Kee Thuan Chye dissects the ongoing Sabah crisis.
The ongoing Sabah crisis could turn out to be the gift Prime Minister Najib Razak was hoping for to help his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to victory at the impending general election, which he has yet to call, or a ticking bomb instead.
In rejecting the ceasefire proposed by the Sulu Sultan whose followers landed in Lahad Datu more than three weeks ago to reclaim Sabah as their ancestral homeland, Najib has scored much-needed positive points. Already, even his detractors have expressed support for his stand. They now declare that for once, he is saying something “sensible”, that they are agreeing with him “for the first time”.
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Some, however, are saying this is “the only right
thing” he has done during the whole crisis. Nonetheless, if he manages to pull off a decisive victory over the intruders, votes, especially from fence-sitters, might actually drop to BN.
But Najib has to do it before the general election has to be held, the absolute last date for which is June 28. If the crisis is not resolved before the general election, his ineffectiveness as prime minister would be exposed. He needs to win the conflict decisively, like Margaret Thatcher won the Falklands War in 1982 and went on to resuscitate her flagging popularity at the UK general election the following year.
On that score, if there was indeed a conspiracy to
stage the Sabah crisis as a gamble on the part of either BN or the Opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, it would seem to have favoured BN more than it would have Pakatan. There’s nothing like a war – or, in this case, armed conflict – to unite the people behind the Government against the common enemy. And victory would bring it even greater rewards.
On the other hand, however, the discerning ones among the electorate are aware that this is only the first time throughout the crisis that Najib is talking tough. Prior to this, his administration had approached the crisis in a manner that Malaysians found to be surprisingly too gingerly. The police instead of the army were entrusted with dealing with the situation, and talk in the form of diplomatic negotiations with the intruders rather than action to evict them characterised the first two weeks of the crisis. It was only when the intruders reportedly started shooting on March 1 that the Government was riled into action. But it cost the lives of eight Malaysian police officers that might have been saved if the Government had taken the offensive first.
This is something Najib and his government have to answer for. But more significantly, and going beyond just this crisis, is the larger reality that Sabahans are now clearly paying for the sins of the much-touted Project IC or Project M (named after ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad), which opened the gates for illegal immigrants, thousands of them from the same Tausug community as the Sulu intruders, to become Malaysian citizens.
This has become the biggest issue in Sabah and the focus of the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate it. What the current crisis has invoked are the ghosts of Project IC and their potential to haunt the genuine Sabahans for a long time to come. The future for the latter will be filled with the possibility of threat arising from further forays by the Tausugs, kin of the Suluks who have now settled in Sabah as citizens.
Given this terrible uncertainty, genuine Sabahans might face the dilemma of whether to continue supporting the ruling party that has brought this upon them or to vote it out of power. If they choose the latter course, the crisis might turn out to be a nightmare for Najib instead. – MSN