By Clara Chooi
The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) has insisted to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) that Sabah-based parties must contest the majority of seats in the state legislative assembly, saying this was in keeping with the Borneo state’s right to autonomy as enshrined in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.
Repeating his refrain, SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee said his party was willing to relent to PR contesting a majority of the state’s federal seats, allowing the federal opposition pact its dream to claim power in Putrajaya.
But administrative power over the state must stay in the hands of parties with roots in Sabah, the former Sabah chief minister insisted, saying that to achieve this, the state-federal seat ratio should follow his party’s formula.
There are 60 state and 25 federal seats in the east Malaysian state of Sabah, often referred to as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) “fixed deposit” together with neighbouring Sarawak.
“We have stated that this GE13 is about restoring the autonomy of Sabah (and Sarawak) as promised in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and the spirit of the formation of Malaysia.
“The Kuching Declaration that says that Sabah, Sarawak have equal status as Malaya is relevant,” Yong wrote in an email to The Malaysian Insider here yesterday.
The outspoken politician was referring to the recent declaration announced and adopted by PR’s DAP, PKR and PAS during the September 16 Malaysia Day celebrations at Chonglin Park in Kuching, Sarawak.
Key among the seven-point declaration was a pledge to restore the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement and the position of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners within Malaysia, “by restoring autonomy to Sarawak and Sabah within the framework of the Federal Constitution”.
“Consistent with these promises and principles, local parties should contest a majority of state seats, and PR can contest a majority of MP seats,” Yong pointed out.
The opposition front in Sabah is a crowded one and in the months leading up to the coming 13th general election, all players have been scrambling for their share of the state’s 60 state seats up for grabs.
PR, the opposition pact that was formed in the peninsula after BN suffered significant losses in Election 2008, has set its sights on toppling the ruling pact from its Sabah bastion.
But Sabah residents are said to have grown more communal over the years, with opposition politicians in the land below the wind often blaring the “Sabah for Sabahans” war cry, fuelling the already deep-rooted anti-Malaya sentiment felt by locals there.
Like SAPP, another party ― the State Reform Party (STAR) ― led by political maverick Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, also believes that administrative power over the state must be retained with Sabahans.
Both PR and SAPP have yet to make inroads in seat negotiations with Kitingan, who insists on fielding his own in the majority or all of the state’s 60 seats.
But with SAPP adamant on contesting the lion’s share and PR unwilling to concede to this request, it appears that it will likely be a fractured opposition front that will face political giant BN for the Sabah contest in the coming polls.
The Malaysian Insider reported yesterday that seat talks between PR and SAPP have come to temporary halt, according to PR ally Datuk Seri Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing.
Yong did not dispute this, only saying that his party was waiting for PR to decide on its own seat sharing formula among its three parties, Bumburing’s Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS) and Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin’s Pertubuhan Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPPS).
Both Bumburing and Lajim were former strongmen in Sabah BN but left their respective parties UPKO and Umno last year to form the two PR-friendly political movements.
“We are waiting for PR or PKR to make their formula official and to announce it because we are accountable not only to our parties but also to the rakyat.
“We would also like to know the formula for Sarawak and for Malaya,” Yong said.
He also refused to reveal the number of seats that SAPP would be willing to concede to PR, only saying, “This depends on the formula of PR.”
Yong would also not confirm or deny the possibility of his party standing against PR’s candidates or collaborating with Jeffrey’s STAR for the coming contest.
“Answers depend on the outcome of PR’s formula. Thank you,” was his only reply.
Should Yong’s SAPP contest against PR, it would be the second time since 2008 that both sides entered a collision course on seat talks.
In November 2010, Yong himself stood in a three-cornered fight against PKR’s Ansari Abdullah and BN’s Datin Linda Yong Tsen Lin for the Batu Sapi by-election contest.
But Yong, despite his campaign plea urging Sabahans to root for a local party, had then emerged third in the contest.
At the time, the former Sabah chief minister had reminded voters that the issue of autonomy in Sabah had been one of the main contributing factors in the Malaysia agreement on July 9, 1963.
He had referred repeatedly to one of the points made by the Cobbold Commission or the Commission of Enquiry led by former Bank of England Governor Lord Cobbold in 1962.
The commission was formed to determine if the people of Sabah, then known as North Borneo, and Sarawak supported the proposal to create a Malaysia, comprising the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.
The commission was also responsible for the drafting of the Constitution of Malaysia prior to the country’s formation on September 16, 1963.
In the commission’s report, Lord Cobbold had explained that the commission members were supportive of the formation of Malaysia and that he “strongly endorsed” it as it was a “workable” project that would be in the best interests of the Borneo territories and vice-versa for the Federation of Malaya.
In Election 2008, BN lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority largely due to significant losses in the peninsula, where it won just 85 seats while the opposition swept 80 seats.
BN’s saving grace was in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan where the coalition trounced the opposition and made a near-clean sweep, winning 55 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s two.
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