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Lujnah Penerangan Dewan Pemuda PAS Sabah. 
 No. 10, Lorong 14, Kg. Sembulan 
88100 Kota Kinabalu Sabah.  


James Chin
School of History and Politics
Middlesex University
London N17 8HR
United Kingdom

The East Malaysian state of Sabah, situated on the island of Borneo, held a state election on 19-20 March 1994. The election was particularly important for two reasons.  

First, of the 13 states that made up the Malaysian federation, Sabah and Kelantan (located in Peninsular Malaysia) are the only two that are governed by the opposition. The other 11 states are controlled by the Barisan Nasional (BN or National Front) coalition led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Second, it was the first time that UMNO had contested in either of the East Malaysian states. Previously UMNO and other Peninsular-based BN parties did not even have branches in the Borneoan states. UMNO's performance in the polls was particularly important for her plans to transform itself into a nationwide party for bumiputeras ('sons of the soil' or indigenous Malaysians). Moreover, before UMNO's entry into Sabah, UMNO could accept only ethnic Malays as members. With the formation of UMNO Sabah, a sizable minority of its members are now non-Malays. Third, the election was widely seen as a precursor to general elections expected to be held in early 1995.  

Brief Background  

Sabah's 1.8 million population is made up of about 30 different ethnic groups. The largest of these are the Kadazan (and a closely-related group, Dusun) who constitue about 40 percent; Chinese 22 percent; Malays 32 percent; Bajaus 11 percent and Muruts 5 percent. However, this figures are best estimates as it is extremely difficult to get precise figures. In the 1980 census, a broad category Pribumi was used to count all native groupings (including non-natives who converted to Islam and Malays). Moreover, there is a sizebale number of Sino-Kadazan, due to the high inter-marriage rate among the Kadazan and the ethnic Chinese, who do not easily fit into any existing category.[ 1 ] It would perhaps easier to quantify the population as 40 percent naive-Muslims, 40 percent native-Christians and 20 percent others. The natives are also officially categorized as bumiputeras (or 'sons of the soil') which entitles them to preferential treatment by the state both socially and politically.  

Prior to joining the federation of Malaysia in 1963, Sabah was ruled by a private entity, the British North Borneo Company and, later as a British colony.[1 ] Since then Sabah politics has been driven by patronage, specifically the awarding of timber concessions and business opportunities to those close to the corridors of power. Another feature of Sabah politics is the rapid shifting of electoral loyalty with the ruling party falling within a decade.  

In the 1970s, Sabah politics was dominated by Tun Mustapha Harun, a Muslim who hails from the Southern Philippines, and his party the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO). Mustapha's rule, from 1967 to 1975, was marked by his dictatorial ways, forced conversion into Islam, jetset lifestyle and fierce independence from the federal authorities in Kuala Lumpur.[ 2 ] This caused the federal government to back a new political party formed by USNO dissidents, called Berjaya. Berjaya was led by Tun Mohammad Faud Stephens, a former Mustapha ally who resigned the governorship to spearhead Berjaya's electoral campaign against USNO. Stephens was to play a crucial role in swinging the Kadazan vote as he was their paramount chief (huguan siou). In the state election held in April 1975, Berjaya easily won and Stephens became Sabah's chief minister.  

However, barely a year later on June 6, 1976, Stephens and a few senior ministers were killed in a plane crash. Harris Salleh, the former USNO vice-president sponsored by Kuala Lumpur to form Berjaya, succeeded Stephens. Harris, a Muslim Malay/Indian, in turn became increasingly dictatorial like Mustapha. Again like Mustapha, Harris accelerated the Islamisation process despite strong opposition from the largely non-Muslim Kadazan and Chinese communities. Although he was widely seen as a "federal man", he went too far in his pro-federal policies when he gave away Labuan, a small island off the Western coast of Sabah, to Kuala Lumpur without any compensation.  

