BY CLARA CHOOI
KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) hold over Sabah is likely to be cut by the state’s native anger over the Sulu incursion, which they say is the result of the controversial citizenship-for-votes award under “Projek IC” blamed on several ruling coalition politicians.
To the Kadazandusun and Murut (KDM) communities, the largest ethnic category in the BN “fixed deposit state”, the Sulu gunmen’s easy entry into Sabah last month was largely because foreigner infiltration was made so easy for decades by the 1980s initiative.
Under ‘Projek IC’ hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants were given citizenship in exchange for their votes for the ruling coalition in Sabah.They believe the militant group from the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines had managed to organise their attacks better as many of their sympathisers and family members were already residing in the Borneo state, thanks to “Projek IC”.
“This is the mother of all problems in Sabah. It has always been the mother of all problems. People know about it. Everyone knows about it,”
KDM leader Denis Gimpah told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.
“But because of power and money, and political survival, these foreigners were made use of. Now, we are learning the hard way why this should not have been allowed, why it should have been stopped.”
A group of over 200 gunmen, claiming to be the “royal army” of the Sulu Sultanate, landed without trouble in Lahad Datu on February 9 to lay claim over Sabah, using the loosely guarded 40-minute sea passage between the Philippine Muslim south and the coastal district in northern Sabah.
Their landing has resulted in nearly 80 deaths, including eight policemen and two soldiers, and forced thousands of villagers out of their homes in remote areas of the eastern-most Malaysian state. Putrajaya has also declared the area a special security zone and will commit defence forces to guard the area.
Gimpah, a former BN man, said the human remains, environmental damage and the loss of homes from the clashes between Malaysian security forces and the militants in Lahad Datu have frustrated and riled Sabah natives.
“We are scared. We are frustrated. What else could we feel? Our security, our sovereignty destroyed. Ask any KDM... they would tell you the same,” Gimpah said.
He predicted that this anger would likely affect the voting pattern in the coming Election 2013, particularly as the intrusion had come at a time when Sabahans were awaiting the outcome of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) investigation into the state’s illegal immigrant problem.
Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan, veteran politician and well-known leader of the KDMs in Sabah, echoed the same.
He said the KDM communities continue to be wracked by fear, anger and frustration, believing the federal government had failed to protect the safety of its own people.
“Basically, we are scared. We feel… there is this security threat and it is real. It lives among us. And we do not know what lies in the future. We are angry... obviously.
“We look at the intrusion has having much to do with our government’s action of giving ICs to foreigners just to promote a certain political interest,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
“This, you know, this has backfired... we have raised this for 20 years and we said this will happen one day... and guess what? It is happening.”
Merdeka Center for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian agreed that many among Sabah’s indigenous people are pinning the loss of lives and livelihoods on “Projek IC” and the culprits who masterminded the controversial initiative.
The influential pollster pointed out it was normal to connect the Sulu gunmen’s intrusion to the arbitrary distribution of ICs to foreigners, which allegedly took place under the project.
“It goes hand in hand. And, of course, the local population have widespread knowledge of what is happening on the ground.
“The KDMs would be particularly angry as they see this as an encroachment into their territory.
“They would blame the federal government for their role, believing that the population boost in Sabah was caused by the project,” Ibrahim said.
But Muslim-Bumiputera communities are split, he said, explaining that those who had directly benefited from “Projek IC” were unlikely to punish the government for the invasion, even when polls are held.
Ibrahim said the Kadazan and Murut communities blame the federal government for its role in ‘Projek IC’. For the estimated 300,000 Suluks living in Sabah, however, the invasion had turned their once-peaceful lives into a daily nightmare.
The Malaysian Suluks are descendants of the Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines’ Muslim south, where the armed rebels had come from. But the community in Sabah, now in its third generation, does not swear allegiance to the sultanate but to Malaysia’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the ruling government.
They are generations born of those who lived through the Cobbold Commission’s 1962 referendum in Sabah and Sarawak, where two-thirds of the people had voted to be part of Malaysia, paving the way for the 1963 Malaysia agreement.
But now many feel hunted in their own homes as they are often mistaken for the Suluk rebels from the Philippines.
“We are Malaysians and we support the government here 100 per cent. What we fear today is that we are misunderstood, mistaken as the uncivilised foreigners from Philippines,” said Persatuan Rumpun Etnik Suluk Sabah (PRESS) secretary-general Mohd Zaki Harry Susanto.
The 39-year-old former ASP with the Sabah police contingent told The Malaysian Insider that the Suluks were angered by the invasion, and even embarrassed that it had been led by Filipino Suluks.
“We feel their actions are stupid... pointless and so uncivilised. Stupid because they are demanding something that is not theirs. Uncivilised because in truth, the Suluk culture is to be humble and good Muslims,” he said.
According to replies provided in Parliament in 2011, Sabah’s populace numbered 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose significantly by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.
Media reports said that as of 2010, this number grew further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.
The population boom has been blamed on “Projek IC”, which was alleged to be a brainchild of Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Under the project, the ruling BN government has been accused of awarding ICs to foreigners in exchange for their votes and their continued cling to power in the east Malaysian state.
The Najib administration has called for a RCI to probe the existence of the controversial project but the inquiry was rudely interrupted by the Sulu invasion.
The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition pact has promised to haul those responsible for “Projek IC” to court should it wrest administrative power in the coming election.