Sabah Elections: How Would I Vote?

Nomination day has passed and in the Land Below the Wind we once again witness a cacophony of multi-cornered fights. For the second successive election, the broad opposition to BN has failed to reached any meaningful compromise, which is sure to yield a comfortable BN victory even if they are to see a sharp drop in their vote.

Sitting on a couch so far away from home, it can be hard to discern between fact and fallacy. I have asked a number of friends how they would vote and for those opposed to the BN the result is worrying. Pretty much an even split between SAPP, STAR and PR. Should this eventuate across the board we'll see the BN win all 25 parliament and 60 state seats, even with less than 40% of the popular vote. Of course this will not eventuate but nevertheless the 2008 elections highlighted the fact that disunity amongst opposition ranks led to a loss of a number of state and parliament seats (though BN would still have swept to a very comfortable victory indeed). So for those opposed to the BN state and federal governments, disappointment surely awaits.

Frustrated at these happenings, I have been forced to question my belief set and ask myself: how would I vote?

This requires unboxing the generalities and stereotypes of popular feeling (e.g. West Malaysian bastards, Sabah for Sabahans, everything is the fault of KL, Pilaks and Indons etc...) in order to better understand one's stance on these matters. After all, as a Sabahan, even one sitting thousands of miles away from home, I would be kidding myself if I pretended I could be an objective observer.

I think it is important to discern the similarities and differences between the 3 major opposition groupings. First, we have two views of politics. PR and SAPP (much like BN) bring forth the usual orthodoxy of political rules, where parties compete on the basis of policies and make requisite political compromises both within their organisations and with other parties in order to form partial or if possible, total political domination in state assemblies or the federal parliament. This is not to say that nothing is sacrosanct. For example Karpal's 'hudud over my dead body' stance and PAS' 'no worries, we can have hudud over Karpal's dead body' stance do exist. But everything else is up for grabs and the sacrosanct principles can be buried in the background in the meantime whilst short-term targets are met. After all, to quote Keynes, "in the long-run we are all dead." So we'll worry about the long-run later, safe in the knowledge it will always be over the horizon.

Second, we have the 'outcome' or 'principle' driven political organisations, like Waythamoorthy's bastardised Hindraf (for Hindraf it certainly is not) and Jeffrey Kitingan's STAR (Sabah chapter). Machiavellian machinations among these parties are no different from the former but it is driven by their sacrosanct ideologies in the forefront, rather than in the background. Their political life and death centres around their raison d'etre. Waythamoorthy has encapsulated this perfectly by signing his shameful MOU with the very organisation that has done more than anyone else to marginalise the Indian poor of West Malaysia. Jeffrey equally sees no difference between PR and the West Malaysian component parties of BN, calling them both 'Parti Malaya'. For him and STAR it is all about regaining Sabah's rights, and he will do a deal with anyone who can bring forth that raison d'etre, even the very BN that has done more than anyone else in destroying Sabah's rights. For both the former and the latter the means will always justify the ends. For the orthodoxy it is political power; for the idealists it is the achievement of their reason for being. This is a fundamental difference which we must understand.

This then allows us to better grasp the reasons between the failure between STAR and PR and also between STAR and SAPP in reaching a compromise on seat allocations. Discussions must have been absolutely frustrating on both sides, because much like a typical discussion between a man and a woman, both were speaking past each other....For SAPP and PR Sabah's autonomy is a vehicle to power; for STAR it is everything. The latter will not trust the former two organisations because they feel (and in my opinion quite rightly so) that the vehicle carrying Sabah's autonomy can be abandoned by the roadside should a better, shinier model come around. All the promises in the world are meaningless without concrete agreement (though I concede that Waytha's MOU with BN is not-it is simply a memorandum of UNDERSTANDING). From PR's and SAPP's point of view, STAR is being intransigent. What more can they do apart from re-state their repeated promises? After all any agreement they sign can only be carried out should they have the political power post-election to carry out their agreement. Sure they can only give a 99% guarantee as the post-election landscape is uncertain; why can't STAR understand that? Again, how many of you guys and girls have had similar conversations with the opposite sex? I don't think this is any different!

