KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 ― Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has defended the increase in the number of migrants in Sabah, pointing out that they qualified to be citizens because they have been staying in Malaysia for decades and spoke Bahasa Malaysia.
His remarks come even as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tries to head off the potential for a revolt in Sabah over the illegal immigrants issue, after two Barisan Nasional (BN) lawmakers quit recently citing the federal government’s lack of resolve in solving the surge in the number of foreigners in the state.
Some opposition politicians have blamed Dr Mahathir for the growth of illegal immigrant numbers in Sabah, pointing to the fact that the state saw a huge increase in population during his time as the prime minister.
But Dr Mahathir, who was premier from 1981 until 2003, sought to justify the increase in Sabah’s population in the latest posting on his blog.
These are the people of Indian, Arab, Indonesian and even Turkish and European origins who are accepted as indigenous people by all of us.
“On the basis of length of stay and mastering of the national language, they qualify to be citizens of this country. And so they acquired citizenship.
“By comparison, we have many citizens who cannot speak the national language who were accepted as citizens. And we are still giving citizenships to foreigners who wish to be Malaysians on condition they have been living in this country for 10 out of the last 12 years, speak the national language and take the oath of allegiance to the country.
“So why cannot the migrants to Sabah who have all these qualifications be accepted as citizens? The objections for them being accepted seem to be political,” he said.
Najib is expected to reveal the terms of reference for the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into Sabah’s illegal immigrant problem this Saturday, finally putting an end to nearly six months of uncertainty on the issue.
The prime minister said that the terms for the royal panel’s probe will be disclosed following his meeting with Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders.
Justifying his position on Sabah, Dr Mahathir said today that there were many people of foreign origin in Malaysia who were now accepted as Malays because they have been assimilated.
“These are the people of Indian, Arab, Indonesian and even Turkish and European origins who are accepted as indigenous people by all of us. They have been so accepted because they identified themselves fully with the indigenous people. They speak the language of the indigenous people habitually, practice the customs and traditions of the people they have been assimilated into and incidentally they are Muslim.
“According to the Federal Constitution, these people are Malays and are, therefore, indigenous and not foreign in origin.”
The prime minister’s visit to the east Malaysian state this Saturday may coincide with Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s, who is scheduled to be in Sabah the following day.
Najib had announced the highly-anticipated RCI on Sabah’s illegal immigrant issue on June 1 but stopped short of revealing details of the panel’s composition and terms of reference.
The subject has been bandied about in the media since February 10 when Sabah BN leader Tan Sri Bernard Dompok’s first announced Cabinet’s decision to form the RCI.
The unchecked influx of illegal immigrants in Sabah has been a longstanding problem in the BN-ruled state, and frequently blamed for the rise in social, economic and security problems suffered by the locals here.
According to replies provided in Parliament last year, Sabah’s populace numbered 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose significantly by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.
Media reports said that as of 2010, this number has grown further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.
Opposition leaders have long raged against the BN government for this population explosion, alleging that illegals have been allowed into the east Malaysian state, and given MyKads and voting rights to help the ruling coalition cling to power.
The issue has also been among the key reasons behind the latest departures of two senior BN lawmakers ― Tuaran MP Datuk Seri Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing and Beaufort MP Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin.