The 1986 Sabah Crisis

The Prime Minister, in his motion on the Fifth Malaysia Plan, asks the House “to , call upon Malaysians from all walks of life to strive harder and gear themselves towards the greater socio-economic and political challenges ahead, in the spirit of the Rukunegara, and stand united in our continuous efforts to build a socially just, progressive and resilient nation.

These are very stirring words, hut they have fallen completely flat and could evoke no response. In the past two weeks, there had been widespread and fundamental questioning as to whether the Barisan Nasional Government is committed to the building of a “socially just, progressive and resilient nation” – in fact, whether the Barisan Nasional Government believes anymore in the Rukunegara.

Rukunegara dedicated the Malaysian nation to five ends, two of which are:

• to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples;
• to maintain a democratic way of life.
• Rukunegara pledged the Malaysian people to five principles to attain these ends, three of which are:
• Upholding the Constitution;
• Rule of Law.
• Good Behaviour and Morality.

For the past 12 days, the people of Sabah in particular and Malaysians in general are entitled to ask whether the Federal Government had suspended these two ends and three principles of the Rukunegara, to the extent that an organised campaign to escalate fear, insecurity, unrest and violence through demonstrations, bomb explosions, arson and riot to topple the elected system of government in Sabah by unconstitutional and unlawfu violent means could be allowed to gain momentum without being stopped by the authorities concerned.

The Five Year Malaysia Plan, which set out the agenda of development programme forth-five years, should be the most important event of the people and nation every eyears. It should rivet the entire national attention as to what the future has in store for the people.


The Fifth Malaysia Plan, however, will go down in Malaysian history as the Plan which has evoked the least public interest, for the people have been too preoccupied with too many issues of far-reaching consequence, like the $2.5 billion BMF Scandal, the Memali tragedy, the economic depression, the 2 i’s split reducing the administration to a 1M Government, and the Sabah crisis.

Last Friday, when the Prime Minister’s presentation of the Fifth Malaysia Plan in the Dewan Rakyat was telecast live to the whole nation, nobody in Sabah was interested in it. This is not because the people of Sabah have no respect for the Prime Minister or have no interest in the Fifth Malaysia Plan, but because the only thing in their mine” about the safety of themselves and their loved ones, and that of their property.

They cannot afford to learn about the government’s development strategies for the next five years, or what allocation was made for Sabah. They were and even now, preoccupied with when and where is the next bomb blast, who killed or maimed, what property damaged; when is the next demonstration, the next riot, the next fire! They have no time for the Fifth Malaysia Plan, for they are consumed by anger and outrage that the Police and Federal authorities have failed in their basic duty to protect life and property, uphold law and order, for there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that if the campaign of agitation involving demonstrations, bomb explosions, arson and rioting, had been stopped right from the beginning on the first day on 12th March 1986, with the Police making it clear to the trouble-makers that they ‘mean business’, the whole game-plan of agitation would never got off the ground.

I was in Kota Kinabalu on the same day, and Sabah and the rest of Malaysia were two worlds apart – the Prime Minister in Kuala Lumpur presenting the Fifth Malaysia Plan live on television from this August Chamber, but with the entire Sabah state obsessed with the most rudimentary question of every human society, the safety of life and property, and whether the Police and authorities would carry out their duty to put an end to the escalation of fear, unrest and violence.

This, I submit, is the most powerful rebuttal to the government claim that in the last fifteen years, the overriding objective of the New Economic Policy and the Second, Third and Fourth Five-Year Plans had achieved ‘considerable progress‘ in realizing the goals of national unity and nation buildIng.


In debating the Fifth Malaysia Plan, we must never lose sight of the overriding objective of the New Economic Policy to foster national unity and nation building. An important element of national unity and nation building is regional integration, bringing about greater cohesion among the various states of Malaysia in particular integrating Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

Since Sabah’s entry into Malaysia 23 years ago in 1963, Sabah have never been more alienated from Kuala Lumpur for what they perceive to be its blessings to the campaign of agitation and escalation of fear, unrest and violence through demonstrations, bomb explosions, arson and rioting,, causing deaths, injuries and damage to property.

