A warped mind for crooked alignments

pic by BERNAMA

AS THE campaign for the Sabah election heats up, some unfurling opinions from the political players strike jarring notes and leave a bad aftertaste.

No doubt, with the stakes being very high, as high as the outcome can determine whether the prime minister would remain the same or otherwise, some pronouncements may have been uttered at a speed that outpaced the grey matter by miles.

One pronouncement which is particularly discordant is the notion that more could be done for Sabah if the state government is aligned with the federal administration.

In a modern democracy when choices that differ should not end up with limitations and unrewarding, promoting such a notion sounds primitive and feudal, and quite rich coming from a government that has admitted that it is not the government that Malaysians had voted for.

In fact, it is almost an incongruity that the current status where the Sabah government is not aligned with the federal government was the result of the political manoeuvrings of people in the present federal government.

If the backdoor federal government was not formed, the Sabah government would have been as aligned as it could be with Putrajaya.

Having ensured that the Sabah government is now no longer aligned with the federal government, the new federal government has attempted similar manoeuvring so that the elected government of Sabah falls and replaced by a backdoor government similar to that it had affected at the federal level.

It failed in the attempt and the Sabah government decided to choose its own fate and called for snap polls.

After all that manoeuvrings and missteps, the federal government now has the gall to propose to the people of Sabah to vote for parties/ coalition aligned to it.

But observers and analysts can froth over it and yet it makes no difference, as such opinions and viewpoints remain merely that.

Unless Sabahans feel offended or insulted that their votes in 2018 had been taken for granted or that they are fine with the label that their state leads in the race of having the most political frogs.

Talking about political frogs, it is widely shared among local social media account holders that snollygoster should be added to the lexicon when describing such shrewd, self-serving and unprincipled politician. Interestingly, in explaining the word, America’s leading online dictionary Merriam-Webster pointed out that the word snollygoster came into English in the 1800s, but it removed the word from its abridged Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 for lack of sustained use.

It was, however, brought back to the mainstream by New York Times columnist William Safire who used the word snollygoster since 1980, thus attributed by Merriam-Webster as having almost single-handedly revived the word from his regular use of it. And political commentator Billy O’Reilly’s “love for the word has brought snollygoster roaring back”.

In February 2017, Merriam-Webster re-instated the word in its dictionary.

The word snollygoster’s fate is not much different in Sabah in so far as the political frogs are concerned. The fall of Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) after a two-seat majority victory in the 1994 Sabah polls was due to defections. Its detractors viewed that it deserved such fate as it had “backstabbed” Barisan Nasional in the 1990 general election when it chose to abandon the coalition after nominations were concluded, leaving the coalition with no option of fielding its own candidates.

PBS opted for the Semangat 46-led Gagasan Rakyat, but the new coalition failed to wrest federal powers and left Sabah as an Opposition state until the 1994 Sabah polls.

Since then, party-hopping has become the norm rather than the exception. But Sabahans have been known to punish snollygosters, as experienced by several top PBS leaders who defected to other parties or formed new ones and changed their political allegiances. Yet, these punishments have not been a deterrent as new frogs emerge and the cycle continues.

Obviously, advocates of anti-hopping law believe that that should be the answer to such activities, but there were attempts in the past, in particular by the PAS-led Kelantan government in the early 1990s to disqualify party hoppers, only to be dismissed by the courts.

What seems to stop the application of the anti-hopping law is that it is ultra-vires to the Federal Constitution based on the 1992 ruling.

In other words, the constitution needs to be amended for the anti-hopping law to be in effect and that requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament. There seems to be a renewed interest in the ruling coalition for such a move.

The coalition’s interest is anything but altruistic as given the razor-thin majority it has, it is only to its benefit that the anti-hopping law is enforced.

Obviously, it will not receive the support of the Opposition if it tabled a Bill to amend the constitution for the anti-hopping law. And so, round and round it goes.

The only solution is for those contesting in the next election to make a commitment to their electorate that if they win, they would support the amendments to allow for the anti-hopping law to be enforced and that should be an important pledge for the voters to consider.

For now, advocates will have to contend with the new word snollygoster, though it somehow doesn’t feel as derogatory as the term political frogs.

And they truly deserve such disparage.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.