Francis Loh reviews Aliran Monthly’s coverage of the two states in the tumultuous period from the 1980s until the present.
Right from the beginning, Aliran Monthly made special efforts to address and highlight issues pertaining to Sabah and Sarawak, because we strongly believe that Malaysians in Semenanjung ought to be better informed of their fellow Malaysians in north Borneo.
In this regard, our efforts benefited from active and informed Aliran members in those two states, plus a few individuals from Semenanjung who had developed a special interests in Sabah and Sarawak.
The AM is proud that we investigated and published not a few articles that highlighted the political crisis in Sabah, which first resulted in the ousting of the BN-Berjaya state government by a newly formed Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) in 1985.
This, in turn, caused the BN to resort to all kinds of measures – street demonstrations, the use of the ISA and arrests, the wooing over of opposition state assembly members, the establishment of Umno in Sabah, the buying of voters with development promises, the use of phantom voters and the redelineation of boundaries with the cooperation of the SPR – to recover power, which finally occurred in 1994.
At a time when the new IT and electronic media were still very much in their infancy, and therefore no alternative media were in existence to speak of, AM reports boldly challenged the mainstream reporting of developments in the two states. The AM first reported: ‘Why Berjaya lost’ written by our members in Sabah. A follow-up piece was ‘Kemiskinan di Sabah’ by Ibnu Abbas (vol 5 nos 6 and 11, 1985).
‘Sabah: A threat to our democracy’ (vol 6 no 4, 1986) was a special issue dedicated to the BN’s attempts to destabilise and seize power from the PBS government, which had displaced them at the polls. The ‘ISA arrests in Sabah’ by the wives of the detainees was reported in vol 10 no 6, 1990; while Francis Loh raised important questions about the design and practice of federalism in ‘Is ‘Sabah: One of 13 or one of 3’ of the component parts of Malaysia (vol 10 no 8, 1990).
The same author then reported ‘Umno goes to Sabah’ in vol 11 no 4, 1991, while in a special issue of the AM (‘The 20 Points and Federal-state relations’), articles by Francis Loh as well as by James Ongkili and Pengiran Othman Rauf all argued for greater decentralisation and autonomy for Sabah (vol 12 no 11, 1992).
As the 1994 state elections approached, the AM reported ‘Sabah goes to the polls: Who will be the next CM?’ (vol 14, no 1, 1994). In the aftermath of that election, the article ‘Probing the larger issues’ (vol 14 no 2, 1994) analysed why the PBS’s previous comfortable majority had turned wafer-thin. And after several PBS assembly members crossed over to enable the BN to displace the PBS in Sabah, Anil Netto wrote; ‘What about the voters’ mandate?’ (vol 14 no 3, 1994).
Francis Loh’s ‘Sabah State Elections, 1999’ analysed how Sabah Umno easily won the election with the monetary, media and party machinery backing of their federal counterparts, not to mention the gerrymandering of the Sabah electoral system and the widespread presence of phantom voters (vol 19 no 3, 1999).
Prior to the 2004 federal elections, G Lim wrote ‘Sabah: All quiet on the eastern front?’ (vol 23 no 7, 2003). A second piece by the same author was ‘Sabah: the more things stay the same, the more they change…’ (vol 28 no 3, 2008). In yet another article, ‘Sabah: truly Malaysia’ (vol 25 no 4, 2005), he zeroed in on the problem of poverty in the state and called for more development allocations for the state if Kuala Lumpur seriously wanted to promote greater integration with the peninsula.