbances within the state following the 'siege' by
militants in Lahad Datu?
LAHAD DATU: The current drama in Lahad Datu following the incursion of armed men from the Philippines and the government’s “gentle” approach to the situation could backfire on the Barisan Nasional leadership if it is indeed a tactical strategy to scare Sabahans into voting for the ruling coalition.

“If this is the BN game, then it is a dangerous strategy,” said State Reform Party (STAR) chief Jeffrey Kitingan.

“It [the strategy] is a double-edged sword because it can backfire and cause the people to vote against the BN for its obvious failure in flexing the [government's] military muscle for the sake of national dignity and sovereignty.
“If the government cannot protect our country and deal with this problem in a way that will enhance our standing as a sovereign nation, maybe it’s time for Malaysia to ask for international intervention,” Jeffrey said, alluding to the stand-off between police and the militants.

He was commenting on widespread rumours that the government’s “no-bloodshed strategy” could be a tactic to counter the growing political uncertainties in the state.

The protracted “negotiations” between the police and the armed militants – holed up in Felda Sahabat in Lahad Datu – is testing the patience of locals and stoking the ire of villagers barred from entering the cordoned-off areas to carry out their daily routine and economic activities.

It has also not helped that details of the “negotiations” have been withheld from the public, with the mainstream media “advised” to downplay the issue.

Left in the cold, Sabahans have been accessing online portals, blogs, tweets and social media for updates on the incursions, leaving many to spin their own theories over the government’s handling of the issue.

Said Jeffrey: “Why is there little media coverage in the government-controlled mainstream media although the intrusion is bordering on an act of war?

“Isn’t Sabah important enough for all Malaysians to be kept posted on the developments of the standoff? This is not a localised issue.”

“Also, why are the police not taking action on rumours of disturbances in other areas in Sabah? Is it because these rumours are being fired up by [BN] cybertroopers?

“Is this whole thing a scripted charade to frighten the voters?” he asked.

Sabah not a ‘fixed deposit’

It has been more than 10 days since the armed militants – rumoured to be 400 men – first landed in Lahad Datu on Feb 9.

Villagers at Felda Sahabat, where these bandits are holed up, fearing that they were members of the fearsome Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, immediately fled with their families.

They were expecting the army to clamp down on the seige quickly and to be able to return to the homes and routine.

But the stand-off remains with Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein reportedly saying yesterday that the “situation is under control” and that they were “dealing” with it.

But curious questions over whether the police are equipped to handle such “negotiations with militants” and why the military has been sidelined in these negotiations have only stoked rumours of top-level political “intervention” and an opportunistic tactic by BN in view of its sinking popularity in Sabah.

The routinely positive hype whipped out by the local media over Sabah BN’s “growing popularity” mocks the ground reality prevailing in Sabah.

The fact is everyone from Chief Minister Musa Aman right down to the BN assemblymen is uncertain of their future, going into the 13th general election, and are desperately trying to engage individuals, NGOs and political nondescript persons.

To put it bluntly, Sabah Umno and BN partners – Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), MCA, Gerakan, MIC, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), Upko and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) – are collectively in deep trouble facing the upcoming election.

The famed BN “fixed deposit” is no longer applicable here. There are no longer any guarantees for BN.

Besides, the revelations heard at the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) have shamed these party leaders for their spineless support of Umno’s agenda which systematically marginalised the native KDMs and Christians and turned hundreds of shocked fence-sitters into resolute opposition supporters.

The hearings have also stirred deep-set anger within the communities against the legalised illegal immigrants.

Such deep anger, if “strategically” fanned could force the hand of the government to clamp down on any civil unrest.

Bad prognosis for BN

Recent BN intelligence reports, although optimistic of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s individual appeal, noted that the ruling coalition “could lose more than half” of its 25 parliamentary seats in Sabah.

Ground reports from the opposition have put their wins at between 15 and 18 seats.

These reports have also indicated that BN could lose just over half of the 60 state seats up for grabs in the 13th general election.

The prognosis for BN and Sabah Umno as such is not good. And Putrajaya or Umno cannot do without Sabah’s wealth.

Sabah is currently a politically volatile state for Najib and federal Umno.

Describing Sabah as a state “in chaos”, a university lecturer here, who declined to be named, said “people are just angry… watch the [ballot] box”.

He viewed the government’s approach to the latest “siege” as “stupid”.

“This is a security breach… If armed Singaporeans slipped into Johor Baru, would the authorities be this caring? Would they want to give it more time to resolve the matter?” he asked, alluding to Hishammuddin’s reported comment that the situation was “under control” and that the government “was giving it a little bit more time for this matter to be resolved”.

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