Anwar’s Sabah Pandora Box

Another Brick in the Wall

In discussing issues on Sabah, one must differentiate between the voices of the people or rakyat and polemics of politicians. Even the term rakyat can be an overused term and bordering on cliche.

When PKR, PAS and DAP made headway in the 2008 general election, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed it is peoples’ uprising or kebangkitan rakyat.

However, it was not across-the-board rakyat but mostly Chinese voters shift for DAP and Chinese PKR candidates at the cost of MCA and Gerakan. So, the so-called kebangkitan rakyat only involved Chinese.

Same with the controversial and at times, provocative views from Sabah towards Semenanjung or the federal government. The politicians claim it is the voices of the rakyat but it does not emanate from Sabahans but merely Sabah politicians’ power play in their quest for power.

In the same note, the on-going Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) is not likely about seeking the truth or reconciliation with the past but to lay blame on their past “defeat” from the real reason to the immigrant naturalisation exercise.

That way they could reuse this old campaign theme.


Having made regular trips to Sabah since the 1990s, more had been learnt and appreciated of Sabah and Sabahans. They are nice, friendly and embracing people. It is their politics and politicians that is problematic.

Since the 90s, their politicians have been spewing views that does not serve our nation building objective with their insular-themed slogan Sabah for Sabahans; us-against-them attitude behind the complains and accusation of oppression against the federal government; infringement of the “mythical” 20 point agreements; and call for cessation out of Malaysia.

It also does not reflect the aspiration or the attitude of the Sabahans. Our friend, whose married to a Sabahan from Keningau and wish to retire in Sabah, refused to believe Sabahans wants to opt out of Malaysia to be either an independent state or part of Indonesia or Phillipines or Brunei.

At the people-to-people level, Sabahan are more open and accept the presence of Semenanjung people in Sabah than perhaps a Kelantanis to non-Kelantanis Semenanjung.

Without Semenanjungs, Sabahan could not fill-up basic positions like teachers, soldiers, police, fireman, and nurses to enable such public services available to the people.

Even the Universities and colleges need Semenanjungs to fill the positions of lecturers. Sabahan could only fill up only one third of University Malaysia Sabah’s annual enrollments. Some private colleges in Sabah cannot get sufficient enrollment despite the more relaxed entry requirement for Sabahans.

More than the politicians realised, there had been marked increase in interactions and integration between Sabah and Semenanjung. There are quite a high number of inter marriage and migration between Sabahan and Semenanjung. Notice the packed LCCT and filled up flights to and from Sabah on weekend.

Some of the more national outlook Sabahan realised they can rely on the Semananjung better than their Sabah politicians. The business community viewed the politicians as having raped the state dry.

They understand Sabah need to maintain good relation with the federal government as they rebuild their economy away from forestry into other sectors like agriculture or tourism.

Political Defection  

The RCI on illegal immigrants can be traced to the era of Sabah political turmoil of the trio-Chief Ministers of Tun Mustapha-Harris Sallah-Pairin Kitingan.

After serving USNO since 1963 and was in the late Tun Datu Mustapha’s Sabah cabinet as Minister of Finance in 1967, now Tan Sri Harris Salleh was in a crisis with the dictatorial independence fighter Sabah Chief Minister.

Harris formed UPKO and later turned it into multiracial BERJAYA. He was the party’s first president in 1973. By collaborating with then Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Fuad Stephen who resigned to join BERJAYA, they managed to wrest from USNO.

Tun Fuad became Sabah’s Chief Minister again as it’s fifth Chief Minister. However he died in a place crash in June 1976 and Harris replaced him as Sabah’s sixth Chief Minister.

Few years before the 1984 state election, Harris faced challenge to his leadership. However, he managed to win the 1984 state election winning 44 out of the 48 seats.

His actions against his challengers prior to the 1984 state election resulted in few Kadazan assemblymen and supporters led by Dato Joseph Pairin Kitingan to leave BERJAYA and form Parti bersatu Sabah (PBS).

left with only 4 of the 48 seats, he dissolved the state assembly and called for a state election in 1985. BERJAYA lost power to PBS and Pairin became 7th Chief Minister of Sabah. Read more in Wikipedia here.

Many believed the problem of Harris was his temperament and leading to a dictatorial habit, the same accusation he made of the man he opposed before, Tun Mustapha.

The man who led his downfall, Pairin was a member of the Sabah Legislative Assembly for the Tambunan electorate.

He won the seat in the 1976 state election under the BERJAYA party ticket and was subsequently appointed as Minister in Harris cabinet.

The extract from Wikipedia here, below:

Over time, Joseph Pairin became disillusioned with the party’s leadership, and opposed some of the party’s policies. He felt that the party had deviated from its original struggle. He however, remained firm with the party and subsequently, he was forced to leave the ruling party coalition in 1984. 


In December 1984, he challenged as an Independent candidate against the ruling party to defend his seat in the Tambunan by-election. His leadership in a state within a federation which had the official religion of Islam, was also questioned because of his religion.  

The ruling party, which was a component of the Barisan Nasional, Malaysia’s ruling coalition, had no qualms in using the sensitive race card issues which is something that is generally shunned in a multi-racial country (state). Joseph Pairin easily won and defended his seat with significant majority. 

In March 1985, Joseph Pairin Kitingan formed Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) or United Sabah Party. Despite overwhelming odds, he succeeded in registering PBS as a political party in the eleventh hour; thus paving the way for the party to contest against the incumbent state government in the Sabah state election, 1985 in April. 

Berjaya and the United Sabah National Organization (USNO) joined forces to win the 1985 election, but after riots by BN followers, the newly formed coalition between Berjaya and USNO was dissolved giving PBS the majority government.[2] 

Pairin was sworn in as the seventh Chief Minister of the state of Sabah. He held the post of Sabah Chief Minister from April 1985 to March 1994, during which he spearheaded his party’s triumphant outings in four successive state elections (1985, 1986, 1990 and 1994). 

In the 1994 state election, PBS won the election, however shortly after being announced the winner, almost all PBS assemblymen defected to Barisan Nasional. Pairin was not allowed to be sworn in as Chief Minister. Tun Sakaran Dandai of UMNO was then sworn to be the eighth Chief Minister of Sabah.[3]

An important point from the Wikipedia on PBS, here as extracted below:

PBS formed the state government after winning the 1985 state elections and governed Sabah from 1985 to 1994. Following the 1986 Sabah riots, PBS joined the Barisan Nasional coalition after winning the May 1986 state election.[1] 

However, on the eve of the July 1990 state election, PBS pulled out of the coalition[1] and won the state election for a third time. It also won the 1994 state elections by a narrow margin. However, numerous defections occurred as many PBS representatives switched allegiance to the then opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition before PBS were even able to form a new state government; these politicians were nicknamed katak, which means frogs in Malay. 

PBS subsequently rejoined the BN coalition in 2002, ending any form of opposition as BN fully occupied the state legislature and returning Sabah to the rule of the BN coalition that holds the federal parliament.

From the historical brief, PBS was never robbed of power through the ballot box. But through the Sabah styled political manouvre of Sabah UMNO. Thus, there is no real basis to accuse the naturalisation of illegal immigrants exercise as the cause for denying PBS the much due power.

PBS lost power in Sabah not because of any alleged electoral manipulation of the 1994 state election but due to defection. The exercise had no impact to the election outcome.

Interestingly, the post election defection by Pairin in 1984 became the same manouvre replicated by Sabah UMNO to deny PBS power in 1994.