Kimanis Defeat – The Price For Underestimating The Sabahan, They Still Remember Mahathir’s “Project IC”

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Jan 20 2020
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Politicians, especially those who walk the corridors of power, always have the perception that the people from East Malaysia (also known as the Borneo) were not as “clever” as those from Peninsular Malaysia. Mahathir used to say – “Najib always assumes people are stupid”. Now it appears that it’s Mahathir’s turn who assumes people are stupid.


Armed with the perception that the people of Sabah (one of two states in Borneo) were intellectual inferior, politicians from Peninsular were flown across the South China Sea to campaign in the just concluded Kimanis by-election. The result – opposition Barisan Nasional won with a comfortable 2,029-vote majority, a clear improvement from a 156-vote majority in the 2018 General Election.


During his campaign, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, the blue-eyed boy of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said the feedback he had received from the ground was positive. He confidently said the new policies and people’s confidence in the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government will translate into support. He was “naively” optimistic.

Kimanis By-Election - Parti Warisan Sabah Flags

Azmin even told the voters of Sabah (popularly known as the Sabahan) that it wasn’t a difficult decision to make when choosing between Warisan candidate Karim Bujang and Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Mohamad Alamin. The minister mocked Mr. Alamin as someone from a party whose top leaders were waiting for their turn to go to jail due to corruption charges.


Like his Godfather Mahathir, exactly what did Azmin expect to achieve by flogging a dead horse? Sure, Najib Razak is the world’s biggest crook. But the old regime had been booted in 2018. The simple fact that a senior minister like Azmin had nothing new to offer, but kept badmouthing Najib was not only a waste of time, but also counterproductive and overkill.


Similarly, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang performed the same stunt – urging voters in Kimanis to give another victory for the PH-friendly Warisan party like the one in the Sandakan parliamentary by-election in May last year – to send a message that the Sabahan despise corruption and kleptocracy. Who cares when putting food on the table hasn’t gotten any better with the new government?

Kimanis By-Election - Azmin Ali Campaign

Perhaps the Economic Affairs Minister Azmin thought he could impress Mahathir by winning the Kimanis parliamentary seat, after embarrassingly lost Tanjung Piai parliamentary seat by a whopping 15,000-vote majority in Nov 2019. After all, the ethnic Chinese who were still very angry with Mahathir’s racial and religious extremism only makes up 3.66% in Kimanis.


Amusingly, after the Kimanis defeat, Mr. Azmin refused to admit that the declining support was a serious problem. He conveniently blamed the Kimanis being a rural constituency; hence more time was needed to convince the voters. Burying his head in the sand, PM Mahathir agreed that the Sabahan had yet to embrace, understand and appreciate his administration.


Mahathir promised a post-mortem to identify the factors contributing to the defeat, as he did after the Tanjung Piai by-election. Don’t hold your breath though. Chances are there won’t be any autopsy as the writing was already on the wall. There were many factors at play, but like Tanjung Piai, the fingerprint eventually leads to the 94-year-old premier.

Tanjung Piai Johor - By Election Results

The opposition BN easily won both Tanjung Piai and Kimanis parliamentary seats not because they had done anything spectacular. Instead, it was the PH government who did all the wrong things that disgusted the voters. It’s absolutely incredible that 20 months were all it took for the PH leaders to lost touch with the ground and locked themselves in a denial syndrome cocoon.


While contributing factors in the loss of Tanjung Piai seat were Khat Jawi, Zakir Naik and dozens of other racial and religious extremism issues played by PM Mahathir and his minions, there’s only one primary factor which led to the rejection of Warisan (Parti Warisan Sabah) over the weekend. And this factor has everything to do with why Mahathir didn’t campaign in Kimanis.


Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS) was clearly the Achilles Heel of Warisan. Unfulfilled manifesto and broken promises made during the 2018 General Election were just side dishes. Even allocations offered to Kimanis had failed to pacify the Kimanis Sabahan. The fact that BN, now the opposition, could freely accuse PH of cronyism, arrogance and betrayal had only added fuel to the fire.

Immigration - Sabah Temporary Pass PSS

PSS reminded the people of Sabah of the notorious “Project IC”, a project which grants citizenship to immigrants by giving them identity cards. The “Project IC” was hatched secretly during Mahathir’s first stint as premier for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 where immigrants – whether legal or otherwise – were systematically granted citizenship in Sabah.


The purpose of Project-IC was to alter the demographic pattern in the state of Sabah to make it more favourable to then-Mahathir government. A former senator claimed that at least 700,000 immigrants had been given citizenships. Opposition BN appears to have found the Holy Grail, as their constant attacks on the issue of PSS in Kimanis paid off handsomely.


Yes, Sabahan still remember clearly how Mahathir’s Project-IC naturalized illegal migrants for political purposes. They still remember how despicable Mahathir imported Muslims from Indonesia and the Philippines into Sabah as Malaysian citizens. They still remember how the power-hungry Mahathir diluted the concentration of the indigenous people in Sabah.

