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Saturday, April 7, 2018

The unforgiving ‘stepchildren’ of Bapa Projek IC

IF Sabah and Sarawak had a stepfather, many Sabahans and Sarawa­kians would say it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Both states had a love-hate relationship with the man who was Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003.

The former PM was back on the Borneo states’ radar when at a recent forum on economic challenges faced by country’s youth, he said that Sabahans and Sarawakians have the “poor mentality of wanting an easy way out”.

During Dr Mahathir’s tenure, Sabah and Sarawak were often treated as “stepchildren”, hit back Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.

Abdul Karim said Dr Mahathir did little to improve infrastructure in Sabah and Sarawak during his tenure as Prime Minister, which had left both states as the least deve­loped in the country.

The Sarawak minister claimed that requests for better highways, schools, hospitals, airports and other projects were shot down.

Dr Mahathir’s disparaging re­­mark ignited the many Sabah Whats­App groups that I belong to.

Many asked why Dr Mahathir and his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Ma­­lay­­sia have not set foot in Sabah. They also asked whether the Pri­bumi chairman has subcontracted his party to Parti Warisan Sabah, which is led by Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

It is an allegation that Shafie has vehemently denied, saying his party has got nothing to do with Dr Maha­thir.

Sabah’s relationship with Dr Ma­­ha­­thir went south when Parti Ber­satu Sabah, led by Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, defeated the mighty Berjaya, a Barisan Nasional component party that ruled my state from 1976 to 1985.

During the 1985 Sabah polls, Dr Mahathir pledged he “will sink or swim with Berjaya”. Berjaya sank and the then PM sank with Berjaya for a while and then swam away.

In 1986, there were riots in Sabah. The rioters allegedly had backing from Kuala Lumpur to bring down Pairin’s government. Many Saba­hans blamed Dr Mahathir for the mob violence and many were grateful that the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Tan Sri Musa Hitam quelled the riots.

Pairin called a snap election in May 1986. PBS won with a bigger majority and a month later it was accepted into Barisan.

Even though PBS was a Barisan component party, I remember that the Sabah government had a fractious relationship with Dr Mahathir.

We Sabahans felt that the Federal Government headed by him was treating Sabah as its stepchild. We could see the massive development in Kuala Lumpur while Sabah lag­ged behind. We felt that Sabah’s oil money was used to build Dr Maha­thir’s mega projects.

We blamed him for Sabah’s poor state of affairs.

PBS demanded the redistribution of revenue from Sabah’s resources, especially from oil. But the Prime Minister was deaf to the demands.

Sabah’s relationship with the Prime Minister deteriorated further when PBS pulled out of Barisan on the eve of the 1990 general election to join the Opposition front.

Dr Mahathir called the move “a stab in the back”.

Big mistake by PBS. Barisan won the elections. A few months later, the Sabah party felt Dr Mahathir’s wrath.

On May 10, 1991, in the presence of about 200 FRU (Federal Reserve Unit, which was established as a riot control force) officers at a Harvest Festival celebration in Tambunan, Sabah, Pairin’s brother Datuk Dr Jeffrey was asked to sign an arrest letter.

Three days later, Dr Jeffrey surrendered himself at the police station in Kota Kinabalu. He had been arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on suspicion of plotting Sabah’s secession from the Federa­tion of Malaysia.

Dr Jeffrey spent more than 30 months in the Kamunting Detention Camp. It was detention without a trial. Many Sabahans felt that his arrest was politically motivated. They felt it was Dr Mahathir’s payback for the “stab in the back”.

Dr Mahathir got Pairin, the Sabah Chief Minister, to be briefly detained and charged by the Anti-Corruption Agency on three counts of corruption, allegedly committed in 1985.

There was a heightened anger among Sabahans especially among the Kadazandusun community (as Pai­­rin was their huguan siou or pa­­ra­­­­mount leader). As with Dr Jef­frey’s ISA arrest, they felt that the Pairin corruption case was politically motivated victimisation by Dr Mahathir.

Then came Dr Mahathir’s coup de grace. In early 1991, Umno set up branches in Sabah with the aim of toppling the PBS government. Until now, many Sabahans have not forgiven Dr Mahathir for the unpopular move.

They also blame the former Prime Minister for Project IC, which changed the political demographics of the state.

(In 2014, the Royal Commission of Inquiry concluded that the Project IC had “more likely than not” existed. It stated: “This clandestine exercise involved illegal activities rela­ting to the processing and issuance of Malaysian identification documents to illegal immigrants in pursuit of a political agenda.”)

In the 1994 Sabah polls, PBS won by a slim majority. Pairin had to wait outside the Istana gates for more than 36 hours to get himself sworn in as chief minister.

Pairin’s government lasted for less than two months following defections to Barisan. Dr Mahathir was blamed for the fall of PBS.

Many Sabahans and Sarawakians have not forgiven and forgotten what Dr Mahathir had done to his stepchildren.

By Philip Golingai (One man's meat)

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