KOTA KINABALU, Dec 13 — The Sabah assembly voted to amend the state’s constitution today to allow the Yang diPertua Negeri to serve indefinitely versus the previous two-term limit.
The state legislature approved the deletion of the clause from the Sabah constitution despite objections from Opposition lawmakers who argued that there was no need for or urgency to introduce such a change.
The 65-seat assembly recorded 45 votes in favour or and 15 votes against the amendment; five lawmakers were absent from the special sitting.
Karanaan assemblyman Datuk Masidi Manjun was present earlier but missed the vote along with Sulaman assemblyman Datuk Hajiji Noor, Membakut assemblyman Datuk Ariffin Arif, Nabawan assemblyman Datuk Bobbey Suan and Sungai Sibuga assemblyman Tan Sri Musa Aman.
Those against the removal were Matunggong assemblyman Julita Majungki, Tandek assemblyman Anita Baranting, Tempasuk assemblyman Datuk Musbah Jamli, Usukan assemblyman Datuk Japlin Akim, Tamparuli assemblyman Datuk Jahid Jakim, Kiulu assemblyman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai, and Klias assemblyman Datuk Isnin Aliasnih.
Other dissenters include Lumadan assemblyman Datuk Matbali Musbah, Kundasang assemblyman Datuk Dr Joachim Gunsalam, Tambunan Assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Bingkor assemblyman Robert Tawik, Sook assemblyman Datuk Ellron Angian, Labuk assemblyman Datuk Abdul Rahman Konkawang and Apas assemblyman Datuk Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said the amendment meant a return to the original version of the Sabah Constitution from 1963 during the formation of Malaysia, which did not provide a limit.
He argued there was no need to limit the term of the state governor as they are appointed only after careful consideration.
“It is different from the post of prime minister or chief minister, which is elected by the public. They (governors) have no executive powers and are a symbolic Head of State,” he said.
Shafie also denied claims of “negotiations” for the term-limit removal or that it was a “reward” for the governor as repayment for the sequence of events after the general election that led to him becoming the chief minister.
Sabah Governor Tuan Yang Terutama (TYT) Tun Juhar Mahiruddin swore Shafie in as chief minister barely 48 hours after he did the same for Tan Sri Musa Aman.
Musa, who is Umno’s sole remaining Sabah assemblyman, sued Juhar over this.
“There was no negotiation, I swear. He (Juhar) didn’t appoint a chief minister based on any negotiation, it was because he saw a clear majority from the state assemblyman’s own account,” said Shafie.
He asserted that the timing of the amendment was completely coincidental.
The assembly convened for a special sitting today to expressly to amend the state’s constitution to delete clause (3) Article 2 that had limited each governor to a maximum tenure of two terms or equivalent to eight years.
The clause was introduced in 1987, when Parti Bersatu Sabah had governed the state, to allow for higher turnover in the post.
Juhar was appointed in January 2011 and his term coincidentally expires this year.
Earlier, Tambunan assemblyman Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan rejected the amendment by arguing that there were more urgent or beneficial matters for the assembly’s consideration including to demand equal status to the peninsula.
“I think if we are going to amend anything, it’s to restore Article 1 to revert the Head of State’s title to Yang diPertua Negara, and not Negeri, which is in line and consistent with the current stand to restore state rights,” he said.
Kiulu assemblyman Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said that the limit was preferable as it would celebrate the “diversity” of Sabah and allow all races an opportunity to hold the post, questioning why minorities should have to wait longer now for a turn at being governor.
The pensions of former governors also became the point of contention during the debate earlier, when Kemabong assemblyman Datuk Jamawi Jaafar asserted that removing the term limit would reduce what the state must spend to maintain former holders of the post.
He said the two immediate past governors were still receiving their monthly pensions along with other benefits and privileges to which they were entitled for life.
Masidi criticised him, however, for raising the topic of money when discussing the esteemed post and accused Jamawi of insulting governors past and present by suggesting that their pensions were burdensome.
“Perhaps they are not aware how little the TYT’s pensions used to be. It used to be less than RM2,000 until it was amended recently by the BN administration,” he said.
“Let’s talk about other justifications and not argue about this pittance,” he said.