Thursday, January 24, 2013

Do you know what happened in Sabah on March 13 1986?


Sabah has talented people interested in making films.

Nadira with her award at the Freedom Film Fest 2012
But we need more. At present, short documentaries are produced by our talented young film makers.
It is the feature films, too, that we should go into as Sabah has a lot of potentialities in this.
Our legendary tales are many and could be made into epic feature films. And so too are documentaries on our political history.

A young film maker Nadira Ilana is one of these talented young Sabahans who has produced a historical documentary on Sabah’s early days as part of the Malaysian federation. In an interview in the newspaper (DE/ 26th October) she said her aim in making a historical documentary is to create awareness about Sabah’s political history to the people of Sabah, especially to the young Sabahans.

Her first documentary is entitled “The Silent Riot”.

And for this effort she received the first prize at the “Freedom Film Fest 2012″ in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Nadira said that the film is a story about the 1985 Sabah riot and deals with an important incident that has almost been forgotten by many today.

A film director, Brenda Danker was quoted as saying that the film was made for the younger generation in the State – a riot that has not been well documented but is very relevant today in Malaysia especially in looking at the political “power grab”.

Nadira also mentioned that those people who were responsible for the riot in 1985 got away with it.
She was particularly concerned that the people who organised and used the illegal immigrants to cause the rioting in Kota Kinabalu – “all 3,000 of them with their women and children for a whole week is so blatantly disrespectful and so illegal and they got away with it”, she said. She is of the opinion that an incident like this should be aired and told so that our people, especially the younger generation could learn from it.

She could not understand why we want to forget this important part of our political history and suggested that the names of those who organised the riot of 1985 should also be revealed.

And in my opinion, she is right about the incident as forming part of our political history – part of the political process. There is in fact another important incident that occurred in May 1969 – known as the May 13 racial riot in Kuala Lumpur. This incident is well documented in books and articles and thousands of people died at this incident. I have not seen, however, any film documentary of that important incident, which was a blot in the political history of our nation. Perhaps our film makers might also want to document this incident in films as a documentary?

We must congratulate Nadira for her documentary film on the 1985 riot in Kota Kinabalu.
The incident was documented in books too – and reports in the print media, but not in a film documentary.

And unlike the May 13 racial riot in Kuala Lumpur, where the police are criticised for their “inaction” or failure to stop the demonstration of “strengths” by political leaders from both sides of the political divide, the Sabah 1985 riot was well contained quickly because of police quick reaction to it.

Many of the leaders who caused the rioting – nearly all the illegals from Pulau Gaya – were arrested and carried in the “black maria” vans and were locked up. And the organisers of the demonstrations were also “arrested” and brought before the court. They were fined for causing mischief and made to pay fines up to RM200.

That incident happened because of “some people were sore for the loss of political power” said Nadira and she is partly right. There are other reasons for it, the riot of 1985 and also the incident of Sabah having “two Chief ministers” after the 1985 election and eventually, why and how mighty Peninsula-based party Umno came to Sabah to replace Usno.

These are all part of our history.

From 1976 till the election of 1985, Sabah was under the excellent governance of the Berjaya administration. However, at the 1985 election, the party lost badly with many of its foremost leaders losing.

In fact, Berjaya only won in 6 seats out of 48. The newly formed party of Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan (PBS) won in 26 seats and the Usno party of Tun Mustapha won the rest 16 seats.

Before the election there was an understanding, indeed an agreement, made between Usno and PBS that they would form a coalition government in the event that no one party obtained a majority in the Assembly. The agreement was signed by Tun Mustapha in Usno’s letter head with the name of Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan left blank, to be signed by him at the Istana before the Head of State; and Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan signing on the dotted line showing his name on PBS letter head with Tun Mustapha’s name left blank, to be signed by him at the Istana.

These two papers were handed over to the respective leaders for their keeping. In the said agreement, it was mentioned that in the event neither party obtained a majority at the Assembly, the two parties would form a coalition government. The intention was clear – to deny the Berjaya party any form of participation in the new proposed coalition government.

As the PBS party obtained 26 seats and therefore was able to form the government on its own, its leaders decided to go to the Istana to be sworn in by the Head of State with Pairin as the new Chief Minister.

But before they could go to the Istana, a group of former Berjaya leaders went to see Usno leaders at Mustapha’s house and according to the transcript of the High Court in Kota Kinabalu in “Tun Mustapha versus Joseph Pairin Kitingan”, these leaders persuaded Tun Mustapha to go with them to the Istana that early morning in April and be sworn in as the Chief Minister.

They convinced him that the combined numbers of Usno’s 16 seats and Berjaya’s 6 seats, plus the six nominated seats were sufficient to from the new government. They forgot to inform him that the six nominated seats could only be legal after a government was formed and in power.

These were the group of leaders that Nadira termed as “sore losers”.

The High Court judge, after a month of hearing, made the decision that the true and legally appointed Chief Minister was Pairin.

The earlier appointment of Mustapha by the Head of State which he later revoked after the Acting Prime Minister announced that Malaysia respected the will of the people and only the person who obtained the majority in the Assembly is recognised as the legally elected leader of the House and government.

The court action ensued with Mustapha as the Plaintiff in the suit. But for a while, there were “two Chief Ministers” until the court cleared the air. The whole incident is recorded in my book “Sabah Dilemma” in a chapter called “The Signal Hill caper”.

On hindsight, and many political analysts now also agree, that had the proposed coalition government of Usno and PBS taken place, Umno would not have come to Sabah and replaced Usno. Indeed, other Peninsula-based parties would not have come to Sabah either. But the insistence of the PBS to govern on its own without the majority Muslim communities, made it unacceptable to the Usno and Muslim leaders.

PBS was, nevertheless, accepted into the BN fold after the 1986 election.

I think it was largely the influence of the late Tan Sri Dato Paduka, Salihah Ali, the sister in law of the Prime Minister (Tun Dr Mahathir) that PBS was eventually accepted into the BN fold. But in 1990, during the election in that year, PBS decided to withdraw from the BN and so Umno decided to enter into the political arena in Sabah. In 1994, after the election, PBS lost power after three of its assemblymen left the party and joined the Umno party.

Since then Sabah was governed under the Umno-BN coalition government.

There are advantages gained in this new political alignment and vast and rapid economic developments had taken place in the State.

There are still pockets of marginalised communities in Sabah today, but then there are also marginalised communities in West Malaysia.

The BN coalition government has been in the forefront to remedy the situation.

This in short is the political history of Sabah since 1985.

There is indeed a need to document these events in a documentary film to bring better and greater awareness to the people of Sabah the important events, especially to the younger generation.
And Nadira’s “Silent Riot”, a 30-minute documentary of the 1985 riot is truly educational and commendable. Indeed, we need more people like Nadira to come forward and become interested in film making. There are many avenues for a film maker to document and or make feature films in Sabah.

Who else understand us more, understand and know our own culture, custom and Adat but our own people – us Sabahans?

Nadira has the right training as a film maker. She holds a BA degree of Fine Arts in Film and Television from the University of Brisbane, Australia. She also went to the Monteclair State University, New Jersey, in the United States as part of an exchange student programme.
“Silent Riot” was a low budget documentary she said.

She would like to continue to film more documentaries on Sabah’s political history.

But eventually she hopes to venture one day into producing feature films.

Well done and good luck Nadira.

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