KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — Sabah and Sarawak Barisan Nasional (BN) want elections to be held in the second half of the year, citing local festivals occurring over the next month.
The Star reported today several component party leaders as saying that the months of May and June would be unsuitable as the states would be celebrating the Keamatan and Gawai Dayak harvest festivals in Sabah and Sarawak respectively.
Sabah BN has also been pushing for a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the illegal immigrant problem there for months now, with Cabinet ministers saying such an inquiry “will have little value” if announced after elections and that the issue puts their “political lives on the chopping block”.
“We heard that Parliament could be dissolved any time now. But we feel it is better for it to be done after Kaamatan so as not to disrupt the celebrations,” Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) information chief Datuk Johnny Mositun was quoted as saying by the English-language daily.
PBS is BN’s largest Sabah-based party, and has been a leading voice, along with United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, in calling for the RCI to be held before polls.
Upko secretary general Datuk Wilfred Tangau was quoted by the daily as saying “Kaamatan is a time of thanksgiving and forgiveness. So I feel it is inappropriate to dissolve Parliament then.”
“Even leaders would not want to campaign during this time as it is the time to be with their families,” The Star also cited Datuk Seri Michael Manyin, vice president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), which is the mainstay of Sarawak BN, as commenting.
The newspaper also reported Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Tan Sri James Masing as saying BN would not fare well should polls be held next month.
Kaamatan culminates in a grand celebration at the end of May and Gawai Dayak falls on June 1 but usually people remain in a festive mood for weeks.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak has engaged in much fighting talk of late, calling on his senior ruling party Umno to ensure Malaysia is not “destroyed” by “uncivilised enemies” on the back of violence seen from both police and protestors at the April 28 Bersih rally.
The prime minister intimated that he is ready to call polls anytime now, joking at Umno’s 66th anniversary on Friday about asking the Agong to dissolve Parliament the next day, the next month or any other month.
Bloomberg had reported last month several unnamed government officials as saying that June 3 is the proposed date for Najib to lead BN into polls for the first time.
But the Umno president will be overseas at various times throughout this month and BN sources told The Malaysian Insider July is a likelier date before the Ramadan fasting month begins on July 19.
Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim also told The Malaysian Insider he would not hold elections until the second half of the year, which would deny Najib the chance to win back the country’s richest state and help cement his hold on power.
Observers say the Pekan MP needs to improve on Election 2008, during which BN lost a record 82 federal seats and five state governments and only a return to its customary two-thirds majority of Parliament would guarantee his survival.
Najib will also need a strong showing in Sarawak and Sabah, where the likes of PBS and Upko insist an RCI into the influx of illegal immigrants is crucial.
“We have put our party on the line for that; we want it. But the opportune time, of course, is before elections. Let’s face it, it will not have much value if announced after elections,” PBS deputy president Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili told The Malaysian Insider.
Upko chief Dompok also said the RCI must be announced before Parliament is dissolved to be seen as credible and that he has “put my political life on the chopping block.”
“If this isn’t resolved, my position in the Cabinet will be untenable. Besides, the act of not proceeding with the RCI will say a lot about the government’s attitude to the Kadazandusun Murut communities,” he said.
According to replies provided in Parliament last year, Sabah’s population was 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.
Media reports said that, as of 2010, this number has grown further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.
Opposition leaders have long railed against the BN government for this unusual population explosion, alleging that illegal immigrants have been allowed into the east Malaysian state, and given MyKads and voting rights to help the ruling coalition retain control.
In early February, Dompok revealed that the Cabinet had agreed to form the RCI.
Najib was widely expected to announce the panel into what Sabah BN leaders say is the top election issue there when he visited the state later that same month but the prime minister concluded his visit without addressing the issue.
This sparked rumours and Internet news reports of the possibility that Najib had backpedalled on the Cabinet’s decision, with some even claiming a “secret meeting” of Umno warlords had warned the BN chief it would lose a sizeable chunk of votes if the RCI were to lead to a crackdown on the state’s massive population of illegal immigrants.
A Sabah BN insider later told The Malaysian Insider that Cabinet meeting minutes showed that it had agreed to the RCI on February 8 and tasked Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz to co-ordinate the scope of the RCI’s investigation.
He said Najib’s unexpected silence on the issue had not only angered but also embarrassed Sabah BN leaders, particularly those in Upko and PBS, who have been trumpeting their success in pushing for the RCI.
The PM has been coy on the status of the RCI, only saying at a press conference on February 23 that it was still under consideration.
By Shannon Teoh