I do not blame them, or most Malaysians and world observers for drawing this inference, for there is no other explanation as to why the Police and the Federal government had not acted firmly and strongly to end the campaign of agitation and escalation of fear and violence, which is no less than a conspiracy to topple the elected system of government by unconstitutional means.

It is very clear that the Police and the Federal government, without having to recourse to emergency declaration and take-over Sabah State government, have ample power and forces at its command not only to snuff out the campaign of agitation and escalation, but to restore Sabah to normalcy in a matter of days.

The latest demonstration, this time led by the former Sabah Chief Minister, Harris Salleh, in Kota Kinabalu yesterday, is a great indictment on the Sabah Police and the Federal government.

In the 12 days from March 12, 1986 till yesterday, the campaign of agitation and escalation of fear, unrest and violence, had claimed. 5 lives. There had been 31 bomb explosions which had killed one person and injured 14 others and the police have recovered 14 unexploded bombs, one in the State mosque in Kota Kinabalu, There had been arson and attempted arson and a spate of demonstrations. There was a riot in Kota Kinabalu on March 19, and for the first time in the history of Sabah, curfew was imposed in Kota Kinabalu from dusk to dawn. Properties destroyed or damaged had reached some $10 million worth throughout the State. Business is at a standstill, and schools, offices are closed.

This is a very grave and serious situation, and whoever still wants to demonstrate and create unrest would know that they would be severely dealt with by the authorities. But the television news last night, showing the demonstration and procession led by Datuk Harris Salleh, started as if the demonstrators were taking part in a picnic, joking, laughing and generally expecting to enjoy a good time!


The immediate thought that comes to mind is that there had been a complicity between the Police and the demonstrators. The police will allow the demonstrators to demonstrate and escalate fear and tension, while the demonstrators will allow the Police to fire tear, locked inside the State mosque, later summoned!

All very good fun, the police showing that they have taken action while the demonstrators achieved their objective of generating fear and tension up another notch in Sabah, in furtherance of their design to create conditions to justify and invite Federal take-over and emergency rule.

It is incredible to say the least that 12 days after bomb explosions? arson, riot and extensive damage to property, the Police still allowed Datuk Harris Salleh and his demonstrators to gather, form themselves into a procession and to march off. Surely a responsible Police under the circumstances, which is zealous about the upholding of law and order, would not have allowed the demonstrators to gather and form themselves in the first place.

Could the Police plead that they did not know there was going to be a demonstration? This is even more unbelievable, and if this is true, then the entire Sabah Police forced should be transferred out and replaced when I was in Kota Kinabalu on Friday, I already heard that ‘there is going to be something big on Sunday‘, and on Saturday the people of Kota Kinabalu heard and knew enough to stay away from town completely on Sunday.

I must conclude therefore, that the Kota Kinabalu Police knew well in advance about the demonstration and procession by Harris Salleh. Why didn’t the Sabah Police forestall it by preventing even any gathering or formation of the demonstrators yesterday?

Surely, Harris Salleh would not dare to appear and lead the demonstration if he thinks that the Police would be serious and that he might be fired at! He would only appear if he is very sure that despite all the ‘lightning and thunder’ by the Police, no harm will come to them, except a summons for unlawful assembly which, under the Police Act 1967, section 27(8), provides for a sentence of a maximum fine of $500/- or six months’ jail or both.

For a multi-millionaire or billionaire like Datuk Harris Salleh, he could afford to demonstrate daily with 500 persons, for with the ordinary fine for unlawful assembly at $150, a daily expenditure for $75,000 for fines of 500 persons in an unlawful assembly, which would come to $2.2 million for a whole month is chicken-feed to Harris Salleh.

He will instead succeed in escalating fear, panic and violence in Sabah.


Can the Police and the Federal authorities explain why in a tense situation prevailing in Sabah, they could still allow demonstrations to be organised and held, before they are dispersed?

Harris Salleh and those who demonstrated in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau yesterday were not just committing the offence of unlawful assembly, with a maximum fine of $500, but taking part in a concerted conspiracy since March 12 to overawe and topple the Sabah State Government of Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan, although it is now a caretaker government pending the holding of general elections in Sabah, so as to frustrate the democratic process and the elected system of government. The means used in this conspiracy are the unconstitutional and violent ones of organised agitation and escalation of fear, unrest and violence through demonstrations, bomb blasts, arson and rioting, regardless of the loss to life and limb or property.

