Sunday 12 August 2012

Sabah RCI to open a Pandora's box of tumult

The royal commission of inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants in Sabah and its terms of reference as announced by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak could well open up a Pandora's box that could entangle a host of luminaries.

The composition of the RCI is not very encouraging as most of its five members are former and current government flunkeys, but in selecting former chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Steve Shim as its chair, the PM has obtained for it a semblance of credibility enough to warrant interest in its proceedings.

Of course, those proceedings would be hollow if the RCI does not call up former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad to testify.

It is not hard to see why the entire exercise would be repugnant to Mahathir who has already criticised the move as a ‘heads you win, tails I lose' proposition for the government.

In fact, this is the first move by the Najib administration in the three-plus years that it has been in harness that puts the PM in direct conflict with Mahathir.

NONEHitherto, Najib loathed to take any action that would seem to place him at odds with his predecessor who in his career has been responsible for bringing down two PMs from their pedestal - the country's first, Tunku Abdul Rahman, and its fifth one, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The question inevitably arises: would this move to form a RCI on illegal migrants in Sabah be the bone that would stick in Mahathir's craw, prompting him to start another campaign to eject Najib from his prime ministerial perch?

Even if the terms of reference for the Shim-chaired RCI do not empower it to find out who was responsible for creating the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah becoming citizens with the right to be on the electoral roll, the fact that the RCI has been tasked to determine whether this was done in violation of the laws is enough to arraign those responsible for criminal conduct.

This would be sufficiently threatening to Mahathir, who was PM (1981-2003) and, more importantly, home minister (1986-99) during much of the time the problem festered, to warrant him to react in his characteristic manner - by pre-emptive action or positioning to ward off the threat or take retributive action against its perpetrators.

If he does so, the public is in for a period of heightened ferment in Umno and in government.

Najib going the full distance

The newly-formed RCI and its terms of reference, which give it a six-month period to come out with its findings, almost certainly means that the PM is allowing this Parliament to go the full distance of its constitutional tenure.

The component parties of Sabah BN, whose clamour for the RCI was responsible for forcing Najib to form and empower one, would not be appeased until the royal commission comes out with its findings and these are seen to impact on the electoral roll in the state which has long been said to have been tainted with illegal immigrants' presence.

illegal immigrants roundup 010305 patiently waitingThus the deferment to the 13th general election, the date of which has become the subject of a intriguing guessing game for the better part of the past year-and-a-half, would give the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled Selangor government more time to scrutinise further the electoral roll in the state in which they are said to have found something like half a million voters of dubious credibility.

Pressure will inevitably mount for the Election Commission to do something about the veracity of Selangor Pakatan's claims over these allegedly phantom voters.

This means one is looking at a situation of heightened ferment not only in Umno and the federal government but also in the Internet where the real battle over each political coalition's - BN's and Pakatan's - legitimacy to rule the country is being fought.

Combined with the pressure that is now being brought from within Umno to bear on the Najib administration to reconsider provisions of the Evidence Act, a scenario is looming where the onset of confusions and wrangles, internal and external to Umno-BN, would exact their destabilising effects.

There is already a discernible perception among the general public that the Umno-BN government has reached the end of its tether and that it deserves a spell in the opposition.

Thus Najib's decision to empower an RCI on the issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah has the potential to open a Pandora's box of tumult with consequences that could rip the legitimacy of the ruling coalition to shreds.

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