Tuesday, November 2, 2010


BN wins on paper, but Yong wins hearts
Wed, 03 Nove 2010 11:39
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BY FMT Staff

KOTA KINABALU: Gauging local sentiment in Batu Sapi is easy. Distaste for Barisan Nasional runs deep. According to conventional wisdom, that should translate into a protest vote? Not so fast.

Predicting the outcome of the Nov 4 parliamentary by-election is a dicey business.

Suffice to say whatever the outcome, the margin of difference between the three battling parties -- BN, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) and PKR -- will set the stage for the 13th general election scheduled for before 2012.

After all as a much respected Sabah leader Jeffrey Kitingan has pointedly told voters, “this is a only a by-election, vote for the opposition -- give any opposition a chance -- and we shall see if the government of the day will do something to recapture the trust of the people and show Sabahans that they are sincere.”

On paper, BN's looking good -- with some 4,000-odd votes seemingly “already in its pockets” courtesy of postal votes and 3,000 Muslim Bumiputera loyalists.

In the final thrust, which began yesterday, generous lacings of cash, citizenships and infrastructure such as jetties, mosques and solar lights are promises being quickly fulfilled.

But on the ground, the rumblings and rousing welcomes are reserved for SAPP's Yong Teck Lee, whose “Sabah for Sabahans" slogan is stirring the imagination of the weary poverty-stricken constituency.

Yong is aiming for 80% Chinese votes and 25% Muslim Bumiputeras votes to create that Sibu-style upset that BN does not want to see.

Still, measuring how far the electorates' support for Yong and disgust for Chief Minister Musa Aman's regime will translate into votes, is a task best left to self-professed political observers and the clairvoyant.

Promises that never materialised

Meanwhile voters, especially the Muslim Bumiputeras who constitute some 60% of the electorate in this vast constituency that is half the size of Johor, appear resigned to their fate.

First, it was the all-powerful and now defunct United Sabah National Organisation (Usno, which by the way, is trying to make a comeback), and then came Berjaya Party in the 1970s.

Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) grabbed the baton in the 1980s and Umno and the BN stole it in the 1990s.

All had something in common. They promised something better but that “something” never came. The people are still poor, lack basic facilities and face a bleak future.

But they persevered with hope and repeatedly voted these same parties that were giving them nothing despite the state's riches.

That's the way it has always been. But they have not been cowed and latest ground reports are whispering change.

Yong the candidate is also the rebel-rousing president of SAPP and he's being lifted by a wave of anti-establishment, anti-federal government sentiment akin to what was first seen when Usno and then Berjaya fell.

Unfortunately, all it means is that the people of Batu Sapi and Sabahans are fed up with being dictated to by non-Sabahans.

And that's bad news for the Kuala Lumpur-based Umno-BN and PKR -- which is testing its influence here in Sabah for the first time.

In 1985, PBS won because of that same sentiment -- a feeling that Sabah should have its own way. Now, if the annoyed talk is any indication, that sentiment is back.

"There's no one else to turn to… Going back to the founding fathers of PBS, who is there? Yong is one," said a local who has followed the political meanderings of the various parties.

"SAPP is the key to getting back at KL for all the broken promises. It (the local sentiment of Sabah for Sabahans) is boiling up again. It used to be with PBS… people were attached to PBS. But they lost (the) sympathy (of Sabahans) when they joined BN.

"You go and ask people. People don't respect Pairin (PBS leader Joseph Pairin Kitingan). They don't trust Dompok (Bernard Dompok, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister and the president of the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation) and Maximus (Ongkili, the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation Minister).

"They are all seen as BN and federal government proxies. There are no good Sabah leaders left," he said.

'What have we got after 16 years?'

Adding to that, he said many of those locals from the west coast who migrated to the east coast of the state are frustrated with PBS.

"They won't support PBS now even if its the Huguan Siou (paramount leader) asking them... now there is only Yong. He is still seen as a bona fide Sabah leader who the people hope has the courage to speak out on Sabah issues."

Yong's continued attack on Sabah BN leaders for failing to fight for the state's autonomy despite holding top positions in the ruling coalition at national level as well as the recent expose that the federal government had allegedly surrendered some of its oil wealth to Brunei for little in return, has swelled his base.

That's the way Sabahans are. Like anyone else, they will give you a fair chance and sometimes even more than a fair chance and punish you if you take them for granted the way Musa's BN seems to have done.

"What have we got after all these years (16 years of Umno/BN rule to be exact?)," asked a local attached to a semi-government agency in Sandakan.

"We've got a few flyovers, lots of small cell phone shops, a few more empty malls… what else? There's still power cuts, water shortages, petrol prices have gone up. Food is more costly… Is this development? Sixteen years and this is all? I hope BN falls," he said angrily.

Questioned a little more and he said: "I don't like BN but they will win. I have put five RM5,000 on them to win and I think I will make some money but if I lose, I will still be happy."

If Batu Sapi voters deliver the winning result that strategists in both opposition parties expect, the implications for Sabah remain a mystery.

An opposition victory or even a good showing will reflect a repudiation of the Umno-BN rule in Sabah.