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Asian Journal of Political Science

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Going east: UMNO's entry into Sabah politics

James Chin a a Leader, Political Science Programme, School of Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea,

To cite this Article Chin, James(1999) 'Going east: UMNO's entry into Sabah politics', Asian Journal of Political Science, 7:

1, 20 40

To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/02185379908434135 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02185379908434135


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Asian Journal of Political Science Volume 7 Number 1 (June 1999)

Going East: UMNO's Entry into Sabah Politics

James Chin*


lthough Malaysia is officially governed by the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition government, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the largest party in the coalition, is generally regarded by scholars1 and the Malaysian public as the real locus of power. UMNO has been the backbone of the Malaysian government since independence. The president of UMNO and his deputy, by convention, automatically becomes the prime minister and deputy prime minister of the country respectively. Roughly half of the federal Cabinet positions are also held by UMNO and the party also holds about half the seats in Parliament. With the exception of Penang, UMNO nominees hold the post of chief minister (or menteribesar) in all the peninsula states. Observers of Malaysian politics often remark that the UMNO party elections are more important than the general elections as the positions of the prime minister and other senior ministers are decided by the party rather than the general public. While UMNO holds unparalleled power in the peninsula, the situation was markedly different in the Eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Prior to 1990, UMNO did not even have a single branch in East Malaysia. This paper traces the entry of UMNO into Sabah politics and assesses its significance within UMNO and its impact on Sabah politics.

Sabah's 2.1 million population is made up of about 30 different ethnic groups. The largest of these are the Kadazan-Dusun2 who constitute about 25%; Chinese 15%;

* James Chin, PhD, is Leader, Political Science Programme, School of Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea. The author would like to thank Lee Shaw Yun in Kota Kinabalu for his kind assistance. 20

James Chin 21

Malays 9%; Bajaus 15%; Muruts 4%; Other Bumiputera 19%; and Other nonBumiputera 12%.3 However, these figures are estimates as it is extremely difficult to get precise figures. In the 1980 census, a broad category pribumi was used to include all native groupings (including non-natives who converted to Islam). Moreover, there is a sizeable number of Sino-Kadazan, due to the high intermarriage rate among the Kadazan and the ethnic Chinese, who do not easily fit into any existing category. Politically, it would be best to categorize the population as comprising 40% Muslim bumiputera (native Muslims), 40% non-Muslim bumiputera (non-Muslim natives) and 20% others (mostly Chinese). The natives are also officially categorized as bumiputera (or "sons of the soil") which entitles them to preferential treatment by the state economically, socially and politically. There is also a large number of illegal migrants in Sabah (mostly from Southern Philippines and Indonesia) who are believed to number between 750,000 to a million. In recent history, the two main features of Sabah politics are patronage and shifting loyalties. 4 It was common for those in power to use the state's natural resources, especially by awarding timber concessions and business opportunities to loyal supporters and financial backers, to cement political ties. "Money politics" or buying votes is also widespread during elections. Another feature was the rapid shifting of electoral loyalty. The ruling party in Sabah usually falls from power within a decade. In the 1970s, Sabah politics was dominated by Tun Mustapha Harun and his party, the United Sabah National Organization (USNO). Tun Mustapha governed Sabah from 1967 to 1975 but he had to give way to Parti Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah (Berjaya or People's Racially United Front of Sabah) after the 1975 election. Berjaya's rule lasted until 1985 when it was dislodged by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS or Sabah Unity Party). The PBS government lasted until 1994 when defections caused its downfall. Since then, Sabah has been led by an UMNO-led BN coalition.

The Twenty Points

Before any discussion can take place on Sabah politics, it is crucial to understand the issue of the Twenty Points. Prior to the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Sabah (and Sarawak) demanded some constitutional guarantees before they would agree to the federation. In August 1962, the British and Malayan governments established the InterGovernment Committee (IGC), with representatives from Sabah and Sarawak, to work out these constitutional safeguards. Twenty meetings were held and four months later, the IGC report was ready. The main features of the safeguards (Twenty Points) were:5 (1) (2) (3) (4) Islam's status as a national religion was not applicable to Sarawak and Sabah; Immigration control was vested in the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak; Borneanization of the civil service and English as the official language would apply to both states; No amendment or modification of any specific safeguards granted under the Twenty Points can be made by the federal government without the agreement of the Sabah and Sarawak state governments; There would be no right to secede from the Federation.


22 Asian Journal of Political Science Since then, one of the key political debates in Sabah (and Sarawak) has been how thoroughly the federal government has kept to the promises made in the Twenty Points. The federal government/UMNO's position was that these constitutional guarantees were transitional in nature and would be scrapped in the future in the interests of national integration.6 Many people from Sabah and Sarawak argue that the future of these rights are not up to the federal government but rather up to the people of Sabah and Sarawak. Critics in both states have long argued that the federal government has not adhered to the Twenty Points and has circumvented many of these guarantees, especially in areas of religion and Borneanization of the civil service. Islam was made the official religion of Sarawak and Sabah despite the guarantee in the Twenty Points. Many senior officers in government departments in Sabah and Sarawak were posted from Peninsular Malaysia despite the explicit promise made to give first preference to local civil servants under the Borneanization pledge.

Early Attempts
The first serious attempt by UMNO to move into Sabah occurred in the mid-1970s. Prior to that, UMNO did not see the need to enter Sabah as an UMNO proxy, Tun Mustapha Harun, was there to "keep an eye on things". Mustapha was a well-known Muslim champion, and in UMNO's eyes, was capable of looking after the interests of Islam and the Malay community, the sine qua non of UMNO's existence. Even before Mustapha became chief minister in 1967, the federal government had already dispatched a senior UMNO figure, Syed Kechik Syed Mohammad, to act as Mustapha's main adviser. Syed Kechik, a lawyer from Kedah and a political secretary, was asked by another Kedahan, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, to go to Sabah and act as the federal proxy. Within a short time, Syed Kechik became Mustapha's right-hand man and, in fact, ruled Sabah when Mustapha was out of the state. This was despite the fact that Syed did not hold any official post in the Sabah government nor was he a member of the state legislative assembly. The only semi-official post he held was the directorship of the Sabah Foundation. 7 This cosy situation lasted until the early 1970s when Tun Abdul Razak, the then Malaysian prime minister, became increasingly unhappy, to say the least, about Mustapha's antics, both inside and outside Sabah. In particular, the federal government was livid at the following events. First, Mustapha had blatantly rigged elections in Sabah. In the May 1969 parliamentary polls, Mustapha kept his promise to the Malayan Alliance that he would "deliver" all of Sabah's 16 parliamentary seats.8 On nomination day, 11 seats were won because the opposition candidates had their papers rejected on "technical grounds". When the elections resumed in 1971, 9 the other five constituencies were easily won by Mustapha's USNO. In the 1971 state election and the 1974 parliamentary election, Mustapha was even more visible. As chairman of the state security committee, Mustapha held emergency powers of detention and he controlled the police in Sabah. Just before the 1971 state election, all the potential opposition candidates were given a free "study tour" overseas and the election was held in their absence. On nomination day, all USNO and Sabah Chinese Association (SCA) 10 candidates won unopposed.

