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Formation of Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP)

Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) was registered on Jan. 21, 1994.

Among founders of the SAPP who were in the nation's capital, Kuala Lumpur, to get the Party registered were: Datuk Yong Teck Lee (Protem President), Datuk Geoffrey Yee Lung Fook (Protem Secretary-General) and Datuk Tham Nyip Shen (Protem Treasurer-General).

Others, like Datuk Seri Panglima Tan Kit Sher, Datuk Joseph Chia Swee Chung and Datuk Philip Yong Chiew Lip, stayed behind in Kota Kinabalu to keep potential members informed of the developments.

When Datuk Yong and other SAPP officials left for Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 20, 1994, the application forms were only partially completed. Complete particulars were later filled in.

At about 3.00pm on Jan. 21, 1994, the mission to get the new party registered was accomplished.

The move came at the crucial time when the then Chief Minister of Sabah had dissolved the State Legislative Assembly (on Jan. 10, 1994) in order to seek a fresh mandate for his party.

Polling was fixed by the Election Commission for Feb. 18 and 19, 1994. This means that the newly formed SAPP has the immediate challenge of a State election only weeks after its formation.


A MULTI-RACIAL crowd of over 2,000 people of Sabah gathered at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport on Jan. 22, 1994 eagerly awaiting to cheer and give support to Datuk Yong Teck Lee, and other leaders of a newly established Chinese-led multi-racial Sabah Progressive Party (known in short as SAPP). They were returning to the State Capital from Kuala Lumpur to officially announce that the Registrar of Societies had issued a certificate for the registration of the Party only the day before.

It was a historic moment for Malaysian in Sabah who had still not fully recovered yet from the brief announcement only two days earlier that Datuk Yong had resigned from the ruling Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS). News of the resignation sent shock waves throughout the nation. By his bold step, Datuk Yong had, in effect, relinquished his position as deputy president of PBS as well as Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Industrial Development in the State Cabinet.

The move came at the crucial time when the PBS President and Chief Minister, Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan had decided to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly and seek a fresh mandate for his party's fourth five-year term. Polling was fixed by the Election Commission for Feb. 18 and 19, only weeks away.

After a rousing welcome by the masses of supporters and well wishes at the airport amidst the joyous sounds of drums of traditional Chinese lion dances and Malay Kompangs, Datuk Yong told a press conference that the Sabah Progressive Party was formed because of the urgent need for a state- federal reconciliation in order to bring Sabah into the mainstream of development. I believe that this is the time for a change in the political scenario, he declared.

He proclaimed that the State needed a firm, decisive and disciplined political leadership to provide direction and stability and to unite the people of all communities. He stressed that the struggle of SAPP is not based on one race highlighted a number of issues affecting the Chinese community at that time and he divulged other factors that influenced him and other leaders to establish SAPP.

He said it was his sincere desire to see the Chinese community and its leadership united and not be manipulated or divided by other leaders. There was now a need for a new team of leaders and political organization where the Chinese and other communities could call home. At this historical press was then the protem President of the newly formed party and other SAPP leaders, took the opportunity to explain fully the various circumstances that prompted the formation of Sabah Progressive Party.

Like Datuk Yong, the others who had joined him to resign from the ruling PBS, had been with that party from its inception in 1985. Being founding member, it was therefore not an easy decision for them to leave PBS and it was not surely not a decision made in haste. Datuk Yong told the press that he was not aware of any personal differences with Pairin but had differences with PBS leader only over certain policy matters, announcements and other matters in the government. He explained that his departure from PBS was not just because of the question of the selection of candidates for the coming election. Other factors such as politic, policies and the remaining in PBS.

Pairin and a few people around him had made it impossible for Datuk Yong and other leaders who left with him to remain in PBS. A situation was created which made it impossible for them to stay on. One way which Pairin had made life difficult was to keep other leaders in the party in suspense. When personal agenda dictated party and government policy directions, it was time for a change.

The abrupt dissolution of the State Legislative Assembly on Jan. 10, 1994 is a classic example of the high-handed manner in which Pairin made major PBS and government decisions. They were officially informed at about the same time as the news media.