In doing so, Harris Salleh and the demonstrators are not merely committing offences against the public tranquility, like an unlawful assembly with its maximum of $500 fine, but committing the heinous crimes against the State, which is treason itself!

I call on the Police and the Federal authorities to arrest Datuk Harris Salleh and the demonstrators for the offences of ‘treason’ under Section 121B of the Penal Code, which provided that “Whoever compasses, imagines, invents or intends the overawing by ‘means of criminal force or the show of criminal force the Government of Malaysia or of any State, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 121C provides that whoever abets the commission of any of the offences of treason shall be punished with the punishment provided for the said offences.

The evidence of the use and show of criminal force to overawe the Sabah State Government is self-evident since March 12 – the illegal demonstrations, the bomb blasts, the arson and the rioting!

The Prime Minister, in his speech last Friday, spoke about ‘Reducing Threats to Unity, Security and Stability‘. He said:

“We must be mindful of the threats to the stability of our society as without stability it will be difficult for us to sustain development.
“Extremism is a powerful destabilising force. There is no place for extremism in our society as it will erode and destroy all our hardwon achievements.
“Extremists are obsessed with creating conflict and are willing to sacrifice peace and stability.”
“They tend to be self-righteous and have no hesitation to use force in their bid to gain followers, attention and power,”

The Prime Minister said that Malaysia cannot and must never allow extremists to grow in the midst of our society,

The Prime Minister’s description of ‘extremists‘ who are prepared to wreck the state fits perfectly the ‘masterminds’ of the organized campaign of fear, unrest and violence in Sabah since March 12, but the Sabah and Malaysian people do not see any firmness of resolve by the Federal Government to check their activities. On the contrary, the people get the impression that the Federal Government is closing, not only one eye, sometimes both eyes, to their activities!

Or does the Federal Government practise double standards in dealing with ‘extremists‘ who want to sacrifice peace and stability – that there are ‘permissible’ extremists and ‘impermissible extremists‘?

This question keeps recurring when one reviews the Sabah events since March 12, 1986.

On March 12, led by USNO MP for Kota Belud, Yahya Lampong, USNO Acting Secretary-General, Hamid Tun Mustapha, USNO.Deputy President, Sakaran Dandai, Berjaya Vice President, Abdul Malek Chua, 3,000 people, mostly illegal Filipino immigrants, demonstrated outside the Kota Kinabalu High Court which was hearing a chamber application by the former Independent Assemblyman Ghapur Salleh for an injunction to restrain the holding of Sabah State General Elections. The demonstrators held up banners attacking the Sabah Head of State, Tun Haji Moahamad Adnan Robert, and Chief Minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan for having dissolved the Assembly. They clapped and cheered when seven bombs exploded one after another within a half-mile radius in the town centre, leaving six people injured.

After two and half hour demonstration, without being dispersed by the police, although they had committed the high offences of treason and sedition, the demonstrators staged a 6km procession to Tun Mustapha’s house in Tanjong Aru, where packet food and drinks were waiting for them!

Datuk Harris Salleh said on the same day that it was the PBS and its leadership who had ‘disturbed the hornet’s nests‘ during the general elections last April in the subsequent by-elections.

On March 13, there were further bomb explosions in Kota Kinabalu, several cases of arson in Tawau and Sandakan with two deaths in the Tawau fire. Some 600 people gathered inside the Kota Kinabalu State mosque, demonstrating against the PBS Government and Chief Minister with placards, and pelting motorists with stones and shouting abuses.


On March 14, over 1,000 demonstrators defied law and order by holding an illegal procession from the State mosque to Tun Mustapha’s house at about 1 p.m. , where they were given packed food and drinks.

The procession started from the mosque after the Friday prayers at noon, and after a discussion of USNO and Berjaya leaders, including Sakaran Dandai, Hamid Tun Mustapha, Yahya Lampong and Abdul Malek Chua.