James Chin 23

In the 1974 parliamentary polls, only one opposition candidate, from the peninsular-based Pekemas, managed to file his nomination papers.11 The other nine Pekemas candidates were detained temporary until the nomination was over. All the other opposition candidates had their nomination papers rejected. Others were physically prevented from filing their papers, and other methods of intimidation and bribery were used to ensure that USNO and its partner, the SCA, won uncontested. News reports about Mustapha's blatant use of force to cow the opposition greatly embarrassed the federal government. Second, Mustapha, who was born a Suluk in the Southern Philippines, began to support the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) openly. The Muslim MNLF, who was fighting Manila for independence, started arriving in Sabah in large numbers, in the knowledge that Mustapha would grant them sanctuary and help. This action was in direct conflict with the federal government's prerogatives in matters of foreign policy. Mustapha's actions were especially sensitive given that both Malaysia and the Philippines were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).12 Third, Mustapha openly toyed with the idea of secession from the Malaysian federation in 1974. Mustapha's plans was for Sabah to be a monarchy with himself as the sultan of a Sulu state. At the meeting on 23 April 1975, Mustapha tabled a paper entitled "The future position of Sabah in Malaysia". The paper stated that: It can be predicted that the future position of Sabah in Malaysia in the long run will only be a loss to the state as one of the reasons is that Sabah will be producing more of its products from agricultural resources and its timber industry. Secondly, Sabah will be producing a large amount of its mineral resources such as copper, iron, nickel, gold and oil. The autonomy state of Sabah will be gradually taken by the federal government if the federal government thinks it is necessary to do so as it is clearly stated in the Constitution in respect to the agreement between governments (inter-govemmental committee agreement) that after the 10th year of Sabah independence through Malaysia, the agreement will be reviewed. In fact this agreement has actually been reviewed on official level on 28th October 1974. ... This paper is put forward ... so as to explain the position of Sabah in future ... as to whether Sabah should continuously remain in the Federation of Malaysia or for Sabah to have its own independence as Singapore, which has separated from the Federation of Malaysia.13 The paper attacked the federal government for not honouring the Twenty Points and said Kuala Lumpur had neglected Sabah's economy. Fourth, Mustapha was openly flaunting his wealth and publicly misappropriating the public purse. He used state money to buy and maintain two Grumman jets for his personal use. During his administration, he utilized almost all of Sabah's reserves. With these jets, Mustapha began spending long periods overseas. In the later part of his rule, he spent more than half a year overseas, mostly in London and the Middle East.14 Reports about his extravagant lifestyle began to reach the general Malaysian public, embarrassing the federal government further.

24 Asian Journal of Political Science

Fifth, Mustapha came into open conflict with Tun Razak when he tried to negotiate a huge foreign loan direct from Libya to pay for his conspicuous lifestyle in 1974. Mustapha could not rely on timber money to sustain his lifestyle anymore as the 1972-74 worldwide recession had started to affect Malaysia and Mustapha's economic mismanagement became more noticeable. In order to keep an eye on him, Razak offered Mustapha the Defence Ministry in the federal government. Sensing that this was a plot to remove him from his fiefdom, Mustapha declined publicly, further embarrassing the prime minister.15 It was Mustapha's third antic that alarmed the federal government most. Kuala Lumpur was still recovering from the political trauma of kicking Singapore out of the Malaysian federation in 1965. Razak knew that the UMNO rank and file would not accept another "Singapore". The federal government was also worried that Mustapha's actions, if successful, would be followed by neighbouring Sarawak. The physical divide between the peninsula and East Malaysia made Mustapha's threat of secession credible.16 Under these circumstances, Razak decided that Mustapha needed to be replaced by someone less embarrassing, more predictable and loyal to the federation. Some senior UMNO members initially wanted the party to enter the state and challenge USNO directly. Razak was not supportive of this idea for two main reasons. First, despite his antics, Mustapha and USNO were still part of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, headed by UMNO. UMNO could not simply set up branches in Sabah and challenge its coalition partner openly. Second, there was no guarantee that USNO could be beaten by UMNO. In fact the reverse was probably true. The Sabah people were known to be politically parochial and would not take kindly to a party from outside Sabah. USNO was known to be particularly strong among Muslim voters, the target base of any potential UMNO entry. The next best option was to find a new proxy, an option quickly accepted by Razak. Harris Salleh, a deputy president of USNO, was selected to undertake the task. Harris was flown to the federal capital and told by Razak to split from USNO and form his own political party to challenge Mustapha. 17 Harris, a minister in Mustapha's government, was selected because he had fallen out with Mustapha, his political mentor. Of Pakistani/Malay heritage, Harris had expected to be Mustapha's political heir, but had been adeptly manoeuvred out of Mustapha's inner-circle of advisors by Syed Kechik.18 Parti Bersatu Rakyat Jelata Sabah or Berjaya was established shortly after the meeting with Razak. Harris's first target was other dissatisfied USNO members. As he had federal support for his challenge to Mustapha, many were willing to join him because the general public consensus was that Mustapha had gone too far. Fuad Stephens, the Huguan Siou of the Kadazans, was also roped in after a talk with the federal authorities to help Berjaya. Stephens resigned from his governorship and was immediately appointed the leader of Berjaya. Harris became his deputy. The federal authorities calculated, correctly, that Stephens, as the paramount leader {Huguan Siou) would bring the Kadazan-Dusun vote to Berjaya. With federal support and Stephens at the helm, half of Mustapha's Cabinet defected to Berjaya. Despite all these, Berjaya performed below expectations. The results of the 1975 elections were dose: USNO 20, SCA 0, Berjaya 28. USNO managed to hang on to about three-quarters of the Muslim vote while almost all the non-Muslim vote went to Berjaya.19

James Chin * 25

Barely a year later on 6 June 1976, however, Stephens and several senior state ministers were killed in a plane crash. Harris Salleh succeeded Stephens. Harris displayed his pro-federal credentials quickly when he ceded Labuan, a small island off the Western coast of Sabah, to Kuala Lumpur without any compensation. With Harris in control, UMNO and the federal government had no reason to enter Sabah.

The Rise of Kadazan-Dusun Nationalism

In March 1981, a state election was held and this time Berjaya performed as expected. Berjaya took 44 of 48 seats and USNO was decimated. With nearly total electoral victory, Berjaya became more confident, and complacency and arrogance began to set in. Harris became increasingly dictatorial, displaying the same traits Mustapha showed at the height of his power. Two issues were to sweep Harris and Berjaya from power, forcing the federal government (UMNO) to rethink its policy of leaving Sabah alone. The first issue that led to Berjaya's defeat was Harris's decision to cede the sovereignty of the island of Labuan to the federal government in April 1984. Harris came from Labuan and was easily the island's biggest landowner. Thus there was lingering suspicion that Harris had arranged for the transfer as he would benefit from the accelerated development of Labuan. Harris argued that giving Labuan to the federal government displayed Sabah's commitment to national integration. The Sabah public became more aghast when it became known that Sabah would only get a nominal sum for Labuan. In contrast, when Kuala Lumpur was ceded by Selangor to the federal government, it received several hundred million dollars as compensation. The public had already formed the opinion that Harris was too federal and the Labuan issue was the last straw: it compromised Harris as a federal lackey who was willing to "sell" Sabah to Kuala Lumpur. The second issue that plagued the second Berjaya administration was the emergence of Kadazan-Dusun nationalism.20 The Kadazan-Dusun community, easily the single largest ethnic grouping in Sabah, had been unhappy since their political power was effectively destroyed by the death of their Huguan Siou, Fuad Stephens, in a plane crash in 1976. Although a Kadazan, James Ongkili, was made deputy chief minister in the Harris administration, but he was deemed ineffective as the community's spokesperson in the government. Ongkili, a historian who taught at Universiti Malaya before entering politics, was widely seen by the Kadazan-Dusun as being too accommodating to the Muslims under Harris. 21 The Kadazan-Dusun community was increasingly worried about four main issues: Islamization, discrimination in the civil service, the pribumi label and the influx of Muslim Filipinos. The Kadazan-Dusun community began to earnestly look for a new Huguan Siou. Although high-handed tactics at Islamization ceased with the defeat of Mustapha in 1976, subtle attempts at Islamization were still being carried out among the nonMuslim bumiputera under Harris. The Kadazan-Dusun were mostly Roman Catholics and animists. Harris's near total victory in the 1981 elections had made pro-Islamic elements in Berjaya more assertive. The election results also indicated that Berjaya had managed to capture the Muslim votes (21 of 44 successful Berjaya candidates in 1981 were Muslims). The Muslims in Berjaya thus controlled about half of all the party seats

