KOTA KINABALU: March 30, 2008 By MUGUNTAN VANAR
Barisan Nasional leaders in Sabah feel they have delivered the seats to the party. Now, it's time to collect.
Sabah and Sarawak hold 54 of the 140 seats Barisan won in the general election and the Sabah MPs now want a bigger say.
They are likely to ask for more political autonomy and an increase in political representation in the Federal Government when they meet the Prime Minister soon.
The planned meeting between Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Sabah's Barisan leaders has been touted as “an unprecedented chance” to start a new chapter in the relationship between the East Malaysian state and Peninsular Malaysia.
Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Yong Teck Lee described Abdullah’s planned dialogues with Sabah assemblymen and MPs as a “great idea”.
He added that the talks could open a new chapter in Sabah’s participation in the national mainstream political scenario.
“We have to go beyond the recent election manifesto and the usual ‘let’s work together’ talk,” he said, adding that the focus should be on summing up the most urgent and serious issues affecting the state and press for urgent implementation.
“For a start, political autonomy should be enhanced so that Sabah can manage its own affairs,
“At the same time, Sabah needs increased representation at the federal mainstream, be it political (Cabinet), administrative (civil service) or the economic and social aspects of the country,” he added.
Sabah Barisan secretary Datuk Karim Bujang hopes that Abdullah will be able to see a lot of things from the ground during his dialogue.
“We hope he gets a clearer picture of what Sabah’s people are really thinking of.”
Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup said a consensus on the priorities of Sabah would be more efficiently conveyed if the state Barisan holds a meeting before the dialogue.
Sabah Umno assistant secretary Datuk Masidi Manjun said an interactive dialogue was a good opportunity for the state leaders to put through their thoughts on what exactly Sabah wants in the current political scenario.
“We are not pushy but at the same time we want the Prime Minister to hear us out,” he added.
Although the Chief Minister’s Department said they have yet to be informed when Abdullah will be in Sabah, they expect it anytime.
Even as the state leaders are planning for talks with the Prime Minister, six other Sabah Umno leaders met with the Prime Minister in Putrajaya yesterday to discuss grassroots feelings in the state.
The Umno leaders, including two MPs and an assemblyman, were invited for a breakfast meeting.
They were Datuk Ghapur Salleh, who resigned as deputy minister of natural resources and environment, Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Raden and Pantai Manis assemblyman Datuk Abdul Rahim Ismail, who was dropped as state agriculture minister from the Cabinet of Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman.
The others were former Kota Belud MP Datuk Salleh Tun Said, who is also president of United Sabah Bajau Organisation (Usbo), and former Tempasuk assemblyman Tan Sri Pandikar Amin, who is Usbo secretary-general, as well as dropped MP Datuk Sr Yusof Yacob. The three of them were not fielded in the recent general election.
All were reluctant to discuss what transpired during the discussion.
It is understood that the Prime Minister was interested in finding out the feelings on the ground and if there was a sense of restlessness among Sabah Barisan leaders and coalition supporters.
Rahim, the Papar Umno division chief, said: “It was like a father-and-sons meeting. We just discussed the current situation.”
Ghapur, meanwhile, said he explained his reasons for his resignation and they discussed the current political situation in general.
Ghapur resigned from Abdullah’s line-up eight days after taking up his appointment while Musa’s brother Datuk Anifah Aman, the MP for Kimanis, rejected outright the deputy transport minister portfolio.
Following Ghapur’s resignation and Anifah’s rejection of the appointment, there have been calls for bigger representation in the Cabinet with more key and full minister portfolios for Sabah leaders.
Others who have called for better representation in the Federal Government were SAPP president Yong and Upko chief Tan Sri Bernard Dompok.
Dompok, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said there was a need for more serious reflection of the mandate of the people of Sabah for the Barisan.