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Sunday June 22, 2008

Is snap polls the answer?

SAPP's no-confidence bid against the Prime Minister hints at Barisan Nasional ‘renegade’ hands at work from the peninsula.

THE Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) has decided to brazen it out. With one exception, the rest of the 29 who attended the SAPP supreme council meeting on Friday backed their president Datuk Yong Teck Lee in his call for a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.

That lone exception, party deputy president Datuk Raymond Tan, apparently tried to persuade his colleagues to his viewpoint – but failed.

Initially, there were hints that Tan may form a splinter party – yet another in Sabah’s phalanx of nine Barisan Nasional parties and two active opposition parties. But the next day, even Tan seemed to have fallen in with Yong’s gameplan.

This answers the Barisan’s query at its emergency supreme council meeting on Thursday whether SAPP’s position was strictly Yong’s or was subscribed to by the entire party.

It is obvious now that SAPP is begging to be sacked. It wants to get in on the ground floor of forging a Third Force that will act as an Independent bloc in Parliament and a middle ground of opinion in a more tightly balanced bi-party system.

The lynchpin to all these pregnant expectations is none other than PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a charismatic orator with a chequered political past and tremendous ambition. Anwar has been wanting to be prime minister for a decade now.

Before a 10,000-strong crowd attending the Pakatan Rakyat’s 100th day anniversary governing Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadium on Friday night, Anwar called on Umno to migrate to the Pakatan Rakyat.

“It (SAPP’s action) showed that the people in Barisan are losing faith in the Barisan,” he said jubilantly.

There are two sides to this coin: some Sabahans and Sarawakians want to see Anwar in Parliament, waiting to receive them as they cross the floor. Otherwise, it would be an enormous risk.

But Anwar wants to see the MPs already on the Opposition benches when he takes the icy plunge in a risky by-election. Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has already declared that all PKR members, including himself, should be ready to give up their seats to Anwar.

The question now is where does Sabah, and to a lesser extent Sarawak, go from here? And will any rebels from the peninsula follow Anwar?

According to Yong, his reason for going for the jugular was timing. After 45 years of waiting, Yong felt that this was the only window of opportunity before other events push Sabah again onto the backburner.

But his list of eight points are Sabah concerns and they cloud the real issue at stake – the national leadership.

Others have called for Abdullah’s resignation before but not in Parliament. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, as Chief Whip, has said that if SAPP attempted to move the no-confidence motion, the Barisan will sack its MPs. But there are only two.

So there appears to be a larger wave behind SAPP’s action, hinting that it is more than just Anwar involved. Sabah politicians have been expecting “renegades” from the peninsula to join their campaign to remove Abdullah.

Unlike neighbouring Thailand, Malaysia has no convention for a no-confidence motion. It is simply not part of the political culture.

This makes it all the more devastating for the incumbent under attack.

But in Kuching, a senior political leader doubts that SAPP can table the no-confidence motion despite its bravado.

“At best it can just raise it for mention but that would be the extent of its attempt,” he said.

Unlike Umno’s own successful forays in Sabah in 1994 to bring down the state government of then Chief Minister Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, president of the then opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah, however, this move is against the federal leader.

The stakes are that much higher.

If and when Abdullah hands over the reins to Najib, what guarantee is there for Sabah that it would fare any better?

The problem for Malaysia is not that there is a surfeit of leaders of high calibre at the top but that there are too few. Others who show great promise are not quite there yet – both in their own parties and at national level.

Thus a no-confidence motion is dangerous because the alternative is not all that more reassuring.

A snap election is a leader’s only viable option.

In 1985, as Pairin’s PBS started losing people to the United Sabah National Organisation, he, too, called for a snap election.

He won his two-thirds of the State Legislative Assembly in May 1986. His government at that time was 13 to 14 months old. Abdullah’s is into its fourth month.

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