By : MD IZWAN AND IDA LIM
KUALA LUMPUR : Putrajaya’s all-out strike on Tuesday to flush out Sulu militants entrenched in Sabah’s east coast may help the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition hold on to power in Election 2013, several political observers say.
But the military’s air and ground assaults, 24 days after a 200-strong group of armed Filipinos invaded the north Borneo state — long regarded a BN safe deposit — could also swing the other way, depending on the government’s follow-up response, two academics told The Malaysian Insider.
“There is no reason why Sabah voters would not want to renew the support (for BN),” said Dr Arnold Puyok, a political analyst based in Kota Kinabalu.
“That’s what the people of Sabah wanted from the very beginning,” he said, of Putrajaya’s show of muscle on Tuesday, after three weeks of negotiations failed to stir the insurgents into leaving the state peacefully.
The university lecturer believed the bombing would “rebuild public confidence” towards the BN government.
He said Sabahans were initially unhappy with the government as it had seemed indecisive because of the delay in taking tough action against the foreigners whom they saw as posing a real threat to their safety and Malaysia’s sovereignty.
But he said the anger has gradually subsided, and many Sabahans were now “praising the sacrifice made by the security forces”.
“Najib going all out to defuse the threats posed by the insurgents has restored public confidence a bit,” Puyok said.
“They want the BN and the opposition to stop politicising the issue and to focus on defeating the intruders. They believe Sabah’s security and sovereignty are at stake and it is the responsibility of the elected leaders to do something — either from the opposition or the BN,” he said.
“Sabahans fully support government’s well-considered decision to attack intruders to protect sovereignty and independence of our nation,” said Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, who is also Sabah Legislative Assembly Speaker and the state Umno Deputy Chief.
But Salleh was swift to add that the ruling party was not taking political advantage of the conflict and urged all parties against politicising the situation.
“The people will be united and fully behind the government and prime minister who gives top priority to protect security and stability of Sabah,” he said.
Pulai MP Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said he did not think the bombardment would affect voter support towards the BN, although he acknowledged that “the firmness shown was crucial, it was so the confidence and trust in the BN would not be jeopardised.”
Other political scientists monitoring the situation unfolding in Sabah said that strong feelings of dissatisfaction towards the BN remain despite the military shelling to smoke out the gunmen.
When Sabahans are angry they will look for leaders that can give them peace. Universiti Putra Malaysia professor Dr Jayum A. Jawan
Dr Faisal Hazis, a Kuching-based political scientist, said the feelings of insecurity along Sabah’s restive east coast could cause a 'backlash' owing to the BN government’s past policies in the state.
He highlighted Malaysia’s poor security patrol along the state’s porous borders, which coupled with its previous soft stand on foreigners, had resulted in a flood of illegals into Sabah, and which appears to have been worsened by 'Project IC', a highly-controversial policy made during the Mahathir administration in which citizenship was granted to migrants who entered the country through dubious means.
“There is a general feeling that this is a timebomb waiting to happen — soft policies to Filipinos, ‘Project IC’ and the inability of security forces to have much strong presence in Sabah waters.
“It happened and it affected the Sabah people. This could affect BN’s popularity,” Faisal said.
He foresees three electoral outcomes from undecided voters in Sabah based on the recent government action.
The first group of voters who feel anger at the poor handling of the conflict would choose to vote against the BN, he said, while a second group of voters who were angry at the delayed action but prized national security may still vote for the coalition.
The third group would be those happy with the government’s crisis management, they would vote the BN in the coming election, the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak lecturer said.
For Universiti Putra Malaysia professor Dr Jayum A. Jawan, the swing factor for BN would depend on how Sabah voters feel.
He warned that the situation now was “most dangerous for the BN”.
“When Sabahans are angry they will look for leaders that can give them peace,” he said.
“The situation now is uncomfortable, this anger will be carried until elections later.” (TMI)