By Kim Quek
COMMENT On the day of an anticipated major announcement by Prime Minister Najib Razak on the terms of reference for the proposed royal commission of inquiry on illegal immigrants in Sabah, it is pertinent to take stock of the gravity of this menace in the state.
In the past four decades, the population of Sabah has increased by almost five folds (from 650,000 in 1970 to 3.12 million in 2010), much of it consisting of illegal immigrants or their descendants.
Such population implosion has not only created an unbearable strain on Sabah’s social and economic fabric, but it has also stripped original Sahahans of their sovereignty, in that a large chunk of its present electorate is made up of these illegal immigrants who have been illicitly granted voting rights through a massive clandestine operation known as ‘Project M’ (M stands for Mahathir).
This group of illegal voters, known as phantom voters, has now become the kingmaker, who can tilt the balance of power not only in Sabah in the coming election, but also in Putrajaya.
This is because a major win by BN in the state, as it has done in the past (thanks to the phantom voters, of course), will help BN to ward off Pakatan Rakyat’s challenge through a simple parliamentary majority.
While many have heard of the phenomenon of the Sabah phantom voters, perhaps not so many are familiar with the hows and whys of it. For this reason, we should perhaps seek enlightenment from High Court judge Muhammad Kamil Awang’s verdict annulling the Likas election in Sabah in June 2001.
In a rare display of judicial independence under former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule, Justice Muhammad in his judgment chronicled details of a massive illicit campaign to convert illegal immigrants into voters through the unlawful issue of blue ICs and the unlawful registration of these IC holders into the electoral rolls.
These details of illegal activities presented in court included many instances of witnesses’ testimonies, affidavits and incriminating government and political party correspondence and circulars.
These evidence point conclusively to the involvement of the National Registration Department (NRD), Election Commission (EC), police and Umno officials in a joint conspiracy to massively convert illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia into citizens and voters. In fact, this voter scam was so serious that it was described by Justice Muhammad as only the “tip of an iceberg”.
The judgment, which has not been disputed to date, also gives details of how repeated official complaints from the opposition parties on such fraudulent practices had been consistently stonewalled by the authorities, all the way up to the highest levels of government, including a rejection for debate in Parliament.
In fact, there was evidence that even the highest authorities in NRD and EC had been incriminated in this phantom voters scam.
What motivated these highest civil servants to commit such treasonous acts against the Sabah state in unlawfully admitting these hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants as citizens and voters?
Personal gains can be ruled out, as these are more than offset by the heavy punishment that can be meted out for such high crimes of treason against the country.
Umno political strategy
The only plausible explanation is that this is the political strategy of the Umno leadership to regain political power in Sabah from the Kadazan (mainly Christian) dominated PBS. The latter has won every Sabah election since 1986 save the last one in 1999.
It does not take a genius to find out why. Until the last election in 1999, the Sabah electorate had been such that non-Muslim Kadazans and Chinese overwhelmingly outnumbered Malays (all Muslims) and other Muslims.
With Umno’s heavy emphasis on racial and religious privileges, which alienated the non-Malays and non-Muslims, there was virtually no chance that the Umno dominated BN could unseat the PBS government unless there was a drastic restructuring of the ratio of Muslim dominated electorates to non-Muslim dominated electorates and re-drawing of the electoral boundaries.
And this is exactly what happened. Through the massive infusion of illegal Philippine and Indonesian immigrants (who are all Muslims) into the electoral roll, as well as gerrymandering, Muslim majority constituencies in Sabah in the 1999 electoral roll had suddenly and inexplicably increased from 30 percent to 50 percent of the total constituencies of 48 within a short period of five years.
Given this numerical boost, BN swept the 1999 Sabah election, after employing every dirty election trick available under the sun, including the usual blatant abuses of government agencies and resources and the mass media which was completely under the thumb of the ruling coalition.
With these phantom voters as bedrock of support, Umno has dominated political power in Sabah ever since.
Chance of a lifetime
If the coming announcement by Najib is to have any meaning to Sabahans, the proposed RCI must aimed at firstly restoring their democratic rights by purging the electoral roll of phantoms.
Secondly, the RCI should solve their social and economic plight through proper management of these illegal immigrants, including phased repatriation and effective measures to prevent further influx.
Umno has never been so vulnerable to losing power as it is now. Hence, it is the chance of a lifetime for Sabahans to demand and get what is due to them – a fair solution to the illegal immigrants and phantom voters menace. There is absolutely no need for them to compromise.
Unless they are fully convinced that Umno’s offer is sincere, genuine and certain to succeed, they must opt for the alternative – which is to vote the other political coalition into power. – Mkini
KIM QUEK is a retired accountant and author of the banned book ‘The March to Putrajaya’.