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Sabah voters must teach the ‘kataks’ a lesson

Poverty is still evident in Sabah and other parts of Malaysia - Photo: srpoverty.org

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Sabahan voters should send a powerful message that an abrupt change of government through opportunistic defections is detrimental to the smooth functioning of a democracy. Mustafa K Anuar writes.

On Saturday, 26 September, voters in Sabah will cast their ballots in a state election triggered by the shenanigans of certain politicians whose personal ambitions go way beyond serving the people’s interests.  

The Sabah State Assembly was dissolved following the defections of several assembly members from the Warisan Plus government to the opposition. A less charitable term used to describe these defectors is kataks (frogs) – if it is not too insulting to the real amphibians! 

Sabah is latest in a string of several states in the federation that have seen their legislative assemblies rocked by an abrupt change of political allegiance among elected representatives since the so-called Sheraton Move ousted the Pakatan Harapan coalition from federal power. 

The collapse of the duly elected Sabah government threw aside the people’s choice of who should govern the state that was made at the 2018 state election. The people’s mandate was cast aside. 

To force a snap election in this manner was improper and unjust, especially amid a pandemic. The move exposes voters to greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. It has also disrupted the state government’s duty to take care of Sabahans and to raise their living standards. 

As it is, Sabah is one of the poorer states, if not the poorest, in the federation despite being blessed with abundant natural resources. So the state government had a lot of work to do to improve the living conditions of the ordinary people and to narrow the economic disparities among the various groups. 

READ MORE:  Safe election recommendations for the coming Sarawak state polls

The abject poverty in Sabah raises the question: what has happened – or has not happened – since Sabah, along with Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore, formed the Federation of Malaysia in 1963? Past leaders must be held accountable for the present sordid state of affairs. 

Although the state election could not have come at a worse time, it provides an opportunity for ordinary Sabahans to remedy the wrongs done to them. The ballot boxes should be the place where Sabahans weed out unreliable and dishonest politicians who have robbed them blind all this while.

Many observers expect Sabahans to reject corruption, racial bigotry, bloodless coups, exclusivism and religious extremism. Sabahans are not stupid for wanting to protect their rich resources, vibrant cultures and inclusive values – and their votes will shape their destiny. So Saturday’s election is crucial to them.

Malaysians elsewhere will be closely watching the election to see how Sabah voters react after having their mandate at the last state election snatched by defectors.

Will Sabah voters send a powerful message that an abrupt change of government through opportunistic defections hurts the smooth functioning of a democracy? Such defections should not be part of the new normal – nor should ‘leapfrogging’ ever be deemed hip. 

Mustafa K Anuar
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
25 September 2020
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