The dissolution caught all the State Ministers and Assemblymen by surprise as only a month earlier, the PBS Supreme Council discussed the matter and it was felt then that the elections should be held after the Chinese New Year and the Muslim fasting month.

The State leaders were thrown into a state of confusion by the sudden action of Pairin and many of them felt that the dissolution of the State Assembly was decided by Pairin to fit his personal agenda or calendar. It certainly did not take into consideration the needs of the State and the people. For the first time in Sabah, the election had to be held in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations and the beginning of the Muslim fasting month. It was actions of Pairin such as this that made the position of Datuk Yong and others in PBS no longer tenable and forced them to finally decide to change vehicle for their political struggle. The frustrations of Datuk Yong and his colleagues who were formerly with PBS were built up over many years. They had stayed on hoping that changes would come.

In his own words: We remained (in PBS) hoping that things will change, Pairin will recover from his fickle minded phase and return to his relief in collective wisdom. We were optimistic and we were wrong. Pairin became worse. And if you go by his declaration that he is not ashamed of his conviction for corruption (by the High Court in Kota Kinabalu on January 17, 1994), you can probably assess how far his sense of moral has sunken.

The coldness between Datuk Yong and Pairin and the lack of confidence Pairin were the result of years of tolerating his one-man government. There is a Chinese saying that a three-foot thick piece of ice cannot have been due to an overnight frost. The chill in our hearts towards Pairin is the result of years of tolerating him extensively on his reasons for quitting PBS.

His departure from the ruling party had resulted in a rather volatile political situation in the State. On this, Datuk Yong said that such a situation was proof that democracy was very much alive in the State. It was considering the fact that the approaching State election was going to be the fourth in nine years.

He said that Sabah had a political and economic problem and the election provided the people in the State a chance to determine the solution to the problem and the direction the people must collectively take to pull the State out of the rut.

The initial announcement of Datuk Yong to resign from PBS was brief. It came in the form of a short statement issued by his Press Secretary, Mr. Richard Yong We Kong, on January 20 evening in Kota Kinabalu. By then, Datuk Yong had already left for Kuala Lumpur to make an official application for the registration of the party. Datuk Yong was also State Assemblyman for the Likas constituency, a seat held for three terms then, since his maiden victory in 1985.

Datuk Yong was certainly not alone in making this historic move. The day after the announcement of his resignation, three other Chinese leaders from PBS made public the fact that they too were quitting the party to follow his footsteps. They were: Datuk Tham Nyip Shen, the State Assembly man for Elopura constituency and Supreme Council member of PBS; Datuk Philip Yong, Youth Exco and youth chairman of Likas Division of the party; and Datuk Geoffrey Yee Lung Fook, a member of Parliament of Tawau and founder member of PBS. Both Tham and Yee were with Datuk Yong in Kuala Lumpur seeking registration of the new party together.

The three announced that they had relinquished all posts in PBS. In a strongly worded statement to the press, Philip Yong said he shared the same feeling (with Datuk Yong) that Pairin had deviated from party policy. He said Pairin had disregarded the wishes of party Congress in 1992 and prevent them from contesting in the forthcoming State election.

He said Datuk Yong was duly elected as the deputy president representing the Chinese in the party but Pairin chose not to consult Datuk Yong in the selection of Chinese candidates for the election. Philip said: What Pairin has done is more than just an insult to Datuk Yong as the deputy president but an affront to the dignity of the Chinese members who elected him and the Chinese community in the State. I am sad to leave the party but I am happy that we are taking the right direction for the Chinese community. Tham said in his press statement that he had lost confidence of the (PBS) party leadership and that he would rather leave the party than to be a yes-man. Other leaders felt the same. The following day, Datuk Tan Kit Sher and Datuk Joseph Chia Swee Chung, both lawyer, also quit PBS. Tan was a vice president of the party and holding then the post of Minister of Tourism and Environmental Development and other government positions. The increasingly authoritarian leadership of Pairin is bound to collapse under its own weight. The leadership of Pairin has gone the way of his predecessors and is doomed to fail, Tan predicted on that day, Jan. 22, 1994.