Demographics of Sabah - Ethnics and Natives

The population of Sabah in the early 70s was about 655,000 and the major ethnic groups consisted of 32% Kadazan / Dusun, 23% Chinese and 4.9% Muruts – a demographic where close to 60% of the population were non-Muslims. The Muslims – Malays (0.4%) and Bajaus (13.1%) – were the minority ethnics. Obviously, Mahathir’s UMNO Malay-based party could not control Sabah.


By 2006, thanks to Project-IC, the demographics were unbelievable. The ethnic composition of Sabah became 17.8% Kadazan / Dusun, 9.6% Chinese and 3.3% Muruts (hence non-Muslims population plunged from 60% to 29.7%). At the same time, the Muslims suddenly became majority (44.5%) – Malays (from 0.4% to 11.5%), Bajaus (from 13.1% to 13.4%) and newly formed “Other Bumiputras” (14.6% of the population).


Again, thanks to Project-IC, also popularly known as “Project M”, Sabah’s population skyrocketed spectacularly to 1,307,582 in 1980; 1,736,902 in 1991; 2,449,389 in 2000 and 3.21 million in 2010. Overnight, it appeared certain ethnics had found the secret recipe to Viagra and bred like a rabbit. Interestingly, while the national growth rate was 2.3%, Sabah’s was at 3.1%.

Mahathir Project IC in Sabah - Newspaper Cutting

Mahathir Project IC in Sabah - Newspaper Cutting - Admission

In April 2015, Mahathir did not only admit the existence of Project-IC, but had the cheek to justify the project. He said it was his government’s policy to recognise people who were loyal to the country. What he actually meant was his government would reward foreigners with citizenship, as long as they loyally vote for his party UMNO – regardless of their backgrounds (they could be rapists or terrorists).


Therefore, it was only natural for the Sabahan to reject Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal’s candidate in Kimanis. Shafie tried to pass the ball to the previous regime when he revealed minutes of meeting to prove that the controversial Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS) was the Barisan Nasional’s idea. Even if that was true, Shafie should cancel it instead of defending the idea.


In actuality, the idea of PSS was part of the recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants to fix the issue of foreigners dumping in Sabah. The RCI recommended that various types of documents issued to foreigners be standardised and centralised under PSS. However, Mahathir’s Project-IC was so toxic that Sabahan simply refused to listen.

Sabah Illegal Immigrant

Local communities were concerned that allowing 136,000 people who were eligible to apply for the PSS would open the floodgate to the influx of illegal immigrants, who in turn would grab a piece of the economic pie. Chief Minister Shafie tried to explain that PSS is only a temporary pass, unlike the previous government’s proposed Sabah Temporary Resident Pass (PRSS).


But Najib, currently facing 42 charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT), money laundering and abuse of power, has successfully instilled fear that PSS has the potential to turn into Project-IC 2.0. And it certainly made life difficult for Shafie considering PM Mahathir has made dozens of U-turns in his policies since May 2018, making the government increasingly untrustworthy.


The way opposition BN twisted and spun the PSS was like how Mahathir falsely labelled New Delhi’s newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as discrimination against Muslims. The CAA actually provides a path to Indian citizens for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Shafie Abdal - Parti Warisan Sabah

It’s absolutely not true for Mahathir to say the newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will deprive Muslims in India of their citizenship. But the old man twisted it anyway. In Kimanis, Mahathir’s ally Shafie was at the receiving end. It’s not true for BN to say that the PSS will allow foreigners get citizenship easily like Project-IC. But the BN twisted it anyway.


In area like Simpangan where non-Muslim Bumiputras represented 73.5% of voters, 11.5% of Warisan’s votes went to BN. Likewise, in Bandau where 74% of the community are non-Muslim Bumiputras; Chief Minister Shafie was powerless when his supporters swung to the opposition. If Mahathir can blame the Chinese in Tanjung Piai for his loss, he can’t use the same excuse in Kimanis.


Why do you think Mahathir did not force Shafie to make way for his party PPBM (Bersatu) to contest Kimanis? That’s because the prime minister knew PPBM will definitely suffer a bigger loss than Warisan. The hatred against Project-IC was still so strong that even the “Sabah for Sabahan” sentiment was not sufficient to help the charismatic local boy Shafie Apdal, who is of Bajau descent.

Mahathir Mohamad - Sad and Upset Facial Expression

The PH leaders should realise that Sabahan had in the past kicked out state governments they didn’t like, including USNO, Berjaya, PBS, and of course, Barisan Nasional. Hence, it’s not an exaggeration to say people of Sabah were actually more politically savvy and mature than people of Peninsular, who had kept BN for 61 years. Don’t try to insult Sabahan’s intelligence with half-baked stories.


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