Sabah’s Future Rests in Decentralised and Competitive Democracy, Not ‘Benevolent Dictatorship’

1. History has shown that as a minority region, Sabah suffers under authoritarianism and flourishes under democracy. It is under the authoritarian years of 1970s, 1980s and 1990s that Sabah lost tremendously on every front, from ownership of off-shore petroleum, cultural and religious freedom, to political strength diluted by PATI enfranchised under Project Mahathir. In contrast, the political tsunamy in 2008 and the regime change in 2018 have increased the bargaining power of Sabah and Sarawak as the Federal Government was weakened and forced to democratise and make some babysteps in decentralisation.

2. Sabahan leaders must not sell the interests of Sabah and Sabahans by supporting dictatorial rule under another NOC/Mageran. Even if a Sabahan leader may get appointed as number 2 in such unelected oligarchy, Sabahans and other Malaysians will stand to lose from concentration and corruption of power in Putrajaya. After having our freedom and wealth stolen by dictators at both the federal and state levels in the last century, Sabah must categorically reject any packaging and promotion of ‘benevolent dictatorship’ For the sake of state interests, all parties based in Sabah must defend parliamentarian democracy, demand end of Emergency as well reopening and empowerment of parliament, and continue pushing for decentralisation, instead of cheering for the resurrection of authoritarianism ala 1970.

3. The best interests of Sabah is served when all parties based in Sabah compete to offer policies best suit Sabah and Sabahans. While UPKO is proudly a Sabah-born party with branches in West Malaysia, we welcome healthy policy competition from all parties, whether they are exclusively serving Sabahans or state branches of some national parties. Both good and bad politics may be brought by exclusively local parties or state chapters of national parties. When a Malayan-style bigot called for religious segregation in the form of halal and non-halal trolleys in Keningau, it is shocking and tragic that a party self-appointed as champion of Sabah that represents the parliamentary constituency of Keningau has passionately defended such religious parochialism and segregation.

4. We reiterate our call to the Sabah state government to emulate the UMNO-led Perak State Government to negotiate a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA) with opposition parties to ensure political stability and healthy competition in state politics. The state government must treat all state assemblypersons fairly in constituency allocation, select committee appointment, and policy consultation in general. All parties should also stop enticing lawmakers from crossover. Let’s show the nation that we Sabahans are capable of mature and healthy competition to serve the people better in the spirit of Team Sabah amidst the pandemic.

*Felix Joseph Saang is the

United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO) Youth Chief