26 Asian Journal of Political Science and they began to agitate for more pro-Islamic policies. Pressure and intimidation were put on non-Muslim bumiputera to convert and big conversion ceremonies began to appear in non-Muslim areas, the same sort of ceremonies that were held during Mustapha's reign.22 The Kadazan-Dusun also felt uneasy about their political status. Although they were officially classified as bumiputera and hence eligible for special constitutional benefits such as university places, scholarships, bank loans and recruitment into the civil service, in reality they were discriminated in favour of Muslim bumiputera. Many Kadazan-Dusun, hence, felt that they were "second-class" bumiputera.2^ There was anger in the community that all the senior positions in the Sabah civil service were held by Peninsular Malays and that there was an active unofficial policy of discrimination against them in the higher echelons of the civil service.24 The Kadazan-Dusun sense of being "second-class" bumiputera was compounded by Harris's decision to lump the Kadazan-Dusun with other indigenous groupings in the 1980 census. Prior to 1980, the Kadazan were categorized as a separate entity but in the 1980 census, they were simply classified as pribumi, a collective term for all indigenous groupings in Sabah. To add insult to injury, the Berjaya administration also changed the character of the Kadazan-Dusun Harvest Festival (Tadau Tagazo Kaamatari) by relegating it into a Testa Rakyat, open to all races. These moves were seen by the Kadazan-Dusun as blatant attempts to diminish and dilute their strong ethnic and cultural identity. The unhappiness was exacerbated by the influx of Muslim Filipinos. The Kadazan-Dusun (and the Chinese) were worried that the Muslim Filipino could alter the delicate balance between the Muslim and non-Muslim community in Sabah. Although the non-Muslims were the majority in Sabah, the large influx of Muslim Filipinos, numbering anywhere between 750,000 to a million, were reducing the gap between the Muslims and non-Muslims, significantly and quickly. Berjaya's excuse for not stopping the influx of Muslim Filipinos was that border and security issues were under the purview of the federal government. Harris argued, moreover, that it would be physically impossible to send all the Filipinos home. All these four issues were raised repeatedly at the state Cabinet level by a young Kadazan minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan. Pairin had demanded that the Muslim Filipinos be forcefully repatriated and that the Sabah government should give some financial assistance to Church activities, in the same way that state funds were granted to the dakwah (missionary work) of the Sabah State Muslim Organization (MUIS). Pairin's reputation for raising these issues earned him the respect of many KadazanDusuns, especially the influential educated Kadazan-Dusun middle class. Pairin began to revive the Kadazan Cultural Association (KCA), a powerful grassroots organization and in 1982, he was designated Huguan Siou, the first Kadazan to hold the title since the death of Stephens. In other words, the Kadazan-Dusun community had a new and widely recognized champion since 1976. Pairin's disagreement with Harris boiled over in the 1983 Berjaya party congress. Earlier, in July 1982, Harris had sacked Pairin from the state Cabinet. Pairin again raised the grievances of the Kadazan-Dusun and non-Muslim communities in his speech at the party congress, prompting Harris to expel him immediately. Harris pulled

James Chin 27

out the undated letter of resignation Pairin had signed when he was elected in 1981. This forced Pairin to stand as an independent for the Tambunan seat. The by-election was held in December 1984 and the result was never in doubt. Pairin's emotional call to Kadazan-Dusun nationalism in the face of Kadazan-Dusun identity erosion meant that the Berjaya candidate, Roger Ongkili, a nephew of Pairin, never stood any chance. Ongkili was beaten by a margin of four to one. The humiliation for Harris was too much to bear and he publicly punished the people of Tambunan by withdrawing Tambunan's status as a district. Tambunan was then placed under the control of the Keningau District Office and all government facilities in Tambunan were withdrawn.25 This action reinforced the Kadazan-Dusun1 s resentment against Berjaya and the feeling that the whole community was being persecuted by Harris.

The 1985 Elections

With the Kadazan-Dusun ground highly sympathetic to Pairin and to prevent further erosion of support, Harris decided to call a snap election in April 1985. Harris wanted to move quickly as Pairin had already applied for registration of a new Kadazan-Dusunbased political party, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).26 On 5 March 1985, Kuala Lumpur approved PBS's application. Although UMNO had watched PBS's call to Kadazan-Dusun nationalism with alarm, they did not perceive Pairin as a real threat as he had made overtures to the federal leadership beforehand. Pairin had assured them that he had no intention of creating a state government outside the BN coalition model. Pairin, in fact, openly stated that he wanted PBS to join the BN. These moves helped to allay the fears of UMNO and to secure the registration of PBS.27 Moreover, UMNO thought that Berjaya still had the support of the Sabah people and saw no reason to intervene directly. The PBS's symbol, two hands clasped together over a map of Sabah, was meant to symbolize friendship and cooperation among the peoples of Sabah. The symbol, however, was politically potent for another reason: it was almost an exact copy of the symbol used earlier by the congregation of Sabah's Catholic parishes, with only the cross missing. The meaning was clear to the Catholic/Christian community: although PBS was multiracial, PBS would fight for the rights of the non-Muslim community after years of suppression by successive Muslim-led governments. The tone of the campaign, Muslims vs non-Muslims, helped Berjaya's old foe: USNO. USNO, always the champion of Islam, suddenly came alive as Muslims across Sabah became alarmed by the rise of Kadazan-Dusun nationalism with its Christian overtones. By early March, the lines were clear: USNO stood for Islam and PBS stood for the Kadazan-Dusun and the non-Muslims. Berjaya was caught in-between: Berjaya could only offered economic prosperity and development. This was, however, not enough. Pairin and Mustapha had warned the voters that the very survival of the nonMuslim and Muslim communities, respectively, was at stake. Under such threats, Berjaya's offer of economic prosperity was simply ignored. One Sabah politician summed up the campaign as follows: "When the survival of your race and religion was at stake, who cares about economic development?"28

28 Asian Journal of Political Science

The Berjaya campaign floundered further when Harris made the decision to import UMNO politicians to help campaign for Berjaya. PBS had made "state-rights" as one of its key platform and promised in its manifesto that it would fight for these staterights contained in the Twenty Points in addition to the return of Labuan. When Prime Minister Mahathir publicly endorsed Harris by stating that the federal government would "sink or swim" with Berjaya and that "if any other party rules there will be no support from the BN government", it diminishes rather than increases support for Berjaya. Many Sabahans were insulted that "outsiders" were again telling them what to do. The opposition claim that Sabah was a mere "colony" of Kuala Lumpur began to sound plausible. Although PBS was barely a month old, it swept to power winning 25 seats of the 48-seat state legislature. In reality, PBS took 26 seats when the only successful Pasok candidate, Ignatius Malanjun in Moyong, joined PBS immediately after the polls. The rejuvenated USNO won 16 seats and Berjaya was left with a mere 6 seats. The election results signalled the political death of Berjaya. Harris himself was defeated by Kadoh Agundong in the Tenom constituency. Before defecting to PBS, Kadoh was secretary of Berjaya Tenom Branch and had worked intimately with Harris. The PBS victory was generally seen as a personal blow to Mahathir as he had earlier pledged to "sink or swim" with Berjaya.