All these issues plus allegations of widespread corruption (among those close to Harris) caused a group of Berjaya dissidents, made up primarily of non-Muslims and led by a Kadazan Catholic, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, to criticise Harris openly. Forced to resign from Berjaya and his constituency of Tanbunan, Pairin stood as an independent and easily won re-election with an increased majority in December 1984. Taking revenge on the voters, Harris abrogated the district status of Tanbunan in January 1985, thus ensuring that less development funds was available for the constituency. By now, the groundswell of support for Pairin had increased significantly and he registered a new political party, Parti Bersatu Sabah (United Sabah Party or PBS). However, unlike Berjaya, PBS's formation did not have the blessing of the federal government.  

Fearing a further deterioration of support for his government, Harris opted for a snap election in May 1985. Despite this tactical maneuver, it was too late for Berjaya: the results indicated a clear swing towards the new party, PBS. PBS won 26 seats, USNO 16 Berjaya 6. PBS won because it had the near total support of the Kadazan community and a majority of the Chinese votes. Issues used successfully against Berjaya was its transfer of the sovereignty of Labuan Island without compensation, corruption and rapid Islamisation.[ 3 ] The PBS victory was also a blow to Mahathir as he had earlier pledged to 'sink or swim' with Berjaya during the election campaign. When the election results were known, Harris then forged an unlikely pact with his predecessor and former rival, USNO's Mustapha. The two parties, which together held 22 seats, persuaded the then governor, Tun Adnan Robert to swear in Mustapha as chief minister. Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Musa Hitam, immediately interceded and Kitingan was sworn-in on April 22, 1985.[2 ] Despite winning the election, Pairin had trouble ruling as USNO and Berjaya supporters launched a campaign of harassment against the newly-elected government. These include a suit filed by Mustapha against Pairin's appointment and bomb explosions in the capital Kota Kinabalu. The rationale was that with a breakdown of security in the state, the federal UMNO government would have to declare a state of emergency and rule Sabah directly, thus bringing Pairin down. These actions were supported by certain UMNO factions[3 ] who also tried to pressure PBS in forming a coalition government with USNO.[4 ] Under these circumstances, Pairin opted for a snap election in May 1986 with the result that PBS increased its majority from 26 to 34 seats. PBS' share of its popular vote also increased from about 30 percent in 1985 to 53 percent.[5 ] After its second convincing electoral victory and for political expediency, PBS was admitted into the BN. Hence, Sabah was in a unique position where one component BN party, PBS, was in power while another BN component, USNO, was the main opposition. In the July 1990 state election, the federal UMNO-led BN government publicly took a neutral position in the PBS-USNO tussle, although UMNO was privately backing the Muslim-based USNO. PBS easily won re-election when it took 36 out of the 48 seats -with 53.92 percent of the vote- while USNO took the other 12. [6 ] 

Hence right from the outset, PBS did not have a smooth working relationship with the UMNO-led federal government. The uneasy relationship between PBS and UMNO was to manifest itself when PBS withdrew from the BN a few days before the October 1990 general election and, threw its support behind Mahathir's arch rival, Tengku Razaleigh, who at that time was widely seen as a real threat to UMNO's monopoly of Malay votes.[7 ]  

Mahathir never forgave Pairin for this act (which he termed 'a stab in the back') and immediately announced that UMNO would spread its wings in Sabah. UMNO's main partner in the Peninsular, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) also began setting up branches in Sabah. Mustapha left USNO, won a by-election as an UMNO Sabah candidate and became UMNO Sabah liaison chief. In order to give him more powers of patronage, Mustapha was appointed the federal minister for Sabah Affairs in 1992, a portfolio unfilled since the 1970s. His party USNO came under the control of his son, Amirkahar Tun Mustapha.  

Within a few months of the 1990 parliamentary polls, Pairin was charged with three counts of corruption. Pairin's powerful brother, Jeffrey Kitingan, who heads the Sabah Foundation, was detained without trail under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly plotting Sabah's secession from the Malaysian federation. He was also charged with corruption involving huge sums of money held in Hong Kong.]8 ] Since then, ties between Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur have deteriorated rapidly and the federal government has actively neglected Sabah. Since 1990, Sabah's economic growth has consistently been below the national average and locals refer to Sabah's economic ills as 'political recession'.  