Datuk Joseph Chia, a founder, Supreme Council member and vice chairman of the Api-Api division of the PBS, said he could no longer stand Pairin's dictatorial leadership. The last straw, he said, was the manner with which Pairin schemed to exclude Datuk Yong from seeking re-election as a PBS candidate. Soon, other PBS leaders followed suit. Among them were State Assemblyman Datuk Chong On Tet, one of Pairin's Assistant Ministers and Chairman of Sembulan division of PBS and two government appointed Political Secretaries Mr. Foo Fook Ming and En. Rashid Hj Gador.

The views expressed by these courageous leaders who sacrificed high-ranking positions in PBS and the State Government to from SAPP, were echoed by community leaders in the local press. The Daily Express, in front page report on the day the formation of the Party was announced, quoted a Chinese community leader as saying that Datuk Yong and other Chinese leaders had disagreement with Pairin over several issues in the past.

It is clear that their constructive criticisms had not been respected and accepted, thus causing great frustration to these Chinese leaders, he added. Commenting on the resignation of Datuk Yong from PBS, the community leader said that in the eyes of the Chinese community, if Datuk Yong, who was the highest ranking leader in PBS was no longer effective in voicing and protecting the interest of the community, he (Datuk Yong) would eventually lose the respect of the community.

It would no longer serve any purpose to stay in the party if he is unable to play his role effectively. Being a founder member of PBS, it must be quite painful for him to do so (quit PBS). Being a man of principle and committed to the service of the Chinese community, I guess Datuk Yong has no choice but to leave, the community leader stated.

A day earlier, the Sabah Times quoted a senior Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry official in Kota Kinabalu, also in a front page report as having said: Obviously, the Kadazan-dominated PBS leadership appear to be deliberately suppressing a Chinese leader who speak for us. Pairin has been hogging so much of the limelight that he is overshadowing the Chinese leaders who are our spokesmen. The trend is not healthy.

Official word of the establishment of a new vehicle to continue with the political struggle of the Chinese and other communities was therefore eagerly awaited by those who personally came and thronged the corridors of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport that momentous Jan. 22, 1994 afternoon.

The awaiting supporters and well-wishers at the airport were asked to move on to the grounds of a restaurant at Tanjung Aru where Datuk Yong spoke to them about the dramatic events of the past few days and the circumstances surrounding the decision to form the new party. Datuk Yong's address was repeatedly interrupted with thunderous applause, especially when he introduced one by one the other leaders who had joined him to form the Sabah Progressive Party.

The euphoria of the crowd was somehow reflected by the party symbol shown in public for the first time - a yellow sun (signifying the brightness of Sabah's future in Malaysia) rising from behind a map of Sabah which is in green, a colour signifying the beauty of her people, nature and richness in resources. The rising sun and the map of Sabah are on a sky blue background, a color depicting the depth of vision. The purple border for the square shaped party symbol signifies the unity of Malaysians in Sabah.

The 11 point objectives of the Party are:

  • to establish a democratic, responsible and fair government which is firm, decisive and disciplined;

  • to establish a fair, free and just society for all peoples irrespective if race, religion, creed or sex;

  • to protect, promote and safeguard the rights and interest and aspirations of the people of Sabah in the Federation of Malaysia;

  • to uphold and promote the principles of parliamentary democracy and the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all citizens;

  • to promote and protect the rights and interests of local natives and other citizens in Sabah and Malaysia;

  • to protect, preserve and promote the cultures and traditional customs of all the peoples of Sabah and Malaysia;

  • to uphold, protect and promote religious freedom in Sabah and Malaysia;

  • to promote harmony, understanding, goodwill and unity among all the peoples of Sabah and Malaysia with the spirit of self-reliance, endeavor and co-operation;

  • to promote the economic, social, cultural, educational and political development of the peoples of Sabah and Malaysia;

  • to co-operate or affiliate with any political organization or party in any part of Malaysia with similar objects and principles in order to attain further such objects and principles; and

  • to do all such acts and things not stipulated