Sabah incursion puts off polls talk

by Lim Sue Goan, translated by Soong Phui Jee

The downside for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to drag the general election until the very last minute is, once an emergency emerges, there will be no room to maneuver. Unfortunately, the recent deadly standoff in Sabah has brought the BN some unavoidable election variables.

A colleague asked me that whether the intrusion of Sulu Army in Sabah would benefit the BN as the people might be feared of the intrusion and choose to stay together to face the common enemy by voting for the BN, or would it bring an opposite result?

In history, many governments had indeed made use of enemy threats to foster people’s support. For instance, former US President George W. Bush encountered the 911 terrorist attack when he was in the office and the people could only support his anti-terrorism wars out of fear.

The Sulu Army intrusion, however, has not threatened the security of the entire country and the atmosphere is not dignified, as the ruling and alternative coalitions still have mood to indulge in mutual accusation. From the methods used by the authorities to deal with the problem, they can hardly set off an atmosphere to make the people share the same hatred and fight against the common enemy. The BN’s propaganda mechanism does not have such ability either.

Therefore, whether the intrusion in Sabah would affect the election depends on the evolution of the situation. If the standoff can be ended quickly by annihilating and arresting the intruders, it can still earn some credits for the BN, at least the people of Sabah would think that the security forces have the ability to defend the safety of Sabah.

If the standoff continues and news about security forces being ambushed can still be heard from time to time, it will then affect the Sabah people’s lives, economy and tourism, causing the people of Sabah to live in fear.

Even worse, if terrorists in southern Philippines sneak into Sabah and launch destruction attacks for retaliation, the country will then have to bear a long-term high cost of security, including the deployment of additional military personnel and strengthening the coastal defence of Sabah. The consequences will be devastating.

Since members of the Sulu Army are detected in three places, it is very likely that some gunmen have infiltrated into rural areas. It takes some time to completely annihilate them.

It is frustrating that the attitude of the Filipino Government is not tough enough. The country’s Justice Secretary Leila de Lima even said that the Filipino Government is considering bringing the territorial claim of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah before an international tribunal.

Therefore, if the intrusion was properly addressed since the outset, including demonstrating outstanding leadership and crisis management capabilities, it could earn some credits for the BN. But now, they can only reduce mistakes and clean up the mess.

Originally, after four years of deployment, including the introduction of a variety of 1Malaysia programmes, Najib meant to create a better feeling among voters. The deadly standoff in Sabah, however, has diverted the attention of all, exacerbated discontentment and almost wasted all efforts of the BN.

The BN may accuse Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of involving in the incident, but it depends on personal judgement whether to believe it or not.

The standoff might also disrupt the general election’s timetable. The election is expected to fall in mid-April according to the original plan. However, if the standoff continues, BN leaders would not have time to sit down and discuss on the election. They can only leave the Parliament to automatically dissolve when its term ends on 28 April.

How are they going to conduct election campaign in Sabah if it is not safe? How would voters dare to come out and vote? Therefore, a large number of military personnel has been deployed to Sabah with the hope to end the standoff as soon as possible.

The Sulu Army intrusion has also taught us a lesson: Precise calculation is impossible in politics and sometimes, unexpected events can take place.


This article first appeared on mysinchew.com and the views expressed are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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