State of Parties Before Poll  

When Pairin announced the dissolution of the state assembly in early February 1994, the PBS-led state government still had 16 months of its five-year term to run. Pairin had good reasons for calling an early election. First, his corruption trial (on the first charge) had just concluded. The court found him guilty of corruption but Pairin did not have to quit his post of chief minister. The reason is that he was fined 1,800 ringgit (US$700) and this saved him from Article 17 (1e) of the Sabah state constitution and Article 48 (e) of the federal constitution, which disqualifies a person from holding a public office had he/she been fine more than 2,000 ringgit or, jailed for more than a year. The verdict was seen as a vindication by the courts that the charges against Pairin were politically motivated. Thus PBS calculated that it could rely on the sympathy vote of ordinary Sabahans for what was perceived as a personal vendetta by the federal government against their chief minister.  

Second, Pairin's brother Jeffrey was released in January 1994 after being detained for two years. Many believed that his release was due to a 'deal' done between Jeffrey and Mahathir on ways to resolve the PBS-BN standoff. There were suggestions he was released so that he could be the 'bridge' between Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.  

Third, Pairin said that the elections would provide an opportunity for Sabahans to voice their concerns over the federal government's plan to redraw the state's electoral boundaries. According to PBS, the delineation exercise was to redefine electoral boundaries along ethnic lines in order to help UMNO Sabah win and consolidate Muslim votes.  

Fourth, in 1992, PBS had staged a political 'coup' when it successfully enticed USNO to join it as a coalition partner. The PBS-USNO alliance controlled 41 of the 48 seats in the Sabah Legislative Assembly. The other seats were held by UMNO Sabah. Shortly afterwards, USNO was deregistered by the federal-controlled registrar of societies. About six USNO state legislators went over to UMNO Sabah while the rest moved into PBS. With USNO deregistered, all USNO candidates stood as PBS candidates in the 1994 polls.  

The Campaign  

The campaign for control of Sabah actually began long before the dissolution of the State Assembly. Since PBS's pullout from the BN in 1990, UMNO and its BN coalition parties such as the MCA, the small Sabah Chinese-based Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the Kadazan-based Angkatan Keadilan Rakyat (Justice Party or AKAR)[9 ] and, together with PBS dissenters have continuously stressed that Sabah was underdeveloped compared to other Malaysian states simply because it was held by 'opposition hands'. Thus by the time formal campaigning was allowed in February, all the contestants basically had the electoral machinery in hand.  

The PBS campaigned on the theme 'Sabah for the Sabahans' appealing to regional sentiments and state rights. It argued that should the UMNO-led BN win the election, Sabah would be 'colonized' by Kuala Lumpur. The issue of state rights centered on the so-called Twenty Points which had stipulated Sabah's (and Sarawak) rights and privileges in the Malaysian federation back in 1963. PBS has consistently alleged that many of the rights and privileges contained in the Twenty Points have been violated by the Federal government.[10 ] The more chauvinistic elements in PBS appeal to Kadazan nationalism, which had been used effectively in two previous elections, and argued that if the Kadazan did not rally under PBS, the chief minister's post would go to a non-Kadazan with the result that the Kadazan community would be discriminated against. Pairin's corruption charges was also used to demonstrate how the federal government was victimizing the Kadazan. PBS also demanded an increase in petroleum royalties from 5 percent to 15 percent, the setting up of a university, a separate TV station in Sabah and the return of the island of Labuan.  

The PBS called for a crackdown on the large number of illegal immigrants from the southern Philippines. The Filipino became a political issue as they were widely blamed for the huge rise in petty crime, as well as for taking employment opportunities away from the locals. Moreover, their sheer numbers, estimated to be about half-a-million, posed a physical security threat to Sabah. The situation had deteriorated in recent years as PBS could not deal with the illegal migrant problem effectively because matters dealing with security came under the purview of the federal government.  

