Sabah’s election run-up is a reminder of our polarisation

SEPTEMBER 16 — There is a lot riding on the Sabah election. A little too much, in fact. 

You would think I would be used to all the political mudslinging by now but it has reached the extent I’m logged out of Twitter at least until the actual election date.

Weaponising race discourse is an all-too-common in Malaysia but it has reached disturbing levels on social media.

DAP Sabah was attacked for using Chinese script on an election campaign graphic; yet there was no one attacking MCA for doing the same.

What disturbed me most was someone complaining that DAP’s candidates were all Chinese when the poster showed at least two of the candidates were from local indigenous Sabah tribes.

When it was pointed out to the person, she then went on to ask if those candidates were “pure blood” or not.

Purity of blood is almost an alien concept in Sabah where intermarriage is so commonplace that practically no local can claim so-called blood purity.

It was also tiresome, to me, that people complained Sabah and Sarawak were like different countries.

Yes, they are different. What would you expect? Different demographics, different local customs, geographical factors all combine to create distinct experiences and differing viewpoints.

Why this need for homogeneity? Why, to be Malaysian, must East Malaysians somehow bow to a single perspective on how to regard themselves or approach daily life?

At least in Sabah, we do not have politicians insinuating that one race might just be driven to violence towards the other just like that one time that forced Singapore to bid us adieu.

We shall just ignore PAS’ dramatics about being left out of the state as they clearly do not recall never winning in Sabah, and their candidates consistently losing their deposits.

All those years ago when other East Malaysians spoke up about how September 16, the date of Malaysia’s actual formation, was generally ignored in West Malaysia, the aim was to create awareness.

What we got was a public holiday and West Malaysians still saying “Happy Birthday Malaysia!” on Merdeka Day.

At this point perhaps we might need to just set all our current history textbooks on fire and maybe the entire Malaysian education syllabus as well.

I find it funny that West Malaysians complain when East Malaysians derisively refer to them as Orang Malaya when it is far more insulting that in West Malaysia, East Malaysians are lumped under the category of lain-lain.

Likely some incredibly lazy census personnel decided that just having four races defined with the fourth one being lain-lain was expedient, but in the long-term it has created this perception that outside the Malay-Chinese-Indian bubble, no one else existed.

The average Sabahan might as well be a fairy the way national discourse and even local entertainment excludes them; watching the average local TV show you would think Malaysia has only three races. 

It seems a pity that in 2020, the Sabah election is a reminder that we are no closer to fostering true racial harmony and that to West Malaysians, Sabahans are as mythical as clean politics. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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