On March 15, the demonstration and hold-out in the State mosque by some 600 people continued.

Tun Mustapha, who returned to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur earlier on the day, in reply to press questioning, said he gave instructions for what happened in the past few days. This is what he said on tape:

On Mustapha to Press: Apa mahu tanya?
Reporter: Tun, apa komen tentang apa yang sudah jadi dua-tiga hari ini?
Tun Mustapha: Tidak ada komen. Saya punya arahan, pasal saya marah sama Pairin…kerana dia tidak patuh kepada undang-undang sedangkang makhamah belum beri keputusan pembicaraan, dia bub’arkan Dewan Undangan Negri, Nombor satu penipu, nombor satu jahat. Saya akan hadapi dia. 2tu sahja. Tidak ada lain.cakap saya.”

On March 16, the 600 people who were holding out in the State mosque swelled to 3,000 to hear Tun Mustapha calling on a11 Muslims to gather in the mosque to defend their religion.

On March 17, A third demonstration, led by Sakaran Dandai and Abdul Malek Chua, with 3,000 demonstrators marched from the state mosque to the High Court, which rejected the application for an injunction to restrain the holding of Sabah State general elections.

Police fired tear gas as the crowd, armed with iron bars, bricks and pieces of wood, chanted and stoned shopping complexes and smashed car windscreens. The demonstrators were ordered back to the mosque by the Police to continue their hold-out demonstration.

On March 18, four time bombs exploded in Sandakan killing newspaper vendor Chong Tong Sing and injured four policemen. In Kota Kinabalu, the hold-out demonstration in the State mosque continued.

On March 19, riots broke out in Kota Kinabalu, causing two deaths and a 6pm to 6 a.m. curfew. The demonstrators, led by Yahya Lampong and Sakaran Dandai, former Assemblyman Zaki Gusmiah (Sukau) and former Assemblywoman Dayang Mahani Tun Ahmad Raffae (Lumadan), marched out of the state mosque.

The demonstrators refused to disperse when ordered by the Police and when tear-gas was fired, rioted in Karamunsing, setting mars, shop-houses and godowns ablaze, wrecking damage estimated at $6.3 million.

The demonstrators finally returned to the mosque where they were locked in by the Police.

On March 20 and 21, a total of 1,656 people from the State mosque surrendered themselves to the Police in two batches. But the question the Police has not answered is why they had not arrested Yahya Lampong, Sakaran Dandai, Zaki Gusmiah and Dayang Mahani who were in the state mosque after the demonstration that resulted in a riot, and were also seen in the State mosque on the night of March 20. The question is whether the Police had helped them to escape.

USNO MP Yahya Lampong and the three former Assembly members, Sakaran Dandai, Zaki Gusmiah and Dayang Mahani should be arrested and charged under section 147 of rioting, which carries a jail sentence of two years, or fine or both.


I understand that Yayha Lampong has run away to Brunei. I raised this matter with the Commissioner of Police, Haji Ahmad Maulana Babjee, but he said the Police are still looking for him. Have Sakaran Dandai, Zaki Gusmiah and Dayang Mahani also run away to Brunei?

This is owe of the many unsatisfactory aspects of the police handling of the campaign of fear and violence since March 12, and there must be a Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate into the whole conspiracy to topple the elected system of government in Sabah by constitutional and violent means, but also to examine into the Police conduct in the entire episode.

A clear pattern stands out, however, that there is ‘conspiracy directing the campaign of fear and violence, involving demonstrations, bomb explosions, arson and rioting to overthrow the elected system of government.

What is even more deplorable is the use of illegal Filipino immigrants to carry out these demonstrations, bomb blasts, arson and rioting.
This is allowing a foreign people, I estimate about 300,000 illegal Filipino immigrants in Sabah, to interfere in the domestic political affairs of our own country. This itself is already a disloyal, anti-national and traitorous act.

I call on the Federal Government to take firm action to uphold the law, honour the Rukunegara, and arrest the two former Sabah Chief Ministers, Datuk Harris Salleh, Tun Mustapha, and USNO MP Yahya Lampong, four former USNO Assembly members, Sakaran Dandai, Dayang Mahani, Hamid Tun Mustapha and Zaki Gusmiah and one Berjaya ex-assemblyman, Abdul Malek Chua, for their role in the criminal conspiracy in the organised campaign of fear and violence to topple the elected system of government by unconstitutional means.

