Published on: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Kota Kinabalu: Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said former Chief Minister (now Tan Sri) Joseph Pairin Kitingan lost the opportunity to develop Sabah the moment he decided to pull out of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition just before the 1990 general elections.
He said, as a matter of fact, Sabahans could have got their own university four years earlier had Pairin's Parti Bersatu Sabah not deserted BN and teamed up with Gagasan Rakyat of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, an action infamously described as "a stab in the back."
"Until then, it had been our policy not to undermine the pro-BN indigenous parties in Sabah and Sarawak by starting Umno there.
Now, to counter PBS's defection, we had to assert our presence in Sabah to maintain the BN's position," he said, explaining Umno's decision to expand to East Malaysia that marked a watershed in the nation's political history.
Revealing this in his memoirs "A Doctor In The House", the former Prime Minister said he promised this (university) to Pairin, who was then Chief Minister.
The decision to build Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) was taken only after the PBS Government fell due to defections of its assemblymen to Barisan Nasional parties in 1994.
Recalling the period, Dr Mahathir said when the elections were called, he came to Sabah to campaign but the atmosphere was not good despite his promise of a university.
"On my return to Kuala Lumpur, as we were having dinner at Angkasapuri, the Minister of Information Tan Sri Mohd Rahmat whispered into my ear that Pairin had pulled PBS out from Barisan Nasional.
"I hastily called a meeting of the Umno Supreme Council, which decided immediately to set up Umno in Sabah."
Dr Mahathir said he had been quite close to (ex-CM) Harris "but was suspicious of Pairin because I did not have any clear indication as to his loyalty to BN.
"Everytime I visited Sabah, when he was Chief Minister I felt as if I was in opposition territory."
Dr Mahathir said he even took Pairin on a trip to South Korea and talked to the latter at length about Sabah and its future.
He said Pairin had registered his objection to former CM Datuk Harris Mohd Salleh's consent to Labuan becoming a Federal Territory as he (Pairin) saw it as part of Sabah's domain which should be enhanced, not diminished.
"To emphasise his claim, he (Pairin) once held a State Cabinet meeting on Pulau Layang Layang, an island in the South China Sea reclaimed by the Federal Government, to indicate that it too was part of Sabah.
"He dwelt upon the 20 issues (20-Point Agreement) which Sabah claimed had remained unsettled since it had joined Malaysia. I expected trouble from him so I had to consolidate elsewhere," said Mahathir.
Mahathir said Umno Deputy President Tun Ghafar Baba spent a considerable amount of time in Sabah organising party divisions in all the constituencies.
"Although by polling day Umno had been set up in the State, it could not contest the election because of Pairin defection and Umno's response to it, had occurred after nomination day.
All Umno could do was to support Usno led by Tun Mustaffa," he said.
PBS won 14 parliamentary seats and BN only six.
"It was by far the worst performance ever by BN in Sabah," said Mahathir.
But he said since Gagasan lost, "Pairin's hope of remaining a part of the Federal Government was shatteredÉhe had backed the wrong horse.
"By deserting BN, Pairin lost whatever leverage he once had with the Federal Government to develop Sabah, in particular to secure a university for the State."
Mahathir said realising that PBS would no longer enjoy Federal Government cooperation, many of its members began to desert the party.