The Sabah Factor in the 14th General Election

MALAYSIA MEMILIH

The Sabah Factor in the 14th General Election

The way Sabah votes this time round may have a bearing on the outcome of GE14. The elections this time introduces the element of uncertainty over the so-called vote bank Sabah used to contribute towards the BN. Its size, if not solidity, is not a foregone conclusion this round.

When Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, former Federal Minister of Rural and Regional Development took it upon himself to ditch UMNO and join the opposition with a new Parti Warisan Sabah, it was a new wind of change for Sabah's local politics. He speaks to AWANI Review on his reasons for his newpolitics and his aspirations. 

BREAKING AWAY FROM UMNO

Q : What has been the toughest decision you have ever made as a politician?

A : Well, in life as a politician, you always make tough decisions. There will be no easy decisions. Nevertheless, when I look at it, I think I have served my country. I must say it has been quite well. And knowing that, one of the decisions that I made was when I look at what is happening around us - and I have been helping so many people - I don’t want to get credit out of it. Some of them have gone far, even become the top guns of the country. Unfortunately, along the way, I have noticed that what we have inspired in the hope that we have before, it is no longer realised; partly because it is driven by greed, and we were wrongly advised by certain quarters. UMNO has been a party that has been set up with good intentions. Unfortunately, UMNO is no longer a party that Malays and Muslims can rely on.

HOPING FOR FAIRNESS IN THE ELECTIONS

Q : As a politician, you are battle-hardened and you have gone through many things. What is the limit (of attacks) that you can take?

A : I can take rejections in life. I can take criticisms in life. I know we are financially handicapped and that is one of our major obstacles. But I am quite sure that is a thing the people will not look into. The final decision is whether they can vote us in because they are hoping for some changes - and major changes can be done. But of course there are so many obstacles. I do hope that there is fairness in this election - that concerns me. I request that the body that has been entrusted under the law (to hold elections) Election Commission, please be fair.

BRACING FOR CHANGE IN THE NATION’S POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

Q : It’s easy for Sabah to not be seen across the South China sea with all the noise in Peninsular. If there are three biggest elements that people must appreciate unique to Sabah in this 14th General Election, what are they? 

A : Well, for one thing, surely my intention is that we want to change the political landscape of this nation. And by telling them that this (Sabah) is no longer a fixed deposit and this is going to be one of the prime movers to ensure that we must change the political landscape. It must be based on multi-races. The country belongs to everyone - not only to a single community. We must work together because I think this is the way forward. So, that is one of the most crucial parts.

The other part is on how we run the country - it’s not only in terms of fairness, imbalance development in many places. You should not be driven by some kind of pressure - certain places are well developed, certain places are not developed. This can cause a lot of squabbling and fighting. You have seen countries moving out and we don’t want that to happen. The other part is leaders. They are trusted - they are people with strong visions and strong determinations. Of course, considering that age is old for Tun Dr. Mahathir, I pray to God for the second round, he will be given a chance to rule this country again.

VOTE ON POLICIES, NOT ON PERSONALITIES OR RACE

Q : You are a political leader with a certain kind of charisma. For Sabah in this General Election, what is the one main thing that will make Sabahans vote for you and your party?

A : Well, judge me not by my race. Judge me not by my religion. Judge me and trust me that I can deliver to my fellow Sabahans - irrespective of who they are, what their race are, where they are from. So, this is what my hope is. We have so many races and ethnic groups - more than 60. To ensure that we unite them, please vote us, but not because who we are.

GREATER OPPORTUNITIES FOR FEDERAL POSITIONS TO SABAHANS

Q : With newpolitics, because you have moved sides, you’ll also be fighting friends and even former best friends. How would you personify mature and new politics?

A : We have been asking people to vote for us. How many millions of Malaysian voters are eligible to vote? I think about 14 million. What is important now is that we need to reform the country and the pillars need to be changed. I have highlighted this to Tun Mahathir. I indicated to some of colleagues in opposition - come the change, the pillars of the government, top of the legal fraternity judiciary system, Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, police - I think we must have some say because we are representing the people here. Please be fair.

Never have I heard, never have I seen an Inspector General of Police or Governor of Bank Negara from Sabah. Not because they are from this state, but choose them because they are capable, they are eligible and not chosen by the Prime Minister. So, the transformation that we need to do is to ensure what happened in many countries like America - the system that they have in selecting judiciary system is so independent. It is not done solely by one person - the President. I think if we can transform that, I’m quite sure you can link people with the hope and the interest in there, for the long run.

FILIAL CONNECTIONS AND KEEPING OF FAMILY TIES 

Q : We know opposing sides can be a relative or even a close relative. How do you deal with that?

A : I think in life, you must be able to realise where are the priorities. I love my family but we are facing the elections. It doesn’t mean that I have to sacrifice my party just because of my brother or cousin. It is a struggle, there is (some things) at stake here. It is about the people. It's not about the family. If I want to look after my brother, I might as well resign from politics. So, I think what is important is that we must have clarity in our minds, in our struggle - which is not because of friendship. There is a limit to our friendship. If the nation’s interest is at stake, I am willing to forego my friendship because of the nation. Don’t think that I don’t like my friend, I don’t like my brother - they are still my brothers, they are still my blood ties. But the country and the state is at stake here.

FIGHTING FOR THE NATION

Q : How do you choose between fighting for a local issue and fighting for a national issue, as at the end of the day, we are just one community? 

A : Well, it doesn’t mean that if I contest in Semporna as a Member of Parliament, that will be a barrier for me to become the future leader of the country. If an UMNO representative can be a Prime Minister, if PKR party leadership can be the Prime Minister, don’t tell me Warisan can’t be (the Prime Minister) just because we are in Sabah. Well, I am quite sure that the pact that we have - if that can be realised during the election - don’t tell me the pact can’t be realised to form the nation. We are looking at national interests here. So, we are fighting for the nation. There will be a time that representatives from Sabah will become ministers once we form the government with Pakatan Harapan - but don’t tell me that only some can be - that can’t be.

WHAT IF THE CHANCE TO BE THE PRIME MINISTER COMES YOUR WAY?

Q : Would you offer yourself to be the PM?

A : I am not saying that I am offering myself because I have to devote my time. I can’t neglect hope that has been granted by the people in Sabah. But there will come the time. I am not that old - I am not that young (either) - but I think at the age of 60s, if Tun Dr Mahathir can do it, why can’t I do it?  

ON THE MERITS OF SABAHANS LEADING AS PM

Q : There was succession planning by Tun Dr Mahathir. Would this be what you’re also looking at?

A : No, I am not looking at that. Malaysians will decide on that. Sabah interest is at stake here. We need to not only preserve that - not only to recognise but we need to implement that. So, if we are able to do that, the consideration of nation building is here. I am quite sure I am accepted in Semenanjung. I won my elections, seven states I got 100 percent, and don’t tell me I am representing a party from Sabah and can’t be having a position in KL. But I don’t want to become that - that is not my total ambition - that is if I am given a chance, but not now. I want to serve my people - that is more important. I don’t want to neglect my fellow Sabahans. After winning the elections, I have to lead, to put all the structure, all the planning installed. Well, the time will come. So, we pray to God.

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