The Malaysian Insider | KUALA LUMPUR, 15-May-2012 — Seven out of every eight urban Sabahans want a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into the illegal immigrant problem in the state, which Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders there insist must be held before upcoming elections, according to a recent poll.Independent pollsters Merdeka Center found that 88 per cent of voters in the state capital Kota Kinabalu and its nearby suburb Penampang want a royal panel to investigate the influx of illegal immigrants, who have been blamed for the rise in social and economic problems in the state.
Their presence was also cited as the most important concern by 27 per cent of the 411 registered voters surveyed, far ahead of cost of living and infrastructure at eight per cent each.
“The main reason for those believing the state was headed in the wrong direction was concerns over inflation, poverty and uneven access to development and the large influx of illegal immigrants,” the opinion research house said in a statement today.
Sabah BN has been pushing for an RCI for months now, with federal Cabinet ministers from the state saying such an inquiry “will have little value” if announced after elections and that the issue puts their “political lives on the chopping block”.
They also want Datuk Seri Najib Razak to delay polls until the second half of the year despite Umno leaders appearing bullish after an encouraging turnout of at least 50,000 at its 66th anniversary celebrations last Friday.
According to replies provided in Parliament last year, Sabah’s population was 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.
Media reports said that, as of 2010, this number has grown further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.
Opposition leaders have long railed against the BN government for this unusual population explosion, alleging that illegal immigrants have been allowed into the east Malaysian state, and given MyKads and voting rights to help the ruling coalition retain control.
In early February, United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president Tan Sri Bernard Dompok revealed that the Cabinet had agreed to form an RCI.
Najib was widely expected to announce the panel into what Sabah BN leaders say is the top election issue there when he visited the state later that same month but the prime minister concluded his visit without addressing the issue.
This sparked rumours and Internet news reports of the possibility that Najib had backpedalled on the Cabinet’s decision, with some even claiming a “secret meeting” of Umno warlords had warned the BN chief it would lose a sizeable chunk of votes if the RCI were to lead to a crackdown on the state’s massive population of illegal immigrants.
A Sabah BN insider later told The Malaysian Insider that Cabinet meeting minutes showed that it had agreed to the RCI on February 8 and tasked Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz to co-ordinate the scope of the RCI’s investigation.
He said Najib’s unexpected silence on the issue had not only angered but also embarrassed Sabah BN leaders, particularly those in Upko and PBS, who have been trumpeting their success in pushing for the RCI.
The PM has been coy on the status of the RCI, only saying at a press conference on February 23 that it was still under consideration.
The survey also found that 59 per cent of respondents “thought that other political parties besides BN should be given a chance to prove their abilities to lead people of Sabah” while 31 per cent believe “BN is the only party than can provide for the needs of Sabahans.”
But it found the sentiment was split along ethnic lines with 79 per cent of Chinese preferring to give other parties a chance while four-fifths of Muslim Bumiputeras saying they would stand by the ruling coalition.
The 411 voters, of which 55 per cent were Chinese, 33 per cent non-Muslim Bumiputeras and the rest Muslims, were surveyed in mid-March this year.