PBS also accused UMNO of trying to stamp its Muslim-Malay brand of politics on a state where most of the tribespeople are Catholic and where ethnic Chinese form about one-fifth of the population. The religious factor had an added significance as it was believed that the majority of the illegal Filipino were Muslims and on this basis, were issued with Malaysian identity cards (a sign of citizenship). Filipino with these identity cards were eligible to vote. These Filipino Muslims were expected to vote for the champion of Islam, UMNO. Although it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of such voters, their open presence in mainly Kadazan-majority constituencies made Islamisation into an important electoral issue.[11 ]  

The BN's campaign was based on the theme that it alone had the resources to bring back 'development'. In its manifesto 'A New Sabah', BN promised huge infrastructure projects as well as the state's first university if it were elected. It also promised to eradicate poverty by the turn of the century and to increase the income of all Sabahans. To counter PBS's accusation that UMNO would 'colonize' Sabah, the BN promised that if elected, the chief minister's post would go to a Sabahan. In order to secure the non-Malay and non-Muslim vote, Mahathir also announced that if the BN were to take over the reins of government, the Sabah chief ministership would be rotated every two years equally between Malay/Muslim, Kadazan/Dusun and Chinese leaders. This major concession effectively blunted PBS's argument that non-Muslim and non-Malays would be marginalised if the BN won.  

The BN campaigned extensively on Pairin's graft conviction and argued that he should resign for 'moral' reasons. Extensive coverage was also given to sales of state-owned enterprises which, according to BN, had benefited a few PBS supporters and non-Sabahans. The two state-owned television stations as well as the UMNO-controlled TV3 were used effectively to promote the BN, as were radio broadcasts. The BN's near total monopolization of the broadcast media can be a decisive factor in shaping the voting outcome among voters who are illiterate or living in the remote interiors.  

Shortly after the dissolution of the State Assembly, the BN campaign received a major boost when Yong Teck Lee, the highest ranking PBS ethnic Chinese member and deputy chief minister announced the he was leaving PBS and forming a new party, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP). Yong accused Pairin of thwarting plans to reconcile with Kuala Lumpur and said the Chinese business community would suffer more if PBS were re-elected. The Chinese business community, which has a seventy percent share of Sabah's economy, had been suffering from the 'political-recession' and appeared to have backed Yong's decision to leave PBS. SAPP was immediately accepted into the BN. Yong's switch was highly significant as it divided the hitherto united Chinese vote which had gone to PBS in two previous elections. The importance of the eight Chinese-majority constituencies to the BN was underscored when Anwar Ibrahim, the deputy prime minister and head of BN's Sabah campaign, announced an immediate M$30 million grant to Chinese-medium schools in Sabah.[12 ]  

The BN campaigned was also aided by PBS Kadazan dissidents, the most prominent of whom was PBS vice-president Clarence Bongkos Malakum. He defied Pairin and stood as an independent, in Moyong constituency against the official PBS candidate, deputy chief minister Bernard Dompok.[13 ]  

However, defections were not unidirectional only. Mustapha Harun, the long time champion of the Sabah Malay/Muslims resigned from his federal cabinet post and publicly supported PBS. Although Mustapha did not stand as a candidate, two of his sons (Amirkahar, president of the now-defunct USNO and Badaruddin) stood as PBS candidates. Mustapha fell out with UMNO when one of his main mentors in Peninsular UMNO, Ghafar Baba, was forced out of UMNO.[14 ] Given his reputation of holding the Sabah Muslim vote, his defection was expected to give PBS a major segment of the Muslim vote which would have otherwise gone to UMNO Sabah. Together with Pairin, the revered Huguan Siou of the Kadazan, PBS was expected to win at least half of the Muslim vote.  

While elections in Sabah have always had the element of direct 'cash gifts' to voters to ensure victory, the 1994 polls was characterized by an unusually high level of this sort of financial inducements by both sides. Pairin himself was quoted to have said 'Money was virtually being thrown from helicopters and distributed freely in coffeeshops'.[15 ] However, given that the BN had almost unlimited financial resources, PBS simply could not counter this tried-and-tested tactic employed by the BN.  