My brickbats are reserved for PR and SAPP failing to reach agreement with each other. But again, after unpacking their raison d'etre perhaps I should not be so critical. They are fighting over the same ground-they shout the same slogans, they are going for the same targets. Theirs is a battle for power, and theirs is an internecine struggle that must first be settled before they can ever train their guns on BN. For them it is a matter of the last man standing. "After we win, we will take on BN one on one." But as neither can land a knock-out blow, we are left with BN just watching in amazement as they punch each other silly and weaken the opposition voice. But my ultimate blame is with PR. SAPP's declaration (I assume they spoke the truth. PR never denied it as far as I am aware) that Sabah based parties should contest the majority of state seats and PR can contest the majority of parliament seats seemed to me the sanest compromise (what to do with STAR is another matter, but they probably would then have ganged up on them). Equally PR's retort that they cannot trust SAPP will not end up backing BN surely has some merit as well, even if that is quite an unlikely outcome. At some point, chances and risks must be taken, and PR has failed that test big time.

In summary, I understand STAR not entering into agreements with both SAPP and PR. And I somewhat, if reluctantly also have gained an understanding into why SAPP and PR cannot come to agreement, though there I find a big failure of leadership within PR for that failure as SAPP came up with a very reasonable proposal.

So how to vote? Australia and Penang give me two examples that I feel can be used by Sabahans opposed to BN rule. In Australia it was (less so now) common for people to vote for one party in the lower house and the other party in the upper house, thus ensuring no one group has too strong a hold on power. Penangites also have a tradition of voting BN at state level to ensure developmental funds while sending Karpal Singh to parliament to scare the shit out of novices in the BN camp.

I suggest a similar tactic here. Vote PR for the parliament to weaken the BN's grip on power (I have no doubt they'll still form govt). If PR somehow wins power, it'll still be a weak govt. In both cases Sabah does become the kingmaker. If BN wins, it is time for Sabah BN leaders to threaten to walk (should have done so loud and clear in 2008) and get back some of our rights. Just some, mind you as these BN leaders lack the leadership to actually properly threaten a walkout and Putrajaya knows it. If PR, then they'll have to concede to our demands for autonomy outright (as they have generally promised), or next time we go back to BN. So they'll be a one term government. Take it or leave it. Why not vote STAR instead if we want autonomy and they could hold the levers of power? Well, here I think I diverge from a lot of you judging by the facebook postings I read about illegal immigrants and the like. Because for me universal human rights trump our parochial rights. That is why I joined the UN in the past, and that is why I am a proud socialist-because I believe in universal human rights. Be you Sabahan, West Malaysian or an illegal immigrant from Sulu.

People like Jeffrey care only for Sabah's rights and he has made it clear that is all that interests him. He has also made it clear he prefers that destroyer of Sarawakian rights Taib Mahmud to remain in power than have a Malayan control Sarawak. I disagree there. I prefer a good, decent leader from Malaya than a bastard from Sabah and/or Sarawak. Jeffrey will sell the rights of West Malaysians down the river to strike a deal with BN for Sabah's rights, much like what Waythamoorthy has now done to all of us with the BN. We must get our rights back, but NOT at any price. A party that thinks there is no difference between BN and PR is too pig-headed for my liking, despite my full and unconditional support for their fight for our rights. STAR has my 100% respect, but my belief-set means I fear they will sell someone else down the river just to regain our rights. So for justice to be served, injustice will be committed elsewhere. That is not how I choose to live my life. There is a world of difference between BN and PR, and if Jeffrey thinks otherwise, he does not have my support at federal level. Subjective I know, but we must all have our beliefs. If you think Sabah's rights trump everything else, then go ahead and give STAR your vote at parliament level.

At state level however, I think STAR should be given the opportunity to govern. If they are going to persuade me they are better than the useless Sabah politicians in the past who only talk about our rights while robbing us (and blaming West Malaysians, Pilaks and Indons...) then they should first walk the walk after having talked the talk. Gain the levers of power, govern responsibly, and show you are better than BN and PR. Then no doubt you'll sweep all the Sabah parliament seats come the next election.

So there you go. Vote PR for parliament and STAR for state seats. Bad luck to SAPP (well not really as I am not voting) but as I see them as being akin to PR I had to choose one and I chose PR.


  1. Good logical analysis. However u haven't considered the plan that has been consistently marketed by PKR and Anwar Ibrahim to use Sabah UMNO MPs to form government. In that case, what is the win situation for Sabah? although on a federal level We may have a new government, at Sabah level it is still the same politicians - it becomes an irony then for a PR win to happen, sabahans must accept their same BN politicians to remain in power. I would recommend voting for STAR at a federal levels, given the pact between PKR and Sabah UMNO that is being formed.

