Astute Musa’s ‘new’ politics

(FMT) – The political paradigm in Sabah is changing and in the next 10 years development will become the main issue putting to pasture BN’s politics of patronage.

The 2008 general election was a personal triumph for Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman and the clearest evidence that the political paradigm in Sabah is changing.

The real significance of Musa’s win lies in what it says about the emergence of development as a key political issue in today’s Sabah.

In the next 10 years, development will become the main political issue with different social groups demanding their share of the Sabah growth story.

Previously in an under-developed economy, the Barisan National’s patronage of vote banks had currency.

But race- and religion-based politics took over as the process of economic and social empowerment began with the opening up of the economy.

Today, after a period of rapid growth, politics is set to enter another phase, which is likely to be defined by battles for a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.

Musa’s mastery over the emerging new idiom reaped him huge electoral dividends in 2008.

It is important to understand the nature of the development politics taking shape.

It’s not just a simple matter of building roads or providing electricity. The question to which voters are demanding an answer is: “Development for whom?”

Musa’s success lay in the focused manner in which he took development to different social groups to create a wider constituency beyond the narrow race and religion base.

This is identity politics of a different kind in which mobilisation is not merely on the basis of race and religion but also on economic, gender and age subgroups.

Changing political dynamics

The coming decade will see an acceleration of the factors responsible for altering the political dynamics in the country.

The three important ones are mainstreaming of marginalised social groups, communications revolution, and increasing urbanisation.

The biggest success of Sabah democracy has been empowerment of natives and communities that existed outside the social pale.

The rise of native-based parties like PBS, Upko, PBRS and even the spread of Jeffrey Kitingan’s STAR Sabah chapter which is alligned to Sarawak’s State Reform Party and Jeffrey’s own UBF (United Borneo Front) which promotes the Borneo Agenda, are all signs that those at the bottom are demanding to be heard.

This aside, increasing connectivity in Sabah and Sarawak has further strengthened the process of empowerment.

Mobile phone connections have already zoomed beyond three million and are expected to cross five million by 2015 in Borneo states, while Internet penetration, according to industry estimates, will cross the 60 percent mark by 2020.

It means people in every corner of the Borneo states are rapidly getting connected and acquiring independent means of accessing information.

It also means that voters can no longer be fooled by mere rhetoric and empty promises. They want delivery and are acquiring the means to monitor it.

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