Election Results 

In this election, there were a total of 153 candidates: PBS and BN fielded 48 candidates each; Setia Party 13; Bersekutu 7; Party Islam Malaysia (PAS) 3; Democractic Action Party (DAP) 2; and 32 Indpendents. Despite the large number of candidates, the fight was always between BN and PBS.[16 ]  

As mentioned, PBS entered the election with the upper hand as many regard Kadazan nationalism and regional/anti-federal sentiments as enough to deny the Peninsula-based UMNO any real headway in Sabah state politics. However, the election results were surprisingly close: PBS won 25 seats while the remaining 23 were won by the BN (UMNO 18; SAPP 3; LDP 1; AKAR 1). Of the 436,448 votes cast, PBS took 215, 952 votes (49.48%), BN 201,374 (46.14%) and the rest went to the smaller parties and Independents.[17 ] The results followed a clear racial line: PBS took all the 15 Kadazan-majority constituencies and UMNO won all its 18 seats in Malay/Muslim-majority constituencies. With the Chinese vote partially split by SAPP, the seven Chinese-majority constituencies were divided between PBS (which won 4) and BN (3).  

The results were a personal blow to Pairin as PBS had won 36 seats in the last state elections held in 1990. The results also cost Pairin his two-thirds majority in the state legislative assembly. This is the margin needed to amend the state constitution, and is viewed as a political necessity.  

Moreover, PBS' partner, USNO, which was expected to hold on to its traditional Malay/Muslim vote was decimated when only its president, Amirkahar, was returned. The decline of USNO in the Muslim areas is best illustrated in Mustapha's own seat of Usukan, where his son Badaruddin stood as a PBS candidate. Although the 75-year old Mustapha campaigned extensively for his son, Usukan was won by first-time UMNO candidate, Mohamed Salleh Tun Said. Mohamed Salleh is the son of governor Tun Mohamed Said Keruak.  

The Chinese vote was partially split when PBS took four of the seven Chinese-majority seats, while the newly established SAPP took the other three. The fact that PBS was returned in four Chinese seats suggests that the majority of Chinese voters still regarded PBS as their preferred choice. This was illustrated in the Likas state constituency where ex-PBS incumbent and SAPP founder Yong Teck Lee stood against PBS' Yee Moh Chai. The Likas constituency had 19,756 voters made up of: 10,411 Chinese; 7,329 Muslim bumiputera and 2,016 non-Muslim bumiputera. Yong polled 8,035 votes to Yee's 5,855 in a straight fight, a majority of 2,180 votes. But this was a significant reduction from the 5,128 vote majority Yong obtained as a PBS candidate in the same constituency in 1990. Assuming that the majority of Muslim voters, say eighty percent, would back a BN candidate, this effectively means that Yong won only about a thousand Chinese votes while the rest went over to PBS.  

The close result also supported the allegations that a large number of illegal Muslim Filipino had voted. Their votes probably made a significant difference in marginal seats and helped the BN to win the Malay-Muslim majority constituencies. However, without reliable figures, the extent of the illegal immigrant vote can never be ascertained accurately.  

Shortly after the results had revealed that PBS had secured a simple majority, Pairin rushed to seek an audience with governor Tun Mohamad Said Keruak for the swearing-in ceremony. The governor refused to see Pairin, citing illness. Many felt this was a ploy to allow BN to poach several PBS legislators. The governor was hardly impartial as his son had just been elected, standing as a UMNO Sabah candidate. Moreover, the governor himself was appointed by the federal government.  

Pairin then started a vigil outside the gates of the governor's hill-top mansion. This was driven by fears that he might lose his political grip on the state. In a state where shifting alliances are common, a defection by two elected assemblymen from the PBS would have been enough to deny PBS power. As a precaution, all the newly elected PBS legislators were housed at Pairin's official residence. Mahathir then accused Pairin of physically preventing PBS legislators from defecting to the BN. Police were sent to Pairin's residence to make sure that all the elected PBS assemblymen were not being held against their wishes. All said they were there on their own free will.  

Pairin's vigil was also linked to his fears of a replay of the 1985 Sabah elections, when PBS toppled the then BN-Berjaya government under Harris Salleh by winning 26 seats (see above). After 36 hours outside the governor's mansion and satisfied that no PBS legislators were defecting, Pairin was formally sworn in as Sabah's chief minister.  

The Fall 

Almost immediately, Pairin exercised his constitutional right to nominate six assemblymen, thus bring PBS majority to eight.[18 ] Despite this, BN had already started to entice PBS legislators. Within two weeks, three PBS legislators announced that they were defecting to BN. A PBS member of the national parliament also announced he was quitting. According to Pairin, the defectors had been given up to three million ringgit (US$1.1 million). To forestall further defections, Pairin sought to dissolve the state assembly- which has yet to sit- and to call for fresh elections. But the governor refused to dissolve the state assembly, arguing that it was too soon to call a new election and since BN had the numbers, it should be given a chance to form a government.  