    1. But that is assuming that DAP and PAS agree. After all while BN = UMNO, PR certainly does not equal PKR. Already with Sep 16 2008 Karpal Singh voiced his disapproval and DAP did give PKR a tongue lashing regarding the member for Bota, the double-agent used to topple the PR Perak state government.

      Assuming it happens though, then I will be less than pleased for I am opposed to frogs jumping parties though I must admit to supporting Anwar's Sep 16 2008 plan as he said he will use his majority to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections. But looking back, I realise I was too bloodthirsty at the prospect of UMNO's demise. Anwar would never have dissolved parliament.

      I do reasonably see the Sabah UMNO politicians as being somewhat distinct from those across the sea though. As the second largest entity within the party they still struggle to get the plum posts within the party machinery-the chance to jump ship for them is merely one of political expediency. They are not card carrying members of PERKASA. They may be Muslims but they are not Malays.

      Ultimately you may be right, and it'll be a disappointing outcome for me. Anwar's friendship with many of them from his time as BN's chief campaigner during the Sabah election of 1994 should not be forgotten. But again, recall that I said STAR is willing to come to agreement with anyone to get their way so they to are just as likely, if not more so to strike a deal with UMNO. In both cases Sabah is surely going to get a bag of goodies. The bigger worry would be that some PR politicians in Sabah switch sides in the event of a hung parliament-then Sabah gets nothing. But are the STAR candidates any less untrustworthy?

      It was touch and go for me as to who to support at federal level. End of the day I place more trust in DAP and its principles than the rag-tag unproven army Jeffrey has at his disposal.

  2. Replies
    1. Sorry my previous comment did not get through. I don't min typing again.

      Parvinder you are obviously very intelligent and well spoken, but you may be too young to remember what Anwar did in 1994. In that year, he got PBS politicians to defect, and ironically this same politicians are changing sides again (lajim ukin, yahya lampong, Ibrahim menudin) - sorry but history is repeating itself - he will surely use UMNO Sabah MPs to form parliament - an this will be a sad day for Sabah. anyway i please with u to reconsider uour vptes - Pkr and anwar will never fully speak for sabah - dap i agree will - anyway you are intelligent and please consider a stronger loyal sabahan voice in parliament that is free from anwar. .reformation and change that is kom

    2. Hi Anthony, I recall quite well 1994. I was 18 and quite involved in the whole process. I have never trusted Anwar because of that, and only recently have I come to agree with Jeffrey that all his moves across parties were due to his search for a proper political vehicle rather than than him just changing his views. I trust Jefrrey, not Anwar. I don't however trust his people. He has been cheated and taken advantage of too many times for my liking such that I feel his judgement of individuals is rather impaired. probably he trusts too much.

      However, Anwar is not PR alone, and in a way I am banking on a change of govt (unlikely though) because a weak PR govt has no choice but to grant Sabah autonomy. How much is debatable-certainly PAS will balk at Sabah no longer having an official religion, and maybe Muslims in Sabah will disagree too. State control of education? They'll stop there too. But some gains can be realised. The 20% royalty deal is also better at nothing. Mind you I disagree with Jeffrey's call for 50%. We are a federation, and need to share the wealth around. 5% is too little and 50% is just too much. Maybe then we'll get kicked out-but hey, maybe that is what some people are looking for?

      STAR would also have to compromise if they were to hold the levers of power, much like Waytha and Ganesan have had to backtrack on all their demands with BN. Much better for BN to cut-off negotiations with STAR if STAR refuses to negotiate, buy some STAR parliamentarians (and well our history on that matter is shameful), or just call for fresh elections and ensure STAR is smashed via a confluence of intimidatory and illegal tactics. I feel that STAR will also be unable to get much more from BN than what they can get from PR.

      But at the state level they can slowly build up momentum, quietly and under less pressure since all the aaction is at Putrajaya-thus I hedge my bets. Ensure they gain the levers of state power and build up their base from there.

      In summary-certainly I have neither love nor trust of Anwar, but equally I can't see how STAR can get all that it wants as well. And I guess I am actually supporting DAP, not PR...