The PBS Administration 1985-94

PBS had a difficult time in itsfirst year. As the results were announced, it was revealed that Mustapha, with the support of Berjaya, had coerced the governor, Tun Adnan Roberts, into appointing him the chief minister. The two parties, USNO and Berjaya, which together held 22 seats, argued that with the extra six appointed members of the state legislature,29 the USNO-Berjaya coalition "had" 28 assemblymen to PBS's 26. One of the reasons why USNO-Berjaya decided to take power was the mistaken belief that the federal government would back them. They thought that UMNO would simply not allow an anti-federal Christian to take power in Kota Kinabalu. To his credit, the acting prime minister, Musa Hitam, interceded and Kitingan was sworn in on 22 April 1985. 30 Mustapha then filed a suit against the Pairin administration claiming that he was the legitimate chief minister. The case was to last slightly more than a year before the High Court ruled in favour of Pairin. Around this time, a series of bomb explosions occurred in Kota Kinabalu. These disturbances were orchestrated by radical USNO and Berjaya elements31 and were generally believed to be carried out by Muslim Filipinos. The rationale was that with a breakdown of security in the state, the federal UMNO-led government would have to declare a state of emergency and rule Sabah directly, thus bringing Pairin down indirectly.32 These actions were supported by certain UMNO factions who would not accept a nonMuslim-led Sabah government. The bombs were also used to pressure Pairin into accepting Kuala Lumpur's proposal of a PBS-USNO coalition government.33 Unwilling to accept the proposal, Pairin opted for another election in May 1986. The results this time were crystal clear: PBS increased its majority from 26 to 34 seats. PBS gained one extra seat when the only successful Sabah Chinese Consolidated

James Chin 29

Party (SCCP) candidate in Sri Tanjung, James Ku Hien Kiang, defected to PBS.34 PBS's share of its popular votes substantially increased from about 34.8% in 1985 to 52.4%. Not only had the Kadazan-Dusun vote remained firmly behind Pairin, the Chinese and about half of the Muslims backed Pairin. 35 After its second convincing electoral victory and for reasons of political expediency, PBS was admitted into the BN. UMNO clearly did not want Sabah to be held by an opposition party. Sabah was again in a unique position where one component of the BN party, PBS, was in power while another BN component, USNO, was its main opposition. With PBS in the BN, the political situation stabilized although relations between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu remained cool. PBS's strong staterights stand pertaining to the Twenty Points had made a smooth working relationship with the UMNO-led federal government difficult. In the July 1990 state election, the UMNO-led federal government publicly took a neutral position in the PBS-USNO tussle, although UMNO was privately backing the Muslim-based USNO with substantial financial support. PBS easily won re-election, again with near total support from the non-Muslim and Chinese communities. PBS took 36 of the 48-seat state assembly with 53.92% of the votes while USNO took the other 12.36

Umno's Entry
The uneasy relationship between PBS and UMNO was to manifest itself suddenly when PBS withdrew from the BN just five days before the October 1990 general election and, threw its support behind Mahathir's arch rival, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Razaleigh's opposition coalition, Gagasan Rakyat, which included the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), had promised to recognize the Twenty Points as the basis of Sabah's position in the Malaysian federation and also to revert the island of Labuan back to Sabah. This was too much for Mahathir (he called PBS's action "a stab in the back") and immediately announced that UMNO would spread its wings in Sabah.37 Because PBS abandoned the BN coalition just days before polling, UMNO was unable to field any candidates. It, however, announced financial backing for USNO and any other parties or independents who were standing against PBS candidates. Predictably, the results were along ethnic/religious lines. PBS took 14 of Sabah's 20 parliamentary seats. USNO took the other six. PBS won in all the non-Muslim constituencies while USNO won only in Muslim majority constituencies. There were several reasons why UMNO abandoned its long policy of using a local Muslim proxy to further its political interests in Sabah. First, by 1990, the two Sabah Muslim parties successfully used by UMNO to protect Muslim and Malay interests, USNO and Berjaya, were extremely weak politically. Mustapha and Harris were discredited personalities, especially after their attempt to grab power in 1985 failed. PBS's strong state-rights stand were attracting considerable support among the Sabah Muslim community. UMNO's strong emphasis on the Malay race had alienated many Sabah Muslims as the majority of them were not ethnic Malays. Moreover, many Sabah Muslims held strong regional sentiments and were politically parochial, they believe more in strong state rights than solidarity with

30 Asian Journal of Political Science

their Muslim counterparts in Peninsular Malaysia. In some way, the Sabah Muslims were similar to the Kelantanese. Although the Kelantanese are Malays and Muslims, they do not get along with Malays or Muslims from outside Kelantan, regarding themselves as "different".38 Second, time was the essence. PBS's sudden exit from the BN meant that Mahathir had no time to rehabilitate USNO or Berjaya politically. PBS withdrew from the BN coalition on the 15 October 1990, mid-way through the campaign period. Polling took place five days later on 20 October 1990. Third, there was no credible alternative Sabah Muslim party available. As mentioned, USNO and Berjaya were a spent force. Under such circumstances, Mahathir probably calculated that UMNO could do no worse than USNO or Berjaya if it were to set foot in Sabah. To forestall PBS's argument that UMNO was out to "colonize" Sabah, Mustapha was persuaded with financial inducements to leave USNO and was appointed UMNO Sabah liaison chief. UMNO, however, failed to convinced Mustapha to dissolve USNO. USNO came under the control of his son, Amirkahar Tun Mustapha. Mustapha probably refused to disband USNO for sentimental reasons. After all, he founded USNO and led it for more than 30 years. Furthermore, many USNO members refused to follow Mustapha, seeing UMNO's entry as an intrusion in Sabah politics by an "outsider" and also an attempt to destroy USNO and replace USNO as the main political party representing Sabah Muslims. Although the Sabah Muslims had Islam as a common factor with the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia, the regional sentiments meant that many Sabah Muslims saw themselves as "Sabahan" first and foremost.39 In order to give him official powers of patronage, Mustapha was appointed the Federal Minister for Sabah Affairs in 1992, a portfolio unfilled since the 1970s. Federal development funds were now channelled through Mustapha's ministry and other federal agencies, bypassing the PBS state government. Meanwhile, the federal government began their political offensive against Pairin and the PBS. Within months of the 1990 parliamentary polls, Pairin was charged with three counts of corruption. Pairin's younger brother, Jeffrey Kitingan, who heads the timber-rich Sabah Foundation, was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA] for allegedly plotting Sabah's secession from the Malaysian federation. Jeffrey was also charged with corruption involving his chairmanship of Sabah Foundation. 40 Ties between Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur deteriorated rapidly after that and the federal government began to penalize Sabah further. From 1990 onwards, Sabah's economic growth has consistently been below the national average and it was widely acknowledged that the Sabah economy was suffering from Kuala Lumpur's induced "political recession".

