Court solution to Sabah’s recurring crises?
By SELVARAJA SOMIAH
It may provide the guiding principle for the appointment of future chief ministers whatever the outcome of the pending Federal Court decision on the validity of Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal as the rightful Sabah Chief Minister in the coming weeks, it may help set the framework for resolving future such constitutional crises that had become a feature of Sabah politics after every election since 1985.
There have been four instances to date where the immediate outcome of the voting process took a different path than expected.
When it first happened in 1985, the Federal Government had to step in and call for the people’s mandate to be respected. Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan (now Tan Sri), whose month-old Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) won the State election with a simple majority of 25 seats in the then 48-seat State Assembly found the Istana gates locked around midnight when he and his victorious entourage went there after the result for the last seat was known.
Unknown to him, a Shakespearean plot was in play at the Istana with certain quarters accessing it via a back entrance and getting Tun Mustapha Datu Harun sworn in as Chief Minister before the cockerel crowed at dawn.
The crisis was resolved only when then Acting Prime Minister Datuk Musa Hitam (now Tun) called for the people’s mandate to be respected, Mustapha’s appointment revoked and Pairin installed as the rightful Chief Minister.
Pairin was sworn in at 8pm – or nearly 24 hours after the Election Commission had announced the results.
Then Election Commission Secretary Tan Sri Rashid in recalling the incident told the Sabah Daily Express recently that when he went to the Istana before dawn to announce the results, he was shocked to learn that another person had already been appointed as Chief Minister, describing it as “Sabah’s weird politics”,
Then Governor Tun Adnan Roberts told the court case that ensued that he was forced to swear in Mustapha when one of the plotters behind the “power grab” showed him that he had a gun and was afraid of what would happen if he had not obliged.
A dissatisfied Mustapha took the matter to court which upheld Pairin’s appointment.
Barely 10 years later in 1994, a three-day delay by then Governor Tun Said Keruak, who claimed he was too sick to leave his bed to swear in Pairin allowed sufficient time for elected representatives from his Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) to cross over to the then ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and form the new State Government.
It was soon to be an inglorious end in political supremacy for Pairin.
Like in 1985, PBS then had a simple majority of 26 seats in the State Assembly but Pairin’s grip on power began to fade due to crossovers one by one until he finally had to throw in the towel.
For unknown reason, Pairin declined to challenge the toppling of his fledgling administration in court, unlike Musa in the latest cases.