THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

The Federal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur was the first international-class hotel to be built in Malaysia — then called the Federation of Malaya. It was, in fact, built purposely for the Merdeka (Independence) celebrations and opened for business just three days before Merdeka of 31st August 1957.

It was said that Low Yat, a rags-to-riches junk dealer turned millionaire, built the hotel at the request of the First Prime Minister of independent Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Stories were told about how Yow Yat used to cycle around Kuala Lumpur collecting old bottles, and thereafter made his millions from his humble beginnings.

Such was life in Malaya in those days when you could become rich without screwing the rakyat’s money. And the Tunku never rewarded Low Yat for his ‘national service’ like the Chinese tycoons of today are when they go to bed with Umno. I suppose, being the sentimental person that I am, that is what I miss most about Malaysia.

And here, at the Federal Hotel, was where I first met Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, ironically, to discuss the Merdeka of Sabah from federal rule.

I had earlier that day received a phone call from Mutalib M.D. who told me that Dr Jeffrey was in town and that he would like to meet me for dinner. I told Mutalib that I would agree to have dinner with one of the most illustrious sons of Sabah only if I could play host and pay for the dinner. I suppose I felt I had a certain bond with Dr Jeffrey who spent a stint under ISA detention for fighting for the independence of his homeland from federal ‘occupation’.

I was certainly most honoured plus curious that a man of his stature would want to meet me so that evening my wife and I went over to meet the delegation of three from Sabah for dinner in the Bintang Revolving Lounge on the rooftop of the Federal Hotel. The dinner conversation was mostly small talk and chitchat but after dinner we adjourned for coffee where the more important discussion of the night was conducted.

Dr Jeffrey told me that he was meeting Anwar Ibrahim the following day about him joining PKR but he did not totally trust Anwar and he thought I might be able to give him some pointers on how he should handle the negotiations with Anwar. Dr Jeffrey did not want to walk into the ‘lion’s den’, so to speak, unless armed with the knowledge on what to expect. Isn’t this what Sun Tsu also said, know your enemy? And the fact that Dr Jeffrey regarded Anwar as such speaks volumes about what the former thought of the latter.

I told Dr Jeffrey what little I know of Anwar and about my opinion and impression of the kind of political animal that Anwar is. Not everything I said about Anwar was complementary, I must admit, but my purpose was not to play the role of public relations officer for Anwar but to prepare Dr Jeffrey on what to expect and how he would have to handle Anwar.

Dr Jeffrey’s own opinion and impression of Anwar was not too far a departure from mine, though. His main reservation was that Anwar was just going to use him to gain a foothold into Sabah and that there might be another agenda up Anwar’s sleeve. Dr Jeffrey also lamented that Anwar was the culprit who had brought Umno into Sabah and that the current dilemma facing Sabah was actually Anwar’s doing. Anwar, therefore, is more the disease rather than the cure, as far as Dr Jeffrey was concerned.

Dr Jeffrey’s primary concern was regarding Anwar’s Islamic agenda and whether Anwar had changed much from the old days when the Islamic card was used as the vehicle to bring down the ‘Christian’ government of Sabah. Dr Jeffrey was also concerned that Anwar may not share the aspiration of the Sabah people in seeing the 20-Point Agreement honoured and implemented.

Federalisation was being viewed as a backdoor colonisation of Sabah and most Sabah politicians want more self-rule and a degree of autonomy. This was supposed to be the spirit of the 20-Point Agreement (or the 18-Point Agreement of Sarawak) but would Anwar agree to what the Sabahans wanted? That was the crux to the whole matter and what would have to be thrashed out in the meeting with Anwar the following day.

I told Dr Jeffrey that I had met a few of the Umno Sabah leaders and they had expressed exactly the same sentiments. When I asked them why then were they still in Umno, they replied that they were in Umno mainly because Umno was in power. However, they hoped that Ummo could be defeated so that, one day, Sabah would gain real independence.

Yes, what an irony, even the Umno Sabah leaders want to see Umno ousted from Sabah.