The 1994 Election: UMNO's First Electoral Outing

In January 1994, Pairin Kitingan had valid reasons for calling an early election.41 First, his corruption trial had just been completed. The court found him guilty of corruption and fined him RM1,8OO, short of the RM2,000 fine which would have legally barred him from political office. The verdict was widely seen as a vindication by the courts

James Chin 31

that the charges against Pairin were politically motivated by the federal government. Pairin calculated that an early election would win the sympathy votes of ordinary Sabahans for what was perceived as a personal vendetta by the federal government against Pairin for standing up for state rights. Second, Pairin's brother Jeffrey had been released in January 1994 after being detained for two years under the ISA. Third, Pairin wanted an early election to protest the federal government's plan to re-delineate the boundaries of the state constituencies, which no doubt would benefit and consolidate Muslim votes. Fourth, PBS pulled off a major political coup when it managed to draw USNO into a coalition government in early 1992. The PBS-USNO alliance controlled 41 of the 48-seat state legislature. Shortly afterwards, USNO was deregistered by the federal-controlled registrar of societies. Six USNO state legislators went over to Sabah UMNO while the rest joined the PBS. With USNO deregistered, all USNO candidates had to stand as PBS candidates in the coming polls. Thus Pairin calculated that PBS stood a fair chance of securing the Muslim vote. The PBS campaign slogan was "Sabah for the Sabahans", a not-too-subtle appeal to regional sentiments and "state rights". PBS clearly wanted the people to associate Sabah UMNO as the "new colonizers" from the peninsula. The key PBS demands were: an increase in petroleum royalties from 5% to 15%, a university, a separate TV station, the return of the island of Labuan and a crackdown on the large number of illegal immigrants from the southern Philippines. The BN's big carrot was massive economic development. Its manifesto "A New Sabah" promised huge infrastructural projects as well as the state's first university if it were elected. To blunt PBS's "new colonizers" charge, Mahathir personally promised that if the BN was elected, the chief minister's post would only be filled by a Sabahan. To allay fears and to entice the non-Muslims, Mahathir further announced that the Sabah chief ministership would be rotated every two years equally between Muslim bumiputera, non-Muslim bumiputera and Chinese leaders. The triumvirate system was supposed to stop the one leader, one group grab-all mentality practised in Sabah for a long time. There was also widespread vote buying by BN candidates. The BN campaign was significantly boosted by several key PBS defectors. PBS vice-president Clarence Bongkos Malakum stood as an independent against a PBS candidate.42 Another PBS vice-president, Yong Teck Lee, left and formed a new party, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), to pitch at the Chinese voters.43 SAPP was immediately accepted into the BN coalition. Defections, however, were not unidirectional only. Mustapha Harun, the longtime champion of the Sabah Muslims surprised everyone when he defected to PBS just after Pairin announced the dissolution of the state assembly. The PBS thought, though incorrectly, that with Mustapha on their side, half of the Muslim votes would go to the PBS. Despite the millions spent by BN, the results of the election were surprisingly close: PBS won 25 seats while the remaining 23 were won by the BN (Sabah UMNO 18; SAPP 3; LDP 1; AKAR I). 4 4 Sabah UMNO performed much better than anticipated. PBS's coalition partner, USNO, which was expected to hold on to its traditional Muslim vote was decimated by Sabah UMNO when only its president, Amirkahar Tun Mustapha, was returned. The decline of USNO in the Muslim areas is best illustrated in Mustapha's own seat at Usukan, where his son Badaruddin stood as a

32 Asian Journal of Political Science PBS candidate. Although the 75-year-old Mustapha campaigned extensively for his son, Usukan was won by first-time Sabah UMNO candidate, Mohamed Salleh Tun Said. Sabah UMNO took almost all the Muslim constituencies. With such a narrow victory, it was obvious that Pairin's government was under threat from defections. Pairin immediately exercised his constitutional right to nominate six assemblymen, thus bringing PBS's majority to eight. This was a fruitless exercise as the BN had already started to lure PBS legislators. Barely two weeks after the election, three PBS legislators defected. The going rate was said to be three million ringgit.45 To prevent more defections, Pairin sought to dissolve the state assembly which has yet to sit and to call for fresh elections. But the governor refused to dissolve the state assembly, arguing that it was too soon to call a new election and since BN had the numbers, it should be given a chance to form a government. The governor was biased against Pairin because his son, Mohamed Salleh Tun Said, had just been elected as a Sabah UMNO candidate. By this time it was too late anyway: Jeffrey Kitingan, Pairin's younger brother, also left PBS; PBS's secretary-general, Joseph Kurup, left and formed the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS); former PBS deputy chief minister, Bernard Dompok, formed Parti Demokratik Sabah (PDS). 46 PBRS and PDS were immediately accepted as component parties of the BN. By the time the defections ended, PBS was left with only five state legislators.

The UMNO/BN "Rotation" Administration

The new chief minister naturally had to come from Sabah UMNO and Sakaran Dandai was sworn in as the new chief minister on 17 March 1994. The federal government immediately announced that the state's first university, Universiti Sabah Malaysia, would be established and that more than seven billion ringgit in development funds were forthcoming. 47 Sakaran served for a few months until he was made Sabah governor in December 1994.48 He was replaced by another Sabah UMNO nominee, Mohd Salleh Tun Said Keruak, the son of the previous governor. In March 1996, after Sabah UMNO had held the chief ministership for two years, it was the turn of the Chinese to take over under the rotation system. This created a mini-crisis when Sabah UMNO decided that it was unwilling to give up the office. After all, Sabah UMNO had the single largest number of legislators in the state assembly. They were also not keen to see a Chinese taking over the most powerful office in the state. Mahathir had to force Sabah UMNO to give up the post. Mahathir knew that one of the key reasons why the BN did well in the 1994 state election was the promise of a rotation system for the chief minister. If this promise was not kept, there was a real likelihood that the voters would turn against BN, and especially Sabah UMNO, in the next election. Mahathir's then deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, had to go to Kota Kinabalu personally to persuade Sabah UMNO to drop its objections.49 The Sabah UMNO representatives finally agreed to drop their objections when Mahathir promised them that Sabah UMNO could still exert major influence in the state government through the number of Cabinet posts given to Sabah UMNO. Sabah

James Chin 33

UMNO was promised the largest share in the state Cabinet with four full ministers, including the deputy chief ministership. More importantly, Sabah UMNO demanded that the bulk of the chief minister's discretionary powers be transferred to the Cabinet. Prior to UMNO's entry, the position of Sabah chief minister was all powerful the chief minister could decide on land matters single-handedly without going to the state Cabinet. This gave the chief minister tremendous political patronage it was common practice for the chief minister to grant mining, land and timber concessions as a political reward, to cement political ties or simply to raise money for elections.50 In June 1996, four bills Forestry Enactment Amendment, the Mining Ordinance, the Sabah Land Ordinance Amendment and the Delegation of Powers Ordinance effectively stripped the chief minister of his power when it came to land matters and the granting of mining and timber concessions. Obviously, Sabah UMNO wanted to make sure it could still influence "who gets what" once it was out of the chief minister's office. This was the price the Chinese and the non-Muslim bumiputera community had to pay if they wanted the rotation system to continue.51 SAPP's Yong Teck Lee was sworn in as chief minister on 28 May 1996 and two weeks later, on 18 June, the four amendments clipping the powers of the chief ministers were passed in the state legislative assembly. Yong served a full two years before he handed power over to Bernard Dompok on 29 May 1998. Dompok was chosen by Mahathir to be the non-Muslim bumiputera chief minister under the rotation system.

