By JOE LEONG aka BORNEO ANT
COMMENT: A current hot topic in the political arena is centred on the possibility of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), a KL-based party led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, as chairman and president respectively, making an entry into Sabah.
Debate on this issue came to the forefront recently when a group of nine State Assemblymen and four members of Parliament from Sabah announced their departure from Umno and declared themselves as “independents”.
When photos showing PPBM membership forms being distributed among these former Umno leaders surfaced in social media platforms, including WhatsApp, more fuel was added to the speculation of their readiness to jump into the PPBM fold. Not forgetting that Sabah is well known for being a state in Malaysia where the “Jumping Frogs Culture” has been faithfully kept alive in the last half a century.
There was even a photo of these Umno Sabah leaders having a meeting with Tun Mahathir in circulation, forcing one of the YBs to brush it off as “only a casual meeting” and to deny that it had anything to do with plans to join the ruling party of the Federal Government. Speculations and rumours aside, such a possibility is real. But why not?
In simple terms, PPBM would certainly be delighted to see its numbers in Parliament increase overnight. And on the other hand, these Sabah leaders concerned had lost hope in Umno, a most powerful party until the shocking outcome of GE14 in May. They really have little or nothing to lose anyway by associating themselves with the new ruling party that appears to be riding high. Such an action is a reflection of a basic human nature to move close to those in power and disassociate oneself with losers. Be that as it may.
Let us examine some realities related to this issue. One hard truth is that prior to the GE14, Tun Mahathir gave his word to allow Shafie Apdal and his Warisan Sabah Party to have a free run in the political scene of Sabah with PPBM staying out of the fray. And unless and until such an undertaking has been withdrawn, it remains valid. True, it was merely a word of honour and there’s nothing in writing to that effect.
So the million ringgit question is, would Tun Mahathir keep his word? A pertinent question indeed. When the latest speculation came to a head, Tun M, the chairman of PPBM who is also Prime Minister of Malaysia, said PPBM has no plans “to establish its footings” in Sabah. At the same time, Muhyiddin confirmed that there were requests for PPBM to expand to Sabah, following the move by the Sabah Umno leaders to quit the party.
There are some who, for some hidden motives, perceive the current political situation as an opportune time to take pot shots at Shafie Apdal, head of the Warisan-led state government, accusing him as a leader who is “groping in the dark” and “unsure of where he is going”. This sort of personal attacks, unsubstantiated and vicious as they are might be seen as an ugly side of the change that has taken place since GE14. Such free expressions of opinion could be regarded as proof that the New Sabah believes and upholds the practice of freedom of speech. Who would have dared to say such a thing to the former Umno CM when he was deeply entrenched in power? None.
Freedom of speech and of the press is most welcome and appreciated. That is one thing; it is quite another to take advantage of the media in darting cheap shots at duly elected leaders without backing such accusations with facts and figures. In journalism, there is universal code of ethics requiring practitioners to observe and respect values such as objectivity, accuracy, fair play and truth. This golden rule applies to news coverage as well as analysis. It is a gross error in judgement if freedom of the press were interpreted as a licence for character assassination.
Shafie Apdal is not a chief minister who goes around making strong and powerful statements and telling everyone what to do or not to do. That, plainly, is just not his style. True, it is already eight months down the line since May 12 when he took office. Musa Aman, the Umno CM, had 15 years, one month and 13 days from Mar 27, 2003 to GE14 to show fruits of his performance, if indeed there was. It’s not even a full year yet for the Warisan-led administration. It’s untimely and unfair to pass rash and hasty judgements on Warisan or its leader at this stage.
What is more important for the rakyat in this Borneo state of Malaysia is to look not at the style of the chief executive of the Sabah administration but on substance. What matters more is what he and his government could and would delivery for the benefit of all. Even after the first 100 days in office in August, Shafie and members of his Cabinet had made public a number of key administrative actions that had been put in place, including actions to improve the financial standing of the state within two years.
What struck me very much was the pledge that Shafie made at that time, saying “The Warisan-led government will not let the people become poorer and neglected. This is my pledge that I make openly and this is not some mere talk. If I or the Warisan-led government fail to honour this pledge, we are ready to be punished”. It takes a politician of great courage to make such a public commitment. He must be a man of his word or he would not dare to make such a statement. He believes not in style but in silently and diligently delivering what the rakyat hopes for.
Give him time. If he does not keep his word, then by all means throw him and his party out into political oblivion.
There is hope too that Tun Mahathir would honour his word to the Warisan. He would ensure that PPBM does not set foot on Sabah soil, in the same way he faithfully kept Umno party out of Sabah during the time of local-based multi-racial Berjaya party rule.
• JOE LEONG, a veteran Sabah journalist, has been writing commentaries on current issues in Malaysia from the Borneo States perspective for on-line news portals under the name of “Borneo Ant” for several years now.