LAST Thursday, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad told reporters at a function that he was still undecided whether to contest in the 14th General Election (GE14).
The Pakatan Harapan pro-tem chairman and former prime minister said he would only consider doing it if there was a pressing need as he believed there were many “capable candidates” to represent the pact.
However, two days later, at a separate event, he was quoted as saying that he had not ruled out contesting in Pekan, the stronghold of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, sending a signal of a direct fight against the top leadership of the Barisan Nasional government.
While Dr Mahathir felt that it might work for him in the peninsula, his “Malays will only vote for Malay parties” approach would not resonate well with people in Sabah and Sarawak.
Thus, support for him in this region remains questionable.
For one, the demographics of Sabah and Sarawak, which have Bumiputeras instead of Malays, are different due to a large ethnic diversity. Therefore, race-based political segregation is not played up in the two states.
Political analysts here believe Dr Mahathir’s statement only depicts Malays in a stagnant position, and seems like a step back for all the political developments in this country.
“Race is still within the structure of Malaysian politics due to the nature of our social fabric.
“But if we totally buy into the statement by Dr Mahathir, it shows that the Malays have not changed despite many sociological changes taking place around them,” said Universiti Malaysia Sabah academician Dr Zaini Othman, who heads the university’s Strategic Security Research Centre.
Malaysian society was also beginning to embrace the socio-political activities beyond their primordial sentiments, he said.
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak political scientist Dr Arnold Puyok said voting according to ethnicity was demographic-dependent, as racial appeal might not be a deciding factor in a heterogeneous area.
State-based opposition Parti Warisan Sabah (PWS) said Sabah folk had a certain “distrust” of Dr Mahathir.
Its deputy president, Darell Leiking, who is Penampang member of parliament, wondered if Dr Mahathir realised that some might even “hate” him for his previous “administrative handling” of the state.
He also said the political thinking based on race, as Dr Mahathir is championing for his party, took away the more serious and real issues faced by voters.
“I guess what Dr Mahathir is echoing or reflecting is the political model and voting pattern of the past. It should be about fair education, fair economic distribution, bread and butter issues and the quest for justice for all Malaysians,” Leiking said.
He added that people should not fall victim to political leaders, who wanted to cling on to power by using race as a tool.
“Sabahans were never segregated or divided, but nowadays, more people are becoming racially-charged due to the trust deficit between themselves.
“Although many will deny it, it is apparent that there are those who feel all right to talk about distrust between races. And without realising it, the public seems to be accepting race-based politics as a norm, whereas it has never been one in Sabah at all.
“There was a time when Sabahans identified themselves as Sabahans, and not of this and that ethnicity. That has always been our uniqueness,” said Leiking, adding that this was what PWS was striving for.
KRISTY INUS, a staff correspondent for the NST Sabah bureau, is open to experiencing new things and adventures. She recently embraced the Muay Thai training as a lifestyle.