The final blow to Pairin came when his younger brother, Jeffrey Kitingan, announced that he was leaving the PBS to form a new party, Parti Demokratik Sabah Bersatu (PDSB) which would ultimately seek to join the BN. Another key PBS strongman, the party's secretary general, Joseph Kurup, also left and formed the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS). Kurup also sought to join the BN. Yet another key PBS figure and former deputy chief minister, Bernard Dompok, formed Parti Demokratik Sabah (PDS) and immediately applied to become a component of the BN.  

Face with the certainty of a no-confidence vote at the State Assembly's first sitting, Pairin had little choice but to formally resign.[19 ] UMNO Sabah chief Sakaran Dandai was sworn in as the new chief minister on 17 March, 1994. The governor's son, Mohamed Salleh, and SAPP's Yong Teck Lee were made deputy chief minister for the Muslims bumiputera and non-Muslim bumiputera communities respectively.[20 ] The non-Muslim bumiputera deputy chief minister was not appointed immediately as there were rival competing claims by the various Kadazan-based parties. AKAR demanded the post as it saw itself as the legitimate BN component party, having been a BN component party since 1991. However, the other two Kadazan-based parties, the PDR and the PDS, also claimed the post stating that they had applied to join the BN and were more representative of the Kadazan community.  

After about five months of negotiations and fearing that PDR and PRDS would be more dangerous in opposition, the chairman of the BN, Mahathir, overruled AKAR's opposition and decided on the formula for both PDS and PBRS's entry into the BN.  

Under the formula, Sabah's non-Muslim bumiputera deputy chief minister's post was given to PBRS' Joseph Kurup. PDS's President, Bernard Dompok, was instead made a federal cabinet minister while Jeffrey Kitingan was sworn in at the same ceremony as a deputy minister.  

This formula works in UMNO Sabah's favor at state-level politics as PBRS is politically weak, compared to PBRS. It has only one elected representative (party president Kurup) while PBRS commands 18 state assemblyman. By giving PBRS the office of the deputy chief minister, UMNO Sabah wanted Kurup to use his newly acquired powers of patronage to balanced out PDS and AKAR.  

Despite Pairin's fall, there is little doubt that he has retained the support of the vast majority of the Kadazan who still recognize him as their paramount chief. In fact, may Kadazan have openly criticized PBS leaders who defected. The harshest criticism seems to be reserved for Pairin's brother Jeffrey, whose defection is seen as a betrayal of his previous strong views on 'state rights' as well as a betrayal of his brother, Pairin. The sudden dropping of corruption charges against him by federal prosecutors[21 ] and his acceptance of a federal cabinet post reinforced the image that he had "sold out" to BN. [22 ] It is unlikely that Jeffrey will be able to recover his credibility politically among the Kadazan electorate.[23 ]  


The result of the Sabah state election illustrates several things. First, although regional sentiments and tribal nationalism are strong in Sabah (and Sarawak), these factors alone are not enough politically to withstand the onslaught of a national political machinery (BN) that has almost unlimited funds and resources. Although PBS was the ruling party in Sabah, the federal BN easily outperformed it in terms of financial resources. The use of cash inducements means that Sabah politics in the coming years will be increasingly monetised.  

Second, the post election fall of the Pairin-led PBS state government shows clearly that in the Malaysian federation, power (and patronage) lies in Kuala Lumpur and not in the respective state capitals. The weakness of state governments in resisting against the federal government, especially over a long period, is especially true.24 There are several clear examples in Malaysia's recent history.  

In the late 1960s, Sarawak's chief minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan was replaced after an intervention by the federal government when he pushed for state rights.25 When Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew challenged Kuala Lumpur, the island was kicked out of the federation. In Kelantan, Parti Se-Islam Malaysia (PAS) lost the state government after UMNO sponsored Barisan Jumaah Islamiah Malaysia Bersatu (Berjasa), a party made up of PAS dissidents in the 1978 state election.26 Earlier in Sabah, when Mustapha Harun challenged Kuala Lumpur, federal-backed Berjaya got rid of him at the polls.  

