KOTA KINABALU: With less than three weeks before nomination day, native land rights seem to be taking centrestage in Sabah.
The issues of endless waiting for native land titles, land grabs and forceful evictions of natives from their traditional homes will rise again in the next few weeks as politicians spar over what they did and did not do to help the community safeguard their rights.
More than 10,000 native land titles have been issued since Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s Parti Warisan Sabah ousted the Barisan Nasional chief minister Tan Sri Musa Aman in May 2018, who at the time, had led the state for 15 years.
Land issues are an emotional topic in Sabah, which sees Barisan’s policy of issuing communal titles to villagers hotly opposed and probably eroded support of its government in the 2018 general election.
Warisan and its partners promised to disband the controversial communal titles in the run-up to the last election and the issue turned out to be Musa’s Achilles heel.
Criticisms against the controversial communal titles are rife as some pointed out that plantation conglomerates have used unscrupulous tactics to entice natives into entering lop-sided joint ventures, where their land is exploited in exchange for a paltry sum.
The issue of recognising native land and gazetting traditional villagers remains a hot topic in the coming state polls on both sides of the political divide.
Native land titles handed out by the Warisan state government was not against the law but could cause an uneven playing field in the polls, said Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann.
“It rendered the playing field to the advantage of the incumbent. Whether this will translate to votes, it’s hard to say as the other side can easily promise the same thing,” he said.
Tony Paridi Bagang, a senior lecturer from Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah, said native land titles were merely among the many issues that would influence voters.
“Land issues affect voters’ preferences but to say it would be a major factor in determining which party will win, may be debatable. Rural folk may be affected but urban voters may not be really impacted,” he said.