How democratic elections still failed Sabah

By Erna Mahyuni
July 14, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JULY 14 — “How can you say our elections are unfair when BN lost five states in 2008?” I hear that refrain over and over again to the point I want to scream. And stage my own private rally in front of Putrajaya.

Let me tell you a story, of a 16-year-old girl witnessing the 1994 Sabah state elections. I was that girl. Imagine turning on the television to watch a video showing derelict shacks, illegal immigrants (who Sabah natives recognise on sight) living in squalor while in the background a refrain plays, calling on viewers to “Binalah Sabah baru (Build a new Sabah)!”

Nearly two decades later and I still want to punch whoever made that video in the mouth.

Thank you, Peninsular Malaysians, for insulting us so blatantly with your propaganda. Thank you for demonstrating that you can’t tell locals apart from illegal immigrants. Is that why the latter get issued ICs around election time when most local women can’t get PR status for their foreign husbands?

A little back story: PBS was the ruling party at the time and despite the propaganda and dirty tactics employed by Barisan Nasional, PBS still won.

This despite BN spreading nasty rumours that PBS had a Christian agenda and was planning to shut out Muslims from the government. Even when a former prime minister launched his own campaign to beggar the state into submission, shut off allocations, allowed infrastructure to fall into disrepair and engineered a smear campaign against then-Chief Minister Pairin Kitingan that has only ever been surpassed by the anti-Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim propaganda.

Though perhaps for Anwar it is a case of karma. For it is believed he was among those behind one of Sabah’s darkest periods: the great frog exodus. PBS politicians betrayed not only their party but the people who voted for them. Who voted to keep PBS in power despite being denied federal money, despite the smear tactics.

I remember watching the results on television, watching in disbelief as PBS members announced they were jumping ship and giving their allegiance to BN. For years after, those politicians were called traitors and shunned by the locals. No matter; Putrajaya rewarded them with ministerial seats anyway.

Years later, one of the frogs, Datuk Lajim Okin, had the nerve to claim he did it (jumped) for the people. And the result was Sabah being given its own university, Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

So, fine, we have a university now. But why is Sabah the poorest state in Malaysia? Why, according to UN statistics, more than half of Malaysians living below the poverty line Sabahans? Why did a little boy commit suicide because his mother couldn’t afford to give him 20 sen for ice cream?

And what breaks my heart is that so many of the rural folk have stopped believing in the electoral process. “Buat apa bah aku mahu mengundi? Diaorang semua boleh kena beli.” (Why should I vote? All of them can be bought.) Once, before, the Kadazan Dusuns were willing to come out to vote for Pairin, their Huguan Siou (paramount leader), despite him not having the resources to give them sewing machines and “goodies”.

1994 crushed Sabahans’ belief that their votes mattered anymore.

Is that the future you want for Malaysia? For citizens to become so disenchanted with polling they don’t bother to turn up? Is this the ideal we fought for? A country where our “leaders” send their children overseas, pay millions for Facebook pages and sic water cannons on dissenters?

I am sorry to say this but our leaders need to understand that a democracy requires respecting due process, upholding ethics and fair play and serving the people, not some overfed politician. It is not a game of Monopoly where the winner takes all; the ultimate losers are, in the end, the rakyat. It is high time our leaders learned to stop shouting and start listening.

If there is one thing to learn from Sabah it is that those in power have no qualms to crush ideals with might and subterfuge. Sabah, and this nation of ours, deserves better.

  1. #1 by raven77 on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 9:02 pm

    For Sabahans to win…gerrymandering must be outlawed…

    BN is in power because of gerrymandering…

  2. #2 by for my country1 on Thursday, 14 July 2011 - 9:16 pm

    That is why we need Bersih 2.0 to fight for
    fair and clean election.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Friday, 15 July 2011 - 8:56 am

    If you are feeling in the dumps, go to this restaurant—–

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