The 1999 State Election

In March 1999, after much delay, a state election was finally held. The polls were originally scheduled for the second half of 1998.52 The delay was caused by two factors. First, the Sabah BN was unsure about its support from the Kadazan-Dusun and Chinese voters. Three election "dry runs" held in 1997 suggested that the BN were only safe in Muslim constituencies the homebase of Sabah UMNO. In the non-Muslim areas, support for the PBS remained strong. Second, seat allocation became a major obstacle as there were simply too many parties in the BN coalition nine. With only 48 seats up for grabs the coalition faced a major hurdle in deciding which party represented the BN in the individual constituencies. The problem was compounded by Sabah UMNO's insistence that it be given all the Muslim majority constituencies 26 seats. There were three Kadazan-Dusun parties in the coalition (PDS, PBRS, AKAR Bersatu) each claiming to represent the Kadazan-Dusun community while Sabah MCA, LDP and SAPP were after the four Chinese-majority constituencies. Sabah Gerakan and Sabah MIC did not ask for any seats. Sabah MIC could not claim any seat as there were no Indian-majority seat in Sabahl Sabah UMNO's strength can be seen when it was allocated 24 of 48 seats to contest; this was just one short of a simple majority needed to rule Sabah alone. There was some initial excitement when Harris Salleh attempted a political comeback. He took over a near-defunct party, Party Bersekutu, and proclaimed that he alone had Muslim support. Nevertheless, the real contest was over the Kadazan-Dusun votes. The BN Kadazan-Dusun had to show that they had the support of the community they seek

34 Asian Journal of Political Science

to represent. All had been elected under PBS in the 1994 polls before they defected to the BN. The issue of kataks or "political frogs", i.e. PBS defectors, dominated much of the campaign. The PBS platform was simple: PBS stood for state rights and voting against the BN, especially the "political frogs", was the best way to ensure further erosion of state rights. The entire BN campaign was based on economic development and continuity of the rotation system. The BN promised more money for the economy if elected, or economic stagnation if PBS won. The BN countered PBS's assertion that the Kadazan-Dusun's identity was under threat by introducing Kadazan-Dusun language as a course in 147 primary schools and a chair in Kadazan-Dusun studies at the new Universiti Malaysia Sabah. The BN also promised to continue with the rotation system, ensuring that all the three major communities will get a chance to "rule". Sabah UMNO employed Islam blatantly. In a speech before a gathering of the state's Islamic officials and missionaries, Sabah deputy chief minister, Osu Sukam, stated that it was fardhu kifayah (social obligation) for Muslims to vote for a BN government because BN was led by Muslims and Islam can only flourish under Muslim (read UMNOled] rule.53 Osu was no doubt referring to PBS being led by Pairin, a Roman Catholic. This message was repeated in all the Muslim areas and it appeared to have worked. The results were: BN 31 (Sabah UMNO 24, LDP 2, SAPP 3, PDS 1), PBS 17. The leaders of the BN Kadazan-Dusun parties (PDS, PBRS and AKAR) were all defeated by the PBS. The casualties included the incumbent chief minister, Bernard Dompok, leader of the PDS and Joseph Kurup, the leader of the PBRS. Sabah UMNO won all its 24 seats and this indicates that Sabah UMNO had successfully taken over the Muslim bloc vote in Sabah while PBS retains its stranglehold over the Kadazan-Dusun vote. It may also indicate that the Sabah Muslims have finally come to accept Sabah UMNO as a local entity. We may have to wait until the next state election to see if Sabah UMNO's success among Muslim voters in the 1999 election will be repeated, which would indicate real acceptance. What is clear is that with a Muslim majority in 26 of 48 constituencies, whoever wants to win control of Sabah must win the Muslim vote, and therefore, Sabah UMNO has an inbuilt advantage as long as it can retain the Muslim vote.

Consequences for UMNO

The establishment of Sabah UMNO has led to several significant changes within UMNO. The most significant change was the entry of a sizeable number of Christian bumiputeras. Hitherto, almost all UMNO members were Malays, and by legal definition, Muslims as well.54 The problem faced by UMNO was that many potential Sabah UMNO members were Christian bumiputera. The single largest bumiputera grouping in Sabah, the Kadazan-Dusun, were mostly Roman Catholics and animists. The Malay community in Sabah constituted a small minority among the Muslim community there. In fact a significant number of Muslims in Sabah are made up of ethnic Bajau and Suluk. Sabah UMNO leaders, like Mustapha Harun, were not ethnic Malays; Mustapha was from Sulu in the Southern Philippines. The admittance of nonMalays and non-Muslims from Sabah, unfortunately, did not change UMNO's rhetoric nor its raison d'etre, the Malay race and Islam. The UMNO general assembly was still full of speeches about the need to protect Islam and the Malay race.55 Non-Muslim and

James Chin 35

non-Malay bumiputera, such as the Kadazan-Dusun, were simply expected to put up with the party's ideological base.56 In any case, with more than 90% of UMNO members professing the Islamic faith, the non-Muslims in UMNO were always going to be a minority. Another significant change within UMNO was the political weight of Sabah UMNO. Sabah UMNO had 20 party divisions with about 300,000 members, making Sabah UMNO the state with the largest number of delegates (and votes) to UMNO's triennial party elections. In 1996, there were 165 divisions in UMNO, thus Sabah UMNO alone represented 12% of the total vote. Delegates from the same state tended to vote as a single bloc. This meant that potential UMNO leadership aspirants had to woo support from Sabah UMNO if they sought top positions in UMNO. The importance of Sabah UMNO can be seen in 1993 when Anwar Ibrahim challenged Ghafar Baba, the former deputy prime minister, for the deputy presidency of UMNO. Both Anwar and Ghafar spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy in trying to win the support of the Sabah delegates.57 The importance of the Sabah UMNO delegates' votes became even more important from 1999 onwards. In December 1988, UMNO amended Article 7.6 of its party constitution.58 Article 7.6 relates to the percentage of nominations required for contesting UMNO Supreme Council seats, the highest decision-making body in UMNO. Under the percentage system, those contesting the party presidency must receive at least 50 nominations from the 165 divisions (30%); the post of deputy president, 33 divisions (20%); the vice-presidency 17 divisions (10%) and eight divisions (5%) for Supreme Council seats. Thus the 12% of delegates' votes held by Sabah UMNO will be paramount to those wishing to climb the UMNO hierarchy.

Consequences for Sabah

The single most important political impact of UMNO's entry into Sabah was the loss of local autonomy over the appointment of the Sabah chief minister.59 Previously, Sabah politicians choose the state's chief minister without much interference from Kuala Lumpur. They simply submitted their choice to the Sabah governor and informed the prime minister, who was expected to agree. This is in stark contrast with the practice in Peninsular Malaysia. All the chief ministers and menteri besars of the 11 peninsula states are selected by the prime minister/UMNO president. With the exception of Penang, the ten other chief ministers and menteri besars are all from UMNO. The chief minister of Penang has always been a nominee of Gerakan. In reality, however, Gerakan's nominee must seek consent from Penang UMNO and Mahathir as UMNO has more seats than Gerakan in the Penang state legislature. When the BN moulded the state government with the PBS defectors in 1994, it was Mahathir who decided who was to be Sabah's chief minister. It was also Mahathir who picked the Chinese and non-Muslim bumiputera candidates who became the Sabah chief minister under the rotation system. Another important change to Sabah politics with the entry of UMNO was the shift in pattern of Sabah Muslim politics. Previously, Muslims in the state had a wide choice of Muslim-based and non-Muslim parties to support. Parties such as USNO,

