As the Lahad Datu saga becomes more convoluted with the killing of a third policeman, there are growing fears that embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak might freeze elections in Sabah state, citing unrest and instability caused by a recent shootout with armed intruders.
Opposition politicians are bracing for Najib and his Umno party to show their trump card soon as the deadline for Malaysia to hold its 13th general election nears.
“We don’t know what the end game is, but one possibility is that they might use the Lahad Datu incident to delay voting for Sabah in GE13,” PKR vice president and MP for Batu Tian Chua told mc.
His concerns are shared by many who have been following the events unfolding in the East Malaysian state, where Najib’s Umno-BN coalition has been losing ground to the Pakatan Rakyat led by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Staggered elections are not new in Malaysia. In 1969, the country’s third general election was held on May 10 in the peninsula, but voting was postponed until June 21 in Sabah and June 27 in Sarawak.
Due to racial riots that broke out in Kuala Lumpur on May 13, Parliament was suspended and the entire country ruled by a National Operations Council (or Mageran) until 1971.
No longer the BN’s fixed deposit
Sabah is a key state in Najib’s defense of the federal government, holding 25 of the federal Parliaments 222 seats. In the past, the state consistently voted for the BN, prompting Najib to describe it as the BN’s “fixed deposit”.
However, a large chunk of Sabah voters have since shifted support to the Opposition, citing disenchantment with Chief Minister Musa Aman’s authoritarian rule. Not helping the BN are the shock findings by a Royal Commission of Inquiry that former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had offered citizenship to illegal foreign workers in exchange for their voting for the BN.
A RM900 mil cheating scandal involving Musa’s nephew Manuel Amalilio had also riled up Sabahans, many of whom lost their money along with some 15,000 Filipinos in the Ponzi-like scam that Manuel had marketed in both the Southern Philippines and Sabah.
As far back as July last year, UiTM Sabah lecturer Arnold Puyok had warned that based on his research, BN could lose up to 14 of the 22 seats it now holds. Seats like Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Pensiangan are now regarded as “easy wins” for the Opposition.
“I don’t think the ‘fixed deposit’ will remain,” said Puyok.
Puyok added that the BN may have difficulty in retaining not only the Chinese seats in Sabah but also in areas where the Kadazan-Dusun make up the majority of voters. “BN could lose up to 10 marginal areas (where the) Kadazan-Dusun (make up the) majority (of) voters,” said Puyok.
His comments came on the back of the decision by two Members of Parliament – Beaufort’s Lajim Ukin and Tuaran’s Wilfrid Bumburing – to quit the BN and become independent MPs friendly to the Pakatan Rakyat.
Third cop & more confusion from the Malaysian authorities
News that a third policeman has been killed raised eyebrows, bolstering speculation that something fishy was going on in Sabah.
According to Bernama, which broke the news, the policeman died in a shootout with armed intruders in Semporna, which is some 150 kilometres from Lahad Datu.
The national news agency also said the intruders had been planning to attack the Lahad Datu police station. It reported the Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar as confirming the incident although he refused to comment further.
Adding to the confusion were the contradictory remarks from Sabah police chief Hamzah Taib, who told theMalaysian Insider that “for now, we believe it is unrelated to the situation in Lahad Datu.”
“The policemen entered the village and were walking on the stilt boardwalk when they were fired upon and two of our men were injured,” added Hamzah.
Retaliatory fire or another group of armed intruders
It is unclear from the news reports exactly what had happened in Semporna.
Was it retaliatory fire from Sabahans unhappy at the way the Najib administration had handled the Lahad Datu situation, which led to 14 deaths?
Or is there another group of armed intruders hiding out in Sabah apart from the 200 or so holed up in Lahad Datu, who had exchanged fire with the Malaysian police on Friday?
The Lahad Datu group had landed in Kampong Tanduo on boats and had refused to leave, claiming they were in Sabah to take back the land on behalf of the Sulu Sultan. In Friday’s shootout, 12 Filipino intruders and two Malaysian cops were killed.
Najib’s administration has come under tremendous flak and suspicion for the security breach and then allowing the intruders to stay for some 3 weeks before taking action.
The Umno-BN media has tried to damage control by throwing the blame at Anwar and the Opposition, accusing them of hatching the plot to embarrass and topple the government.