February 6, 2013
A project most foul
Either Dr Mahathir Mohamad or Anwar Ibrahim was responsible for Project IC. Or were they both partners in this ‘political crime’?
The nation reeled in shock when the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) holding court in Sabah heard witnesses testify about a devious scheme to populate Sabah with foreigners. This secret project – Project IC – was set in motion in the early 1980s to give away blue identity cards to illegal immigrants in Sabah in exchange for their votes. As a result, the state saw a dramatic increase in its population.
From 1980 to 2000, the population rose from about 1,013,003 to 2,603,485. It is estimated that there are now 1.75 million foreigners – mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Pakistan – in the state compared with 1.5 million genuine locals. The dirty game was played out when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the Prime Minister.
Anwar Ibrahim joined Mahathir’s Cabinet in 1983 and 10 years later, was anointed as the Deputy Prime Minister. Anwar was just a heart’s beat away from the centre of power but fell from grace in 1998. Project IC was conceived during Anwar’s time and it was said its objective was to ensure Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) would not be returned to power in the 1994 general election.
It nearly achieved its mission because PBS came back with a reduced majority. PBS governed the state from 1985 to 1994, which was certainly distasteful to Mahathir and perhaps Anwar.
The thousands of illegal immigrants who were given the blue ICs and had the right to vote had evidently played a major role in seeing PBS cut down to size. Was Anwar in the dark when the BN devil’s workshop was busily plotting the downfall of PBS? Meanwhile, with the passage of time the suspicion grew that Mahathir was the man who engineered Project IC. He was not directly implicated and had never admitted to this foul practice. But then in recent years the call grew louder for a RCI to get to the bottom of this morass.
The RCI hearings revealed a shocking tale of government collusion in giving away the blue ICs to the illegal immigrants. Mahathir himself admitted the existence of this nefarious project. He justified its existence because the immigrants had stayed in Sabah for many years and had mastered Bahasa Malaysia. His justification carries little weight especially when there are thousands of locals born and bred in Malaysia who are denied the right to citizenship.
Mahathir now blames Anwar for Project IC. Anwar claims innocence and points the finger back at his former boss. If Mahathir’s accusation sticks, Anwar will be in hot water because Sabah will be unable to come to terms with the “treacherous” Opposition leader if Pakatan Rakyat comes to power. The old doctor is clearly hoping to undermine Anwar’s credibility as the latter fights to stay clean and honourable in the political race.
Mahathir is standing on thin ice because he has indirectly made a confession. Shifting the blame suddenly to Anwar is a lame attempt at extricating himself from a political mess. But Anwar, too, cannot claim total innocence because he was in the government for so many years and was Mahathir’s right-hand man and heir apparent. Didn’t his boss whisper in his ears about Project IC during all those long years of political partnership? Didn’t he become Mahathir’s “errand boy” for the dirty job?
Both men, now mortal foes, are willing to testify at the ongoing RCI hearings but with politics in their minds. Mahathir will want to convince the voters in Sabah that Anwar is the “political crook” who had initiated Project IC and had acted without orders from the top. Anwar will play the “guiltless hero” who will argue he was never consulted about the stratagem and therefore could come out smelling like a rose.
But Mahathir is irrelevant because it is unlikely he will make a political comeback. It is a resurgent Anwar who must speak the plain truth because Sabah is pivotal to his chances of occupying the chair of his former boss. Project IC is now an albatross around his neck and he must get rid of it fast if he wants to win over the people in Sabah. It will certainly work to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s advantage if Anwar turns out to be the main culprit.
Still the old man cannot be let off the hook. The citizenship-for-votes scheme is a political crime for which he must take full responsibility because it all happened under his watch. He cannot plead ignorance for a massive operation that robbed the genuine citizens of Sabah of their sovereign rights. If a special court is to be set up to try the culprits for their despicable role in Project IC, Mahathir should be the first to face justice. He should stand in the dock for “selling Sabah” for a few pieces of ballot papers.