Third, the defections from the PBS have produced three separate political parties all claiming to represent the interest of the largest ethnic group in Sabah, the Kadazan. This means that Kadazan political unity and dominance, held for nine years under Pairin, has effectively been destroyed. UMNO Sabah will remain the largest party in the Sabah state legislature and it is unlikely that the three new Kadazan parties (PBDS, PDS, PBRS) will be effective in promoting the Kadazan's political interest. The ability of UMNO Sabah to manipulate cabinet posts, as mentioned, and control access to patronage means that no one Kadazan-based BN component party can hope to become too powerful by uniting the Kadazan community, as PBS had done while in power.  

Fourth, the superior performance of Sabah UMNO means that UMNO's deputy president, Anwar Ibrahim, who led the Sabah BN campaign, has strengthened his position as heir apparent to Mahathir. UMNO Sabah's success in imposing its brand of politics: using a mix of religion, race and cash inducements means that religious consciousness and racial polarization has worsened considerably in Sabah. It is probably too early to suggest that politics in Sabah will now on follow the well-established racial politics in Peninsular Malaysia. For one thing, the racial composition in Sabah is different. Moreover, the Muslims in Sabah do not constitute a majority and Islam in Sabah is much more tolerant than those found in Peninsular Malaysia. However, given that UMNO is synonymous with the promotion of Islam, it is likely that a less tolerant Sabah state government will emerge within the next few years.  

Fifth, the fluidity of Sabah politics has persisted. The ability of UMNO Sabah to step into USNO's shoes in a short period of time and SAPP's ability to win over some Chinese votes clearly indicates that there is no such thing as core support in Sabah politics. SAPP was formed on 20 January 1994 and admitted into BN on 4 February, and contested on 18 and 19 February. This scenario is very similar to the situation in 1985 when Pairin launched PBS just weeks before the state election which swept him to power.  

The continued fluidity of Sabah politics has ensured that the 'ten-year' jinx theory is still valid. Mustapha ruled from 1968 to 1975 (7 years), Berjaya from 1976 to 1985 (9 years) and now PBS, 1985 to 1994 (9 years).  

In the immediate future, Sabah's ethnic and religious diversity will mean that Sabah UMNO can expect a difficult time. Governing a state not through the ballot box will mean a certain lack of political legitimacy. The appointment of Sakaran Dandai, regarded as being too pro-federal has already aroused dissension within UMNO Sabah itself.[27 ] However UMNO's biggest problem will be the Kadazan community, which may rally around Pairin and PBS in the parliamentary polls expected in early 1995. If the new Kadazan-based parties led by former PBS leaders fail to attract Kadazan electoral support, UMNO and her other BN parties will run the risk of alienating more than one-third of the population, a consequence of which will be more political instability.  


1 The circumstances leading to Sabah's entry into the federation of Malaysia is covered in M.C. Roff The politics of belonging: Political change in Sabah and Sarawak (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1974).  

2 For a discussion of Sabah's political development and PBS's formation, see James P. Ongkili, 'Political Development in Sabah 1963-1988', in J.G. Kitingan and M.J. Ongkili, Sabah: 25 Years Later (Kota Kinabalu: IDS Sabah, 1989), pp.61-79 and Francis Loh Kok Wah, 'Modernisation, cultural revival and counter-hegemony: the Kadazans of Sabah in the 1980s' in Joel Kahn and Francis Loh Kok Wah (eds.), Fragmented Vision: culture and politics in contemporary Malaysia (Sydney: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Allen & Unwin, 1992) pp. 225-253.  

3 Audrey Kahin, 'Crisis on the Periphery: The Rift Between Kuala Lumpur and Sabah', Pacific Affairs, 65 (1) (Spring 1992) p. 41 

4 Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 April, 1986 

5 Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May 1986; Bala Chandran The Third Mandate (Kuala Lumpur: Bala Chandran, 1986)  

6 Far Eastern Economic Review, 26 July 1990 

7 See Khong Kim Hoong, Malaysia's general election 1990: continuity, change and ethnic politics, (Singapore: ISEAS Research Notes and Discussion Paper no 74, 1991).  

