A political duel, a circus

Phlip Rodrigues

COMMENT: Either Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is an inveterate liar when they both spoke before the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah.

The whole world wants to know if the former prime minister and his deputy knew anything about Project IC – a sinister scheme to indiscriminately issue identity cards to illegal immigrants in Sabah for a political purpose.

Mahathir ruled the country from 1981 to 2003 and Anwar was his deputy from 1993 until 1998. For 22 long years, the doctor presided over the destiny of the country and surely he must have been privy to many secret schemes carried out either to discredit his political opponents or tighten Umno’s grip on power.

Anwar’s stay in the cabinet was shorter but he served the government for 16 years and surely he too must have got wind of some nefarious strategies designed to change the demographic landscape of some states like Sabah.

Project IC allegedly started in the early 1990s after Umno planted its foot in Sabah. As soon as Umno took root in this rich soil, it set in motion a chain of events that eventually saw the ascendancy of the Malay-based party in Sabah politics.

A native party, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), once a powerhouse in the mid-1980s, was eclipsed with the entry of Umno.

Let us not delve deeper into the murky politics of Sabah. Suffice it to say that the cover on Project IC was first lifted in 1999 when a court in Sabah nullified the result of the 1999 state election for the Likas seat based on the fact that thousands of dubious names were on the electoral roll.

Project IC was mentioned in court although one of the witnesses, an Umno chief information officer, denied its existence. It was a tangled web of intrigue involving government agencies such as the National Registration Department (NRD), the Immigration Department, National Civics Bureau and the Election Commission. All seemed to conspire to register illegal immigrants as voters.

Over the years strong evidence of the existence of Project IC emerged and voices in Sabah grew shriller in protest. Even the RCI heard the testimony of a former NRD officer who said that about 100,000 blue identity cards were issued to immigrants in Sabah in 1993.

How was it possible that Sabah was suddenly flooded with immigrants if not for Project IC? Where did the foreigners get their blue identity cards from? Why was it that most of the new citizens were mostly Muslims from Indonesia and the southern Philippines?

There must be some truth in the allegations that the unwanted foreigners were given their ICs so that they would all vote for Umno and guarantee its dominance for many years.

Now where was Mahathir when all these disturbing events took place? Was he hiding under the bed? Was he busy globe-trotting? Has he forgotten that Sabah is part of Malaysia? He was the supreme leader and yet at the RCI hearing the doctor said he had never heard about Project IC. He must have suffered from a massive attack of amnesia.

On all other national affairs his mind is clear but when it comes to Project IC his mind went blank. He chose the easy way out: he put all the blame on Anwar.

Where was Anwar when blue identity cards were showered on the immigrants? Was he in deep slumber? Was he deliberately kept in the dark about Project M (Mahathir)? Was he busy fostering ties with the Western world? He was the second most powerful man in the country and yet he too said he never knew there was such a secret scheme dubbed “Project IC”. He too chose the easy way out: he put all the blame on Mahathir. He even called his former boss a liar.

Now what are we to make of this farcical scene? How can the truth be revealed? Twist Mahathir’s arm until he confesses? Use waterboarding technique on Anwar until he croaks out an admission of guilt?

Clearly, the two men were using the RCI platform to continue their political duel. Each was trying to get political mileage out of this mud-slinging match.

The whole inquiry is rapidly descending into a circus because no one seems to be taking the investigation seriously. Nowhere in the RCI terms of reference is there any mention of giving the panel the powers of prosecution.

Even if the RCI were to pronounce Mahathir or Anwar or both guilty of committing a crime against the people of Sabah, these two protagonists on the country’s political stage would walk away unscathed. When the RCI finally folds up its tent, Sabah will be no better than before: immigrants will continue to pour in until the identity of the state is erased. – theantdaily

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