They did not mind still being part of Malaysia but they resented being treated as just one of the 13 states of Malaysia, at par with the 11 states of Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung). Sabah and Sarawak are not at par with the 11 states of Semenanjung but should instead be at par with Malaya, a Federation of 11 sates created on 31st August 1957.

I told Dr Jeffrey that I totally agree with this sentiment and therefore he should press this point home in his meeting with Anwar the following day. If Anwar is prepared to commit himself to the 20-Point Agreement (and the 18-Point Agreement for Sarawak), and if Anwar can assure him he would not further his Islamic agenda, then Dr Jeffrey may have himself a deal. That would mean, in short, that Anwar should not press for a Muslim to head PKR Sabah (plus Sarawak, of course).

Things appeared to have worked fine for a while and the fact that Dr Jeffrey did join PKR and headed PKR Sabah in the beginning is testimony to this. But the honeymoon did not last very long. And this is what Dr Jeffrey and I was concerned about. We both suspected that Anwar was not really interested in strengthened the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak but had another agenda in mind.

This suspicion was not something new but already existed since Anwar was first released from jail in 2004. And this was confirmed last year when Wikileaks released a report that quoted Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (Pak Lah) as saying that Anwar wanted to rejoin Umno but Umno would not accept him. The Wikileaksreport was regarding a cable from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to Washington detailing the discussion they had with Pak Lah concerning the matter.

The meeting between Anwar and Pak Lah was arranged by the Sarawak Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, and was held in Pak Lah’s house in Kepala Batas on the second day of Hari Raya that same year. The close links between Anwar and the Sarawak Chief Minister is further confirmed by the recent helicopter crash that took the lives of three people, the PKR Sarawak leader included. The helicopter is owned by Dato Sng Chee Hua, the same man who set up the meeting between Anwar and Taib.

Hence the most unfortunate deaths a few days ago just strengthens this suspicion even further, that is if the photograph of Anwar, Pak Lah and Taib sitting at the same table in Kepala Batas is not proof enough.

Signs that things were not working out surfaced about two years ago. One incident was the attempt to remove Baru Bian as the head of PKR Sarawak and replace him with a Muslim. There was a revolt for a few days, and when Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak closed down as a mark of protest, Anwar relented and did a U-turn.

Anwar did the same thing in Sabah earlier, which triggered a conflict between Dr Jeffrey and Kuala Lumpur. This was what Borneo Review reported in February 2009:

Dr Jeffrey Kitingan’s ultimatum to Anwar Ibrahim revealed

There are four proposals which contain numerous points of highest relevance to Sabah, its future, and hence Malaysia’s future:

1. Understand that the problem in PKR Sabah is not about the appointment of Thamrin Jaini as PPN (Pengerusi Perhubungan Negeri) but much more. It has to do with how the Party is being run by remote control from KL through proxy leadership and how decisions are made without practicing the Party philosophy of Justice and Democracy.

The Party in Sabah has been run much like UMNO is running Sabah UMNO except worse – at least UMNO trusts the Sabahans.

DSAI’s (Anwar) attitude towards Sabah is the same as his old UMNO attitude. Race and religion still cloud his mind and perception. This has to change!

2. To improve Sabah PKR and permanently solve the Sabah PKR problems, the following must take place:-

(a) Let there be autonomous PKR Sabah and PKR Sarawak.

(b) The leadership of PKR Sabah should be elected by the members/delegates in Sabah.

(c) The management and operations of PKR Sabah should be left to the elected leadership guided by the same national PKR facts and philosophies but focussing on local issues, etc…

(d) There should be a consistent chain of command and leadership relationships between national leaders and state leaders for coordination and operating purposes (it is shown in a chart Dr J gave to Anwar but not made available in this blogsite for space constraints).

(e) The current situation should be reorganised to maintain stability before further changes are made.

3. The National leadership should take the necessary steps and commitment to effect the above.

4. The TAMBUNAN DECLARATION must be adopted publicly by the Party.

5. A National IGC Review Committee should be established to examine and monitor the compliance of the Malaysia Agreement and the 20 Points.

However, things just got from bad to worse and in January 2011 Dr Jeffrey resigned from PKR.

