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Sabah illegals 'given ICs and sent to vote'

A water village in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Many migrants in Sabah live in such villages. An independent inquiry has been asked to determine the reasons for a steep rise in Sabah's population. (ST PHOTO: CAROLYN HONG)

Publication Date : 17-01-2013


Thousands of illegal immigrants in Sabah were given identity cards with Muslim names and planted as voters around the state, former senior officials told an independent inquiry, in testimony that could prove damaging to the government ahead of a general election.

Testifying on charges that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) had shored up support by granting citizenship to migrants, former Sabah National Registration Department director Ramli Kamaruddin said he was instructed to issue these identity cards before the 1994 election.

He said then deputy home minister Megat Junid Megat Ayub told him to use the names and IC numbers of those who were on the electoral roll but never voted.

"We teach them how to vote. We gather them in a house. We send them by bus to the polling stations," he said yesterday, as quoted in local media reports on the independent Royal Commission of Inquiry in Kota Kinabalu.

He said the migrants were given temporary identity cards and 20 ringgit (US$6.60) to vote.

As a result, Ramli said, he was detained under the Internal Security Act for selling ICs from 1995 to 1997.

Despite being one of Malaysia's poorest states, Sabah grew from 650,000 people in 1970 to 3.2 million today, according to the Sabah Statistics Department. More than a quarter of its population is foreign. Native leaders say foreigners compete with natives for jobs, land, housing and amenities.

The commission, headed by retired judge Steve Shim, has been asked to determine the reasons for the steep rise in Sabah's population, and whether this was done legally. It will also determine whether immigrants were voting illegally.

The issue has become campaign fodder for the revitalised opposition in Sabah. The Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak collectively contributed one-third of BN's parliamentary seats in the 2008 general election. In the next election, to be held by June, Sabah is expected to be hotly contested.

The local media also quoted former Sabah national registration department deputy director Mohd Nasir Sugip speaking of a project - "Ops Durian Buruk" (Ops Spoilt Durian) - which ran between 1992 and 1995.

Mohd Nasir, who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from 1995 to 1998, said he was given a list of 16,000 names by the Sabah Election Commission. He said he was told to classify them as Muslim Bumiputera, and give them identity cards based on details provided by the EC.

"The list consisted of Filipinos and Indonesians who were Muslim and aged above 21 years," he said. In the central Sabah seat of Sugud, for example, he said, they planted 800 voters and the BN candidate won by 79 votes.

Another official, Yakup Damsah, testified that he was involved in a separate operation whereby permanent identity cards were issued to 40,000 migrants. He said he and several other officials were flown to Kuala Lumpur and taken to the house of Aziz Shamsuddin, political secretary to then premier Mahathir Mohamad.

They were told to sign the identity cards to be issued to the foreigners.

Yakup, who was also detained under the ISA, said they were told that the aim was to increase the number of Muslim voters in Sabah to vote for Umno in the 1994 election.

On Tuesday, former Sabah chief minister Harris Salleh denied that migrants were given ICs to vote.

The hearing continues today.


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