Firm government action must also be taken to liberate Sabahans from the menace posed by the illegal Filipino immigrants.

One subject uppermost in the minds of Sabahans is the talk that the Moros from southern Philippines are coming to Sabah, partly to intervene in the campaign of fear and violence to destabilise the state, and partly to avenge the Lahad Datu Incident last year.

The Police and Federal government should stop taking lightly the protection of life and property of Sabahans. Without emasculating the democratic rights of Sabahans in declaring emergency and Federal take-over, the Federal Government must send increased reinforcements of police and security forces, in particular marine police, to protect Sabahans from internal unrest and external threat.

Sabah must begin to seriously think of repatriating all Filipino refugees, whether with work or without work-permit back to Philippines. I know that this will now be strongly opposed by USNO and Berjaya, because the illegal Filipino Immigrants play an important role in their strategy to capture and maintain power.


It is an open secret that the Filipino refugees or illegal immigrants had been given blue identity cards and been registered on the electoral register, and that this process is still going on. This probably explains Datuk Harris Salleh’s prediction after he was overthrown that PBS would at most have one term of State Government of five years. He told Star in May 1985:

“After the elections (Sabah general elections) the Malays have gone to USNO and either USNO or another Islamic party may get 24 seats in a future election because a lot of people are getting citizenships and all that.”

The people of Sabah believed that there is a further conspiracy to illegally enfranchise the Filipino refugees or illegal immigrants and give them voting rights to change the political map of Sabah. At present, out of 48 5abah State seats, 21 are Kadazan majority seats, 8 Chinese majority seats and 19 Malay majority seats. It is feared that if the illegal enfranchisement of Filipinos and Indonesians immigrants are allowed to take place unimpeded for three years, the electoral complexion could be changed to 16 Kadazan majority seats, 2 Chinese majority seats, and 30 Malay/Filipino/Indonesian seats.

The unlawful enfranchisement of illegal Filipinos or Indonesians must be halted if the Government is sincere about wanting to forge national unity and nation building, for such a process could only destroy whatever national unity a achieved to date.

I have been asked when It was in Kota Kinabalu on Friday whether I am a spokesman for PBS. I want to make it clear that I do not speak for PBS, who has its own leaders and spokesmen. I am however a spokesman for democracy and national unity. In fact, every Malaysian must become the spokesman or spokeswoman for democracy and national unity, if we cherish them.

I note that this is recognised by the Fifth Malaysia Plan which says: “National unity and nation building is a long-term objective which is to be achieved through a multi-dimensional approach involving social, political, cultural and psychological factors. Government efforts represent but one facet of the overall endeavour in promoting national unity. The attainment of national unity is also the responsibilkty and concern of every Malaysian. There is a need to mould and inculcate the right values, perceptions, and attitudes towards each other with a view towards building a multi-racial society, that is characterized by tolerance, harmony, mutual understanding, justice, fairness and unity.”


The Prime Minister said in his speech that the government will continue to provide leadership to maintain a conducive investment climate to help Malaysia tide over the economic hardships in the years ahead.

If the Federal Government’s handling of the Sabah political crisis for the past year is anything to go by, it is not likely to generate confidence in the wisdom or ability of the government to do so.

If the Federal Government had accepted the verdict of the people in the April 1985 general elections, and given a clear message to the USNO and Berjaya that they should play the role of a constructive and loyal opposition instead of seeking to capture power by all sorts of legal, constitutional, political and extra-constitutional means, Sabah and Malaysia would not have been wracked by crisis after crisis. for the past year.

When I was in Kota Kinabalu, I learn that as a result of the world television coverage of the Sabah demonstrations, bomb explosions, arson and rioting with religious overtones, there had been mass cancellation of hotel bookings from as far as Europe.

The Federal Government is spending millions of dollars to prepare for the PATA Conference to attract tourists to make tourism a major revenue earner, but its very actions in Sabah had negatived such efforts.