36 Asian Journal of Political Science UPKO, Berjaya, Pasok and even PBS were all courting Muslim support to varying degrees of success. Up to 1990, the Sabah Muslims shifted their support from one party to another at almost every election. With the formation of Sabah UMNO, the pattern appeared to have changed. With USNO deregistered and Berjaya relegated to the status of a "mosquito" party, Sabah UMNO was now the undisputed champion of the Malays and Muslims in Sabah. UMNO's constant emphasis on Islam and race has also sharpened the ethnic and religious divide among the different groups in Sabah. The third significant shift in Sabah politics was the dilution of the powers of the Sabah chief minister. As mentioned above, Sabah UMNO forced amendments to the Sabah Constitution. Several key discretionary powers of the chief minister relating to land and natural resources were transferred to the Cabinet where Sabah UMNO holds the largest number of Cabinet posts. The fourth significant shift was the entry of other peninsula-based BN parties, such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC, into Sabah. None of these parties had branches in Sabah prior to UMNO's entry. They used UMNO's entry as the pretext for entering Sabah. The end result was that they compete for support with existing Sabah-based BN parties. The entry of these Peninsular BN parties also added to the large number of coalition members in the Sabah BN. At the time of writing, there were nine component parties in Sabah BN, making Sabah BN the state with the largest number of component parties. The component parties of BN coalition in Sabah are Sabah UMNO, Parti Demokratik Sabah (PDS), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), Akar Bersatu, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), MCA, Gerakan and MIC. The last three are not even represented in the state legislative assembly. The fifth significant shift was the approval of a large number of political parties since UMNO's entry in 1990. The registrar of societies, directly under Mahathir who was also home minister, have registered at least half a dozen parties from 1990 until 1994 when the BN was in the opposition. Most of these parties were approved simply because they were established by PBS renegades or defectors. It was obvious that UMNO wanted to weaken the PBS government, hoping that these parties will weaken the PBS's hold over the non-Muslim and Chinese vote. The parties include AKAR, PDS and PBRS (targeting non-Muslim bumiputerd], SAPP and LDP (targeting Chinese voters).

The entry of UMNO into Sabah politics can be divided into several distinct phases: In the first phase, from 1963-85, UMNO's involvement in Sabah politics was through local Muslim proxies. The main UMNO proxies during this period was USNO (under Mustapha Harun) and Berjaya (Harris Salleh). UMNO expected their Sabah proxies to maintain Malay/Muslim political supremacy within the BN framework. Both proteges failed because, essentially, (a) they became dictatorial and (b) they pushed Islamization of the state too blatantly, and (c) the regional sentiments of the Sabah electorate contributed to the protege's failure since they were invariably seen as federal lackeys.

James Chin ' 3 7

In the second phase, 1985-90, the federal government/UMNO's position was to accommodate the rise of Kadazan-Dusun nationalism within the BN framework. The PBS was allowed to rule Sabah as long it did not challenge UMNO's supreme position within the BN and Sabah's position in the federation, i.e. the Twenty Points. This period of cohabitation failed when the PBS suddenly withdrew from the BN in 1990. By this time, for reasons mentioned, UMNO had no choice but to expand into Sabah. In the third phase, from 1990 onwards, Sabah UMNO has actively worked trying to get the Sabahans to accept Sabah UMNO as a "local", and not as a semenaggung (peninsula) party or an outsider. In electoral terms, Sabah UMNO has been quite successful in the Muslim constituencies. Sabah UMNO's successes, however, was not repeated in the non-Muslim areas.

Politically, the most significant change brought by UMNO's entry was the lost of autonomy over the selection of Sabah's chief minister.60 Since 1994, the choice lies in the hands of the prime minister, who is also UMNO president. This is in line with the practice in Peninsular Malaysia where the prime minister chooses all the chief ministers and merited besars. Sarawak is now the only state left in the Malaysian federation where state politicians pick their own chief minister. Sarawak is also the only state in the federation where UMNO has no branches nor official members. UMNO's entry into Sabah is the first step of UMNO's plan to extend itself throughout the federation. There is little doubt that UMNO is targeting Sarawak next. Sarawak remains the only state in the federation where UMNO does not exist. With Sabah UMNO firmly established, UMNO's dream of extending into Sarawak and becoming a truly national organization is fast becoming a reality. In all probability, when the current Sarawak chief minister goes, UMNO will move into Sarawak.

1 For example, see G.P. Means, Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation (Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1991) and Harold Crouch, Government and Society in Malaysia (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1996). Anthropologically speaking, the Kadazan and Dusun are separate ethnic entities. However, politically, they have always been seen to be one. Sabah Department of Statistics, Buku Tahunan Perangkaan, 1994 (Kota Kinabalu, 1995). Sabah politics during the independence period up to the early 1970s can be found in R.S. Milne and K.J. Ratnam, Malaysia New States in a New Nation: Political Development of Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysia (London: Frank Cass, 1974); Margaret C. Roff, The Politics of Belonging: Political Change in Sabah and Sarawak (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1974) and Edwin Lee, The Towkays of Sabah: Chinese Leadership and Indigenous Challenge in the Last Phase of British Rule (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1976). Government of Malaya, Malaysia Report of the Inter-governmental Committee, 1962 (Kuala

2 3 4

Lumpur: Government Printer, 1963). For a fuller discussion on the conflict between the federal government and the state

38 Asian Journal of Political Science

7 8 9 10 11


13 14 15 16 17

18 19 20


22 23 24

governments of Sabah and Sarawak over the Twenty Points, see James Chin, "Politics of Federal Intervention in Malaysia, with-reference to Kelantan, Sarawak and Sabah", Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, vol. 35, no. 2 (July 1997), pp. 96-120. Syed Kechik's role was documented in Bruce Ross-Larson, The Politics of Federalism: Syed Kechik in East Malaysia (Singapore: Bruce Ross-Larson, 1976). Milne & Ratnam (1974), o p .cit.,Chapters 4 & 7; Ross-Larson (1974), op. cit., Chapter 8. The 1969 parliamentary election was suspended because of the May 1969 riots. The SCA was USNO's junior partner in the Mustapha-led state government. As the name suggests, it represented the Sabah Chinese. The Pekemas candidate lost. Pekemas was a political party led by Tan Chee Khoon, a Peninsular Malaysian Chinese. The party faded away in the mid-1970s when it was unable to win any real support among the electorate. It has never won a seat in Sabah. It was an unwritten agreement between Kuala Lumpur that both would not antagonize each other openly. The Philippines had a long standing claim to Sabah which it did not pursue openly when it became a member of ASEAN. It thus expected Kuala Lumpur not to support the Muslim secessionists in the Southern Philippines. Far Eastern Economic Review, 8 August 1975. For a colourful description of Mustapha's lifestyle see Ed. Hunter, Misdeeds of Tun Mustapha (Hong Kong: Ed Hunter, 1976). See Robert Tilman, "Mustapha's Sabah 1968-1975", Asian Survey, vol. 16, no. 6 (June 1976), pp. 495-509. See Chin (1997), op. cit. Harris's account of his clandestine meeting with Razak and the entire event can be found in Paul Raffaele, Harris Salleh of Sabah (Hong Kong: Condor, 1986) and Bill Campbell, Sabah under Harris : A Collection of Speeches by Datuk Harris bin Mohd Salleh as Chief Minister of Sabah, 1976-1985 (Kuala Lumpur: Warisan, 1986). Raffaele (1986), op. cit., pp. 190-209. Han Sin Fong, "A Constituional coup d'tat:: An Analysis of the Birth and Victory of the Berjaya Party in Sabah, Malaysia", Asian Survey, vol. 19, no. 4 (April 1979), pp. 379-389. The rise of Kadazan nationalism is also discussed by Loh Kok Wah (Francis), "Modernisation, Cultural Revival and Counter-hegemony: The Kadazans of Sabah in the 1980s", in Joel Kahn and Francis Loh Kok Wah (eds.), Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia (Sydney: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Allen & Unwin, 1992), pp. 225-253. Ongkili's analysis of the breakdown in the PBS-federal relationship can be found in James Ongkili, "Federalism and Parochialism: Relations between Kuala Lumpur and Sabah", Journal of Contemporary Asia, vol. 22, no. 4, 1992. Many non-Muslim bumiputera civil servants in Sabah were openly told that their career path upwards depended on their conversion to Islam. This term "second class bumiputera" was emphasized to me by a non-Muslim Kadazan state assemblyman. "First-class bumiputera" refers to Muslim bumiputera. i See Joseph P. Kitingan, "Territorial Integration, a Personal View", in Bonding of a Nation: Federalism and Territorial Integration in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia (ISIS), 1986). For his view on related matters, see Stan Yee, J. Pairin Kitingan, The Making of a Malaysian: A Collection of Speeches by Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan during his first two terms of office as the Chief Minister of Sabah, 1985-1990 (Kuala Lumpur: Foto Technik, 1992).

