Illegal immigration a hot-button issue in crucial Sabah by-election

Illegal immigration a hot-button issue in crucial Sabah by-election

Kimanis Sabah
Polling for Kimanis by-election will take place on Jan 18, 2020. (Photo: Bernama)

KIMANIS, Sabah: The issue of illegal immigrants has taken centre stage in the Kimanis by-election in the northern Borneo state, as voters head to the polls on Saturday (Jan 18).

The state government’s Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS) project, set to be rolled out on Jun 1 to replace the existing permits for long-staying foreigners, has become a hot button issue, with both sides of the political divide hoping that it can help to swing votes in their favour.

The by-election will see a straight fight between Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) candidate Karim Bujang and Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Mohamad Alamin.

It was triggered by the unseating of the incumbent Member of Parliament Anifah Aman after the Election Court nullified his victory in the May 2018 general election.

Mr Anifah, formerly with United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was Malaysia’s foreign minister until May 2018.

He had defeated Mr Karim, a former assemblyman, by a mere 156 votes.

While a poll by think-tank Ilham Centre has predicted a Warisan victory, former prime minister Najib Razak, who is campaigning on the ground for the BN candidate, was unfazed by the survey results.

“Like the Tanjung Piai by-election, there was also research saying that Pakatan Harapan (PH) would win, but the results proved otherwise. BN won with a huge majority,” he said, according to the Star.

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Located on the west coast of Sabah, Kimanis is about two hours away from state capital Kota Kinabalu.

Of the 29,664 registered voters, slightly more than half – 52 per cent – of the constituents are Muslim bumiputra, while 41 per cent are non-Muslim natives. The remaining 6 per cent are Chinese and other ethnicities.

While the Kimanis by-election will not significantly alter the party composition of the Malaysian parliament, it is seen as a yardstick of the public satisfaction towards the new Sabah government formed by Warisan and PH after the last general election.

A victory for the Warisan candidate could mean a nod of approval to the leadership of Sabah Chief Minister and Warisan president Mohd Shafie Apdal, who was suspended by UMNO for his criticism against then-party chief Najib over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad issue. He left UMNO shortly after.

A Warisan win would also mean an end to BN’s winning streak in the recent by-elections. Kimanis is the 10th by-election since PH overthrew BN.

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The campaigning has revolved around bread and butter issues, rather than the personal appeal of the two candidates.

More specifically, the spotlight was trained on the chronic problem of illegal immigration, which has long plagued Sabah.

Local communities are irked by the influx of illegal immigrants who are also jostling for a piece of the economic pie.

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Last September, the state’s foreigners management committee agreed to implement PSS to replace three documents issued to long-staying foreigners in Sabah – the IMM13, census certificate and burung-burung card.

Mr Mohd Shafie, the chief minister, explained that PSS is only a temporary pass.

He pointed out that PSS is unlike the previous government’s proposed Sabah Temporary Resident Pass (PRSS), which he described as a way to provide permanent residency to holders of the three aforesaid documents.

Shafie Apdal
Sabah Chief Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal. (Photo: Bernama) 

The PSS, he added, would enable the state government to monitor the immigrants closely.

About 136,000 people are eligible to apply for the PSS.

The opposition is singing a different tune.

Najib, in a Facebook post on Friday, likened the by-election to a referendum of sorts on PSS, adding that PSS has the potential to turn into Project IC 2.0.

Project IC is said to have been devised to grant citizenship to immigrants, with the aim of altering the demographics of Sabah in favour of the then ruling government.

It was also said to have been implemented during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first stint in office.

“The question here is, can we trust a promise by PH?” said Najib.

“PH has pledged to abolish PLUS toll but instead, extended the concession by another 20 years until 2058. If it can renege on a written pledge, how (can we) trust its verbal promise that PSS will not turn into Project IC?” he added.

Source: CNA/tx(aw)