Dr Jeffrey has not talked much about his differences with Anwar but those close to him are very bitter about the whole matter and allege that Anwar is acting just like Umno with absolutely no regards for the sentiments and feeling of Sabahans. That is basically their main bone of contention.

They say Anwar has no desire in building PKR in Sabah and Sarawak and that his game plan is to woo the current crop of Members of Parliament from BN to jump ship and join PKR. In other words, Anwar does not plan to win the elections in Sabah and Sarawak. He wants to ‘steal’ the Barisan Nasional Wakil Rakyat after the next general election and form the government via crossovers.

Dr Jeffrey, of course, is opposed to this because it would merely be old wine in a new bottle and there would be no guarantee of loyalty. As Perak had proven: if you could buy Barisan Nasional Wakil Rakyat that would mean they are for sale and hence it would also mean that Barisan Nasional could always buy them back at a higher price. Hence Dr Jeffrey told Anwar he is not prepared under any circumstances to accept these Barisan Nasional turncoats. That basically put a spanner in Anwar’s works.

Dr Jeffrey is quite upset that Anwar is currently engaged in negotiations with a few Barisan Nasional leaders about the possibility of them jumping after the next general election. This would mean the opposition would have to ‘give way’ to these people and allow them to win the elections. That would be one issue. The second would be: what if after they win they change their minds and decide not to jump after all because Barisan Nasional has counter-offered a higher price?

The thing is they will not be jumping to the opposition now, before the general election. They will only be jumping after the general election and after they have won their seats. And the opposition would have to help them win these seats, which is very risky. Hence Dr Jeffrey is violently opposed to the idea and has told Anwar so in no uncertain terms.

Anwar knows he is going to have huge problem with Dr Jeffrey so he is using Ansari Abdullah to check Dr Jeffrey. Hence it has now become a Muslim leader versus a Christian leader issue. Anwar is telling them that a Muslim and not a Christian must lead the opposition in Sabah, although the Muslims are not the majority in Sabah (or in Sarawak).

Talk on the ground is that Ansari is being financially-backed by the Chief Minister, Musa Aman, through his brother, Anifah, who is also closely linked to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. With Najib’s nominee in Sabah, Anifah Aman, and Anifah’s brother, Chief Minister Musa, all playing a role behind the scenes, is Ansari working for Anwar or for Najib?

That is what Dr Jeffrey’s people are asking. Or is everyone in the same team? This is a new ‘Sabah mystery’ that may be answered after the next general election. But then is this not what Machiavellian politics is all about, leaving the battle lines blurred?

Anwar is not just talking to the Umno Sabah leaders. He is also talking to those in SPDP and PRS, as well as those in Taib’s PBB party. And this has infuriated the Sarawak Chief Minister who suspects that Anwar is trying to do a dirty on him. Taib’s other concern is that this may end up as Umno’s backdoor entry into Sarawak, something he has been resisting for a long time but may now be possible if Anwar has another deal with Umno up his sleeve. What a suspicious person Old Man Taib is?

Of course, if Anwar can pull this off this is going to be the greatest political coup in Malaysian history. But it is an extremely dangerous game that can backfire and blow up in Anwar’s face. And for this to work Anwar has to sacrifice the opposition in Sabah and Sarawak, in particular PKR. But the end result would be Pakatan Rakyat would get to form the next federal government with Anwar as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, while Anwar is trying to ‘buy’ the elections, in particular the kingmakers from Sabah and Sarawak that Barisan Nasional calls their ‘fixed deposit’, Umno has not been idle either. They too are seeing whom from amongst the Pakatan Rakyat people they can buy. And meetings are being held between Umno and those in Pakatan Rakyat who are prepared to jump, but for a generous price.

But then maybe I should reserve this as another story for another time. Or maybe I should just keep quiet and let it happen and then write a story that starts with: I told you so.

Would it not be funny if both Anwar and Najib succeed in their shopping spree and both sides manage to buy people from the other side and we end up with status quo? That would certainly be most funny indeed. Everyone would end up where they started. And I, for one, will be laughing the loudest because I will be shouting ‘I told you so’.