Political stability is an essential ingredient to provide a conducive climate for investment, whether by Malaysians or foreigners. Political stability does not mean that every State must be controlled by a Barisan Nasional component party. It is based on the acceptance by all the political parties in our parliamentary democracy recognising the right of the people to choose the government they want, even if it is a different party.

If the UMNO leadership is prepared to accept this principle, then Datuk Harris Salleh or Tun Mustapha would not concoct schemes and fund operations to topple the PBS government to return to power directly or indirectly.


I am told that Datuk Harris Salleh is the main financier of the recent operation to topple the PBS Government, especially the attempt to get PAS Assemblymen to defeat so that the PBS government has only a minority of elected Assemblymen. This was the cause which precipitated the dissolution of the Sabah State Assembly by Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

I call on the Prime Minister to present a White Paper in Parliament on the campaign of fear and violence and the conspiracy to topple the elected system of government in Sabah by unconstitutional and violent means, for this must be regarded as serious as the BMF Scandal and-the Memali
Incident. Let not Sabahans or Sarawakians have cause to complain that in Malaysia, only what happens in Peninsular Malaysia is important enough to merit national attention – but never what happened in 6abah or Sarawak.

Today, the Prime Minister made his long-belated visit to Sabah, carrying with him a UMNO formula to resolve the Sabah political crisis. I want to ask why is it a UMNO formula, and not a Barisan Nasional formula. This shows again the utter insignificance and irrelevance of the other political parties in the Barisan Nasional, whose job is ‘to do and die’ and ‘not to reason why’; and whose role is to be ‘Yes Man’ in Parliament and Cabinet and ‘Yes Party’ in the Barisan Nasional.

There is no need for any ‘UMNO formula’ for the artificial crisis in Sabah, for the ingredients to resolving the Sabah political crisis are to be found in Rukunegara – the ends of national unity and democracy and the principles of upholding the constitution, rule of law and good behaviour and morality.

It is clear that it is the Barisan Nasional leaders, both at Federal and State level, who have forgotten the Rukunegara, and they should return to the Rukunegara ends and principles first, before they continue to preach Bukunegara without knowing what its means.


I have spoken at length on the Sabah situation because it is a test of democracy and nation building in Malaysia. There are other nation-building problems, as evident from the aggravated racial and religious polarization in the country, which I do not propose to discuss. There is one instance however which I want to bring to the attention of the House to illustrate that sweet and honeyed words in the Fifth Malaysia Plan are often forgetten after they had been written and printed in the Plan.

The Fifth Plan, on nation building, said: “A greater understanding and appreciation of the sensitivities of the various communities as well as a recognition of the commonness of experiences and values would go a long way in promoting racial harmony and tolerance, and serve to strengthen the bonds among all Malaysians.

From my experience in these 20 years, it would appear that these words are meant for the Malaysian public, but not as a guideline for government servants and public officers.

I can list a catalogue of utter insensitivity of the Government to sensitivities of the various communities. The most recent example is the decision to appoint a Muslim as headmistress of the Sekolah Menengah Convent Kota in Taiping with effect from 1.4.1986.

This is in violation of the principle of ‘maximum consultations‘ as agreed between the Mission School Authorities and the Education Ministry in 1984,

The Catholic Community in Taiping and in Malaysia are rightly aggrieved for this act shows that their feelings mean nothing, and that the concern that the character and identity of mission schools be preserved are disregarded. Such concerns include:

  1. The right of parents to send children to the school of their choice;
  2. The right of parents to have religion taught to their children in the’Mission Schools’;
  3. The right of ‘Mission Schools’ to give such religious teaching to Catholic children, through the help of Catholic teachers who should not he ‘penalised’ for doing so;
  4. The right of any ‘Mission School’ to be run by a principal whose Catholic faith would enable her to better understand and share the various religious needs of Catholic students and to maintain the values upheld by ‘Mission Schools’,

I hope the Education Minister would intervene immediately to set right the issue and problems faced by the ‘Mission Schools’ in accordance with the four principles I had outlined; as the ‘Mission Schools’ had made a great contribution to education in Malaysia in the last 150 years.

(Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on 24.3.1986 on the Fifth Malaysia Plan )