KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The award of 'overnight citizenship' to Sabah's illegal immigrants may cost the Najib administration dearly at the ballot box if it is not resolved before the 13th general elections, a federal minister has told Singapore's Sunday Times (ST).
Sabahans have become more unhappy at the federal government's seemingly speedy approval of citizenship to Muslim immigrants, many who are believed to enter the country illegally, seeing the newcomers as a threat, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok told the Singapore paper in an interview published today.
"It's unprecedented. Generally, Sabahans have no problem with migrants, provided they come through the front door, and if they want to apply for citizenship, do it in the proper manner.'They can't expect to get citizenship overnight. There must be value to citizenship,"
he was quoted as saying.
He urged the federal government to take swift action on Sabah's illegal immigration issue before the next national polls, which must be called by next April.
Dompok told the Singapore paper the citizenship award for illegal immigrants has become an emotional issue for the state's voters.
The thorny issue has caused much concern, with Sabah politicians from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition pushing for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI), while the federal government appeared to have dragged its feet in resolving the matter.
Dompok told ST that many in Sabah think the "integrity of the system has been compromised".
"My party has made known our stand. My head is on the chopping board as far as this issue is concerned," said the president of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), a BN component party in Sabah.
According to The Sunday Times, Upko has pressed for investigations on fears that citizenship is granted to Muslim immigrants "overnight" if they agree to vote for BN.
Dompok had reportedly said last year that the size of the non-Muslim natives and Muslim Bumiputeras were about equal in 1960, but noted that the latter group had doubled in 2000 and was now nearly twice the population of non-Muslim native Sabahans.
Sabah has experienced a population explosion over the years. Lawmakers in Parliament were told last year that the state population, which numbered just over 650,000 in 1970 grew to more than 920,000 in 1980.
Within the next two decades, the state grew by 1.5 million people to reach over 2.4 million in 2000.
Media reports noted that Sabah's population reached 3.12 million in 2010, with foreigners accounting for a substantial 27 per cent of that figure.
The Singapore paper reported that Sabah's population is now one-third larger than neighbouring Sarawak, Malaysia's largest state by area size.
Although Sabah is traditionally viewed as a safe vote bank for BN, failure by the ruling government to address this issue may cost it crucial votes that will enable it to stay on in power.
Urban voters in Sabah had expressed their desire for an RCI on the immigrants issue in a survey carried out by independent pollster Merdeka Centre last May.
Last month, the federal government told Parliament that it was in the final stages of drawing up the RCI's terms of references but there does not seem to have been any further news of the promised RCI since then.
By Ida Lim