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Having the cake and eating it too, in Sabah

Photograph: Free Malaysia Today

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The wobbly stand taken by two leaders on Pas’ entry into the Sabah state assembly suggests indecisiveness at best and political shrewdness at worst, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Brickbats were hurled against the entry of a Pas representative into the Sabah State Legislative Assembly as one of the six unelected assembly members as provided for by the state constitution.

Anxiety emerged over this political appointment – made by newly anointed Chief Minister Hajiji Noor – among Sabahans as the peninsular Islamist party is feared to have a brand of Islam that is inimical to the generally harmonious relations between adherents of various faiths in the state.

Sabah Pas secretary Aliakbar Gulasan’s appointment as the state’s lawmaker has also caused Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Star) president Jeffrey Kitingan to be criticised by concerned Sabahans for having failed to stop the controversial nomination. Star is part of the ruling pact Gabungan Rakyat Sabah.

This came on the heels of Pas’ Pasir Puteh MP Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh’s recent comment and his stubborn refusal to offer an apology over his contention that the Bible had been distorted, which had caused grievous hurt and anxiety, particularly among Christians in Sabah and Sarawak. This obviously raised a red flag particularly in the Land Below the Wind.

In light of this, Pas was visibly dropped from the recent electoral contest in Sabah to supposedly allay the pain and unease of Sabahans. The appointment of someone from Pas as an assembly member was said to ‘appease’ Pas, which had been left out in the cold, and to please its leaders at the federal level.

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The Islamist party is known to have an ethno-religious slant in its political narrative that at times rubs followers of other religions the wrong way. Certain policies it pursues, such as putting heavy emphasis on Malay-Muslim dominance in government, can be perilously divisive in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious context such as Sabah and Sarawak.

In response, Kitingan described Aliakbar’s appointment as “unfortunate”, but nonetheless was willing to go along with the tide, much to the chagrin of many Sabahans, particularly the predominantly Christian Kadazan-Dusun-Murut communities, which he supposedly represents.

His waffling about this matter is akin to wanting to have the cake and eat it, too. The best of both worlds, in other words. It was telling when he said in the same breath, “Star remains steadfast in its principle that any party whose ideals are not compatible with Sabah’s multicultural values and sensitivity should be rejected and rebuffed.

“Pas leaders have time and again issued statements that upset the feelings and sentiments of multicultural and multi-religious Sabah…”

The stand taken by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Maximus Ongkili, whose support also comes from the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut communities, was no less wavering. PBS is also part of GRS.

Ongkili said it was important for his party to maintain its position that there was no need for the Pas appointment owing to religious concerns. And yet at the same time, he maintained, “Given that the appointment has since been made, we will assume our role as a monitor and provide a check and balance to ensure that the concerns of the Sabah public are addressed.”

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Such a wobbly stand taken in this matter by the two leaders suggests indecisiveness at best and political shrewdness at worst, and at the same time it indicates a betrayal of the people’s collective concerns.

Incidentally, women’s representation in the current state assembly is paltry compared to their numbers during the previous Shafie Apdal administration.

The new Sabah government may want to consider instead placing more women from the cohort of best losing candidates in the state elections, as suggested by Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo) and Rakyat Is Bos, into the nominated slots.

At a time when shifting political allegiance and leapfrogging have become almost fashionable, making a clear principled stand would make a difference not only for Sabahans but also fellow Malaysians elsewhere in the federation.

Malaysians who cherish accountability, honour and integrity would expect leaders of a different calibre to do the obvious.

Source: themalaysianinsight.com

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