8 Jeffrey Kitingan had been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and company shares in return for political and business favors, some allegedly doled out in his capacity as director of the state-owned Sabah Foundation.  

9 AKAR was formed by Mark Koding, a former senior PBS figure who serve as deputy chief minister under Pairin before he fell out with Pairin.  

10 The 'Twenty Points' include guarantees that Sabah (and Sarawak) would retain rights over immigration, education and religion. For a discussion of the Twenty Points and PBS's grievances, see Herman Luping 'The Formation of Malaysia Revisited' in J.G. Kitingan and M.J. Ongkili, Sabah: 25 Years Later (Kota Kinabalu: IDS Sabah, 1989)pp.1-60. For a partisan view, see Khusairie Talib, Kontroversi 20 perkara : Sabahan vs Sabahan (Kota Kinabalu : Goldana Corporation, 1993) and Patrick bin Sindu & Abdul Malek Unar. Isu 20 perkara : jaminan dan perlindungan (Penampang, Sabah : Studio 3, 1993)  

11 See 'The shadow life of Filipinos in Sabah', Asiaweek, 30 April 1994.  

12 Business Times (Singapore) 16 February 1994 

13 Despite the aid of the national press which gave him favorable coverage, Clarence Bongkos Malakum lost.  

14 The circumstances leading to Ghafar's ousting from UMNO's deputy presidency in internal UMNO party election and the deputy prime ministership is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice to say Mustapha was one of the very UMNO divisional chiefs who supported Ghafar in his struggle with Anwar Ibrahim. When Anwar won, Mustapha saw his grip on UMNO Sabah loosened as Anwar's supporters started to side-lined him. See also James Ongkili 'Spectre of issues will haunt the state', Business Times (Singapore) 2 March 1994.  

15 Far Eastern Economic Review 3 March 1994.  

16 52 candidates lost their 3,000 ringgit election deposit when they were unable to garner one-eighth of the total votes cast in their constituencies. They 52 were: 27 Independents, all 13 from Setia, all 6 from Bersekutu, all 3 from PAS and 1 from DAP. Jinuin Jimin, an Independent in the Tenon constituency, created an electoral record when he secured only 4 votes. Daily Mail (Kota Kinabalu), 21 February 1994 17 New Straits Times (Malaysia) 21 February 1994.  

18 The Sabah Constitution allows the chief minister appoint six state legislators at his discretion , thus bringing the State Legislative Assembly to 54 members. 19 After the defections, PBS was left with just five state assemblymen, including Pairin himself.  

20 Under a formula supposedly to "share power", three deputy chief ministers are appointed: one each for the bumiputera Muslims, bumiputera non-Muslims and non-bumiputera communities.  

21 Daily Express (Sabah), 15 June 1994 

22 As mentioned earlier, Jeffrey Kitingan initially wanted to form a new political party, Parti Demokratik Sabah Bersatu (PDSB). However, the federal authorities refused him permission and he quickly accepted the offer of vice-presidency of AKAR. AKAR had offered him the position before but Jeffrey thought that he could go in it alone.  

23 Jeffrey Kitingan was removed shortly after the election as head of the Sabah Foundation. The corruption charges against him was dropped by the federal prosecutor and this was seen by many Sabahans (as well as the cabinet post) as the 'payoff' for his pro-BN stand.  

24 Chandran Jeshurun, 'In the clash of wills, the centre will prevail in the end', Business Times (Singapore) 2 March 1994 

25 R.S. Milne & K.J. Ratnam, Malaysia - new states in a new nation: political development of Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysia (London: Frank Cass, 1974) pp 218-233 

26 See Ismail Kassim, The Politics of Accommodation: An analysis of the 1978 Malaysian General Election (Singapore: ISEAS Research Notes and Discussions Papers No 10, 1978).  

27 For example, there was a widely circulated rumor that some Sabah UMNO elected representatives were plotting to bring down the chief minister. See Business Times (Singapore) 29 April 1994 

Source: Asian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 10, 1994, pp. 904-915