Recent disclosures of Malay voters in the Sepanggar constituency being offered RM500 each to change their voting address has raised eyebrows in the Sabah Umno circle.
KOTA KINABALU: Extraordinary things are happening in Sabah as the 13th general election looms. The old methods of splitting voters to establish communal enclaves that benefited the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition are now coming under further scrutiny by its own leaders.
Reports that opposition-held areas here are being “re-populated” to change the voter demographics, a popular tactic that has got by with a wink and a nudge in the past, has curiously alarmed certain Umno leaders who have called for an investigation.
This is the second time in recent months that the issue has received blanket exposure in the media. In September, the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) blew the whistle on a shady voter registration drive here that it alleged was recruiting voters into the city.
The party said it had stumbled on the exercise to re-register voters from other constituencies as Kota Kinabalu residents to enable them to be voters in the Api-Api constituency.
While SAPP’s disclosure didn’t raise eyebrows, last week’s whistle-blowing by two Sabah Umno leaders of the underhand tactic has.
Sepanggar Umno chief Jumat Idris urged the police and Election Commission to investigate allegation of a political syndicate offering RM500 cash to Malay voters in Sepanggar parliamentary constituency to change their voting address to neighbouring Kota Kinabalu parliamentary constituency.
“I believe this could be an attempt to reduce the Malay majority in Sepanggar,” he said, adding that Malay voters comprised more than 54% of the total voters in Sepanggar parliamentary constituency.
Jumat, who is also Sepanggar BN co-ordinating chairman, said many Malay voters in Telipok Ria, Kampung Warisan, Likas and Inanam came to see him to report that a group of Chinese were going round making the offer of RM500 as well as bags of rice, water tanks and even laptops, to entice the voters to change their address.
He said he was told that the group has an operation base in Likas Square and an NGO office. His allegation apparently matches the allegation by SAPP, which also lodged a police report calling for an investigation on the matter.
Jumat’s exposé was followed by another Sabah Umno leader who is upset by what up to now has been a routine BN election procedure.
On Friday, Karambunai assembly representative Jainab Ahmad also raised the alarm about a shadowy group offering Sepanggar voters money to change their voting constituency to Kota Kinabalu.
Jainab, whose constituency is among the two state seats in Sepanggar parliamentary constituency and whose voter base is being whittled, said she had also been given the same information.
She claimed that there had been a “sudden rush” in the number of people changing their address from Sepanggar to various parts of Kota Kinabalu at the National Registration Department (NRD).
She said she had no problem if the people wanted to change the constituency but it was not right for them just to do so after being enticed.
“We are disappointed because all this while we have been looking after them but out of a sudden they are no longer our voters,” said Jainab, who is Sepanggar Umno Wanita chief.
The beneficiary of all this is senior BN official and Deputy Chief Minister Dr Yee Moh Chai, who is with Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and is the Api-Api state assemblyman.
So why are Umno leaders attacking their own bedfellows?
According to sources who requested anonymity, the Sabah Umno leaders are concerned that their voter base is being diluted to prop up a leader and a coalition partner that has fallen on hard times.
That brings into focus the uneasy marriage of convenience between Sabah Umno and PBS. It is well known that there is little love lost between the supporters of the two parties.
Somewhere in this political intrigue is Chief Minister Musa Aman’s hand as any transfer of voters from an Umno stronghold would need his approval. Yee and his minders would not dare to make such an audacious voter grab without his overt backing.
His rivals within Sabah Umno are also aware that their leader is attempting to outmanoeuvre them to shore up flailing support for him within his own party.
It’s a dangerous political game, but by helping to prop up his deputy from PBS, Musa will both weaken his rivals in Umno and gain personal favour from a coalition member and Yee in particular.
SAPP’s Api-Api area leader, Wong Yit Ming, has openly accused Yee of being the “mastermind” behind the voters’ relocation scheme, which has also alarmed others in the BN coalition wary of PBS becoming too strong at their expense.
The Chinese community, according to sources, are also distressed by what they see as a campaign by a Chinese leader to disenfranchise them in what is now a Chinese-dominated constituency.
By “altering” the Chinese voter demography, Yee stands a better chance of retaining his seat in the coming general election, said SAPP’s Wong. Observers say Yee has realised that he can no longer depend on the Chinese vote.
In the last general election in 2008, Yee narrowly defeated his main opponent, Christina Liew of PKR by just 174 votes.
Breaching election laws
Meanwhile, Jumat and Jainab are not standing by and are out to stop any BN coalition member from stealing their voters.
“We urge the police to investigate who are these people and what are their intentions. I urge the Election Commission to investigate the matter because it contravenes the election laws,” said Jumat, adding that he advised Bumiputera voters in Sepanggar not to be enticed by the offer because “it smells fishy”.
He warned those who were out to make a quick buck by changing their residential address to Kota Kinabalu although still residing in Sepanggar that they would be facing problem in the future.
“They will no longer receive priority from Sepanggar BN in terms of service,” both he and Jainab warned.
Coincidentally,Yee and Jainab share the same office. Yee is Resources Development and Information Technology Minister while Jainab is Resources and Information Technology Assistant Minister.