James Chin 39 25 26 See Daily Express (Kota Kinabalu), 1 January 1985. A summary of the 1985 and 1986 state elections can be found in Marvis Puthucheary, Federalism at the Crossroads: The 1985 Election in Sabah and their Implications for the Federal-state Relations (Kuala Lumpur: ISIS Malaysia, 1985) and K.T. Kalimuthu "The Sabah State Election of April 1985", Asian Survey, vol. 26, no. 7 (July 1986) pp. 815-837. Two sympathetic accounts can be found in Bala Chandran, The Third Mandate (Kuala Lumpur: Bala Chandran, 1986) and Tan Chee Khoon, Sabah: A Triumph for Democracy (Kuala Lumpur: Pelanduk Publications, 1986). Under normal circumstances, it would be difficult for an opposition party to secure registration. Under current legislation, the registrar of societies (ROS) has the absolute discretion whether to approve or reject an application to register a political party. It is not unknown for opposition parties to wait up to three years to secure registration while government-friendly parties can secure registration quickly, in some cases, within a week. A former PBS MP told the writer that Pairin flew to Kuala Lumpur at least twice to lobby the federal government to approve PBS's registration. One of the figures Pairin lobbied was Musa Hitam, the then deputy prime minister. Quoted in Raffaele (1986), o p .cit.,pp. 230. One of the legacies of the colonial government was the creation of six appointed members of the Sabah state assembly. Successive Sabah governments have used this oddity to appoint senior party members who lost in elections into the state legislature or as a reward to senior political figures or main party financial backers. See New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur), 23 April 1985 and Daily Express (Kota Kinabalu), 23-25 April 1985. Mahathir at that time was overseas. Musa probably had no choice but to back Pairin. A former PBS MP told this writer that had the federal government allowed Mustapha to take power, there would be "bloodshed" on the streets. The senior USNO and Berjaya members, including the former USNO secretary-general, who were involved in the 1985 bombing campaign admitted their involvement 14 years later in 1999. See Daily Express, 14 January 1999. There were two precedents for this route. In 1966, the federal government declared a state of emergency in Sarawak and removed a stubborn anti-federal chief minister. Similarly, in 1977, the federal government declared a state of emergency in Kelantan to get rid of the opposition PAS-led state government. Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 April 1986 and Audrey Kahin, "Crisis on the Periphery: The Rift Between Kuala Lumpur and Sabah", Pacific Affairs, vol. 65, no. 1 (Spring 1992) p. 41. The PBS candidate in Sri Tanjung had his nomination papers rejected. The PBS then decided to support James Ku when he promised that he would join the PBS after the election. In interviews with several Chinese leaders in Kota Kinabalu, they said the disturbances occurred mainly in the urban areas where the majority of the Chinese lived. The Chinese blamed USNO and Berjaya for the disturbances which had caused their businesses to suffer. As a consequence, they decided to backed the PBS. A short summary of the 1990 polls can be found in Sabihah Osman, "Sabah State Elections: Implications for Malaysian Unity", Asian Survey, vol. 32, no. 4 (1992), pp. 386-391. UMNO's main partners in the Peninsular, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) followed UMNO's lead into Sabah. Sabah UMNO's first branch was only officially inaugurated four months after Mahathir's announcement on 11 February 1991. The delay was mainly due to mainly to logistics. UMNO wanted USNO to disband first (more later). See James Chin (1997), o p . cit.; Clive Kessler, Islam and Politics in a Malay State: Kelantan


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1838-1969 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978) and Alias Mohammad, PAS' Platform: Development and Change 1981-1986 (Petaling Jaya: Gateway, 1994). In fact, it was for these two very reasons that in 1992, USNO joined PBS in a coalition state government. In revenge, USNO was subsequently deregistered as a political party by the federally-controlled registrar of societies and all USNO candidates were forced to stand as PBS candidates in the 1994 polls. Jeffrey Kitingan had been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and company shares in return for political and business favours, some allegedly doled out in his capacity as director of the state-owned Sabah Foundation. The charges were quietly dropped when he defected to the BN in 1994. For details on the 1994 polls, see James Chin, "Sabah Election of 1994: End of Kadazan Unity", Asian Survey, vol. 36, no. 10 (October 1994), pp. 904-915. He lost to a PBS candidate. In contrast to the opposition parties' problem of getting registered (see above), SAPP's papers were approved within a week. Both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Angkatan Keadilan Rakyat (Justice Party or AKAR) were established earlier by PBS defectors. The LDP and AKAR target the Chinese and Kadazan-Dusun community respectively. This was the figure given by Pairin himself. Of course, those who defected later did not get this large sum. The early defectors were paid more than the latecomers. Again, because both parties were going to join the BN, they were registered in record time, less than a week. See Daily Express (Kota Kinabalu), 21 March 1994. A post he still occupies. Anwar met with all Sabah UMNO legislators at the Kota Kinabalu airport. See Daily Mail (Kota Kinabalu), 4 May 1996. Interviews with senior PBS figures. See also Daily Express, 10-20 June 1996, on the controversy generated by the bills. Interview with a PBS figure. Personal communication from a senior PDS figure. Daily Express (Kota Kinabalu), 6 March 1999. In the Malaysian Constitution, a Malay is defined as a person who professes the Islamic faith. i For example, see speeches made during UMNO General Assembly in New Straits Times, 10-13 October 1996. Interestingly enough, the sudden entry of a large number of non-Muslim and non-Malay bumiputeras may have benefited non-Muslim Thais living along the border with Thailand as they too have been admitted into UMNO (Straits Times (Singapore), 5 March 1999). Even in the past, UMNO was never fully a Malay only political party. Many mamak (Indian Muslims) from Penang were admitted as UMNO members but were simply classified as "Malays". The most prominent UMNO mamak is of course the current prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. See William Case, "The UMNO Party Election in Malaysia: One for the Money", Asian Survey, vol. 34, no. 10 (1994), pp. 916-930. New Straits Times, 14 December 1988. This was repeated to this writer by several Sabah politicians in different interviews. This point was mentioned by several Sabah MPs and state assemblymen in several interviews.