Winds of discontent over BorneoBy Asia Sentinel Oct 08, 2013 1:59PM UTC
Najib’s Bumi strategy could run into trouble in Eastern Malaysia, writes Asia Sentinel’s Murray Hunter
Since Malaysia’s general election last May, UMNO has been attempting to redefine its electoral base to include bumiputera or native groups across the country, most of them in East Malaysia in Sabah and Sarawak, and not just ethnic Malays.
Malays and Muslim bumis today account for 59.7 percent of the population, with non-Muslim bumis comprising another 7.6 percent. That is expected to rise to 67.9 percent by the next election. UMNO strategists believe that if the party can successfully capture this constituency, it would garner enough votes for the Barisan Nasional, or ruling national coalition, to continue governing Malaysia into the foreseeable future. This would allow them to simply disregard Chinese and Indian voters on the Malaysian peninsula, who turned soundly against the Barisan in the May election, delivering a majority to the opposition for the first time since 1969 although gerrymandering kept them in power with a 133-89 seat margin in the Dewan Rakyat, or parliament.
A recent statement by Sabah Mulfti Bungsu @Aziz Jaafar calling for the government to classify all Muslim indigenous people as “Malays” seems to support this view. This has attracted criticism from some components of the ruling state Barisan Nasional coalition, as it ignores the differing histories and elements of cultural identities of peoples of the peninsula and Borneo, and creates many complications around native land ownership because of provisions in state constitutions.
However, this strategy faces problems, with rising discontent in Sabah and Sarawak becoming more and more public. On the eve of a conference organized last weekend by the Borneo Heritage Foundation, former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh personally entered the debate through the local media, saying all Sabah leaders are responsible for the current situation.
This led to a public reply by the State Reform Party Chairman Jeffrey Kitingan, saying that Harris himself should be blamed for what he sees as Sabah’s downtrodden and subservient position vis-a-vis the Malaysian federal capital of Putra Jaya, now effectively Malaysia’s 12th state.
More than 300 people turned up at the foundation-organized International Forum on “Malaysia 50 years on: Expectation vs. Reality” in Kota Kinabalu to discuss and debate many of the issues related to the relationship between Sabah and Putra Jaya.
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