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Opposition in Sabah must first put act together
Published on: Sunday, August 20, 2017

By Datuk John Lo
My intention of this article is not to criticise the opposition in Sabah.

Far from it. My hope is to encourage them to undertake some reflections, including whether they are in politics to fuel their egos, for their self-interest or to render genuine contribution for the interest of Sabahans.

After reading the lamentations of Datuk Lajim’s press statement on the absence of unity in Sabah’s opposition on 10 August 2017, I kind of sympathise with him as the leader of the opposition in the Sabah Legislative Assembly.

His appointment by the Sabah Legislative Assembly as the opposition leader, without consent and support by other opposition assemblymen, has rendered him ineffectual. No fun being a one-man opposition, a general with no lieutenants. The bottom line is – the opposition is weak if it cannot agree who is to lead.

Saddening to see the opposition, as a political group, has become hapless and purposeless.

An effective opposition is critical to the success of parliamentary democracy, smooth functioning of the government founded on democratic ideals. A creditable opposition’s primary duty is to act as “check and balance” and “alternative government”. If it cannot perform these basic tasks effectively and faithfully for the people, then it has failed. An ineffective opposition, especially one with too many political parties or too many generals who want the leadership plum job can be a grave liability to the people and country.

Electing a headless or fragmented opposition into government can be a harbinger of messy economic future as many countries have gone through this very painful experience. It is like jumping “from the frying pan into the fire”. The Sabah opposition as it is now, is in a high stage of disarray. Much more serious than lacking in unity as Lajim as spoken. It has no unity of purpose, no unity of political philosophy, no unity of modus operandi, no unity of economic vision, no unity of leadership and no unity of core values. Being fond of democratic principles, I hope all the opposition parties in Sabah can unite sometime in the future. My humble assessment from newspapers, is that this is not going to happen anytime soon. Unless you can believe in miracles. I have lost count of the number of political parties in Sabah. The opposition in Sabah, therefore, will not count much as a group in the next general election which is very near. Let me elaborate on the various types of unity that are so lacking.

Opposition lacks unity of purpose: The only purpose the opposition parties have is to defeat the BN state government in the next general election and take over the government. To them, these may be good objectives for their own benefit but do not mean much for Sabahan voters. Sabahans must know what they can realistically do for them. Please no “promise of high heavens”. The opposition has nothing much to convince Sabahans with.

In fact, such ambitions without substance is plainly frightening. One party is keen on reclaiming the supposedly lost rights of Sabah. Another is screaming the slogan “Sabahan for Sabahans”. Most are just silent.

These are mere empty shouts if the opposition parties cannot sit down to map out the purpose of their opposition to the BN state government to date. Looks like they, each in their own way, desire power, want to take over the government, dream of being the Chief Minister but devoid of means to achieve their unity of purpose.

Opposition lacks a defined political philosophy: I dare say that no Sabahan knows the opposition parties’ political philosophy for they themselves do not know it too. The simple truth is they do not have one.

Without an agreed political philosophy, it is like a high-rise building without a foundation to support it.

Thus, any political agreement among the opposition parties can only be temporary and haphazard or “hit or miss”. All successful political parties in countries like USA, Australia, Singapore, China have very distinctive political philosophies. They may be very different but they serve to give direction, as political beacons to the voters – like USA and China. The opposition party in Sabah must agree on some form of political philosophy, as it can be the missing link that will unite them. Without it, any union among them is like jumping into a marriage for the sake of the general election with divorce being imminent.

Opposition lacks unity of modus operandi: If they have the aforementioned two items, they must also have unity of modus operandi or “operation arrangement”. Without this unity, the unity of purpose and philosophy will be rendered useless for there will be no capacity and system for implementation. The core problem of modus operandi in a “too many parties” opposition is the distribution of authority and power. I would not be surprised that these opposition parties will squabble and scramble for positions even before the general election.

What will be the decision-making structure for the opposition to function effectively? For example, who will have the final say on the selection of candidates in the next general election? How will discipline be enforced?

Opposition lacks unity of economic vision: This is the most worrying prospect from a fragmented Sabah opposition. Sabah’s economy is relative smooth now in the context of prevailing global uncertainties.

We are at sensitive times nationally and internationally. Great care must be taken to manage the economy.

We need a steady, deftly leader with a clear vision to lead. Any impractical policies or bad decision will produce undesirable, dire consequences. If the opposition wants to win, they must give us their economic vision and policies. They cannot expect Sabahan voters to consider giving their mandate with eyes closed.

Opposition lacks unity of leadership. Bearing in mind the old saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” as it is very applicable in the political context. A multi-party opposition without a leader is bad enough.

A government without a real leader is disastrous. Sabah cannot afford such a political scenario.

In is a political “hood-wink” to say that all the leaders in opposition can be equal partners. It does not work like this in reality especially when there are diverse political philosophies, personal agenda. Some parties don’t even have a coherent action plan.

On top of all these are the frequent breakups of “political unions”, “political coalitions”, “political fronts” and “frog culture” of jumping from one party to another. The Sabah opposition has a poor record of consistency.

Who among the presidents of opposition parties have the quality of leadership, the charisma to lead, the personality appeal that can cut across racial/religious lines? Will the other party presidents be prepared to play second fiddle? Opposition lacks unity of core values: By core values, I mean noble values like nation building, ideals to unite the people, uplift their quality of life, enhancement of family values. There is a general lack of core values among political parties in Malaysia and Sabah. Too many parties have narrow religious and/or racial values. Broader core values are missing. There are too many politicians who have joined politics for selfish intention and interest. Core values are not important to them. It would be a plus point if the opposition politicians can show they can be exhibit some worthy core values for the voters to consider.

In addition to all the above, which leader in opposition has the necessary management, administrative, financial skills and moral creditability to be the chief minister of Sabah. The days when any leader can do the job are long gone for in the past, revenue from timber was easy to come by and voters were less discerning.

Log the trees and there was revenue. Sabah’s economy has become much more sophisticated, diversified with value added activities in the last 10 years. How will they assure us that the present economy will not be affected adversely? What will happen to the state reserve of more than RM4 billions which has been carefully accumulated in the last 10 years? Will they be able to manage and maintain the profitability of all the GLCs?

Can they maintain the present 5-star rating of the Auditor General in the state government departments and agencies? Most frightening is – can he stop a “free all” self- enrichment scramble?

The onus is for the opposition parties to prove that they can offer a better deal. If they can, please show the voters what it is. Much work remains to be done by the opposition parties to achieve some form of a coherent political arrangement. Time is running short. If the opposition parties cannot combine together within the next few months, it is likely that they won’t be an effective opposition in the coming general election.

Lastly, in the interest of all Sabahans, I request the leaders of all political parties to adopt a practical approach which can serve our state well. Don’t resort to personal attacks, rowdiness by paid thugs, emotional outbursts, racial and religious politics like in W Malaysia. Politics is W Malaysia is a lost cause with no direction and purpose.

It is dirty politics. We should reject the W Malaysian type of politics. Don’t allow politics to destroy our peace and harmony. Please stick to competing on offering Sabahans better quality of leadership, a better deal, a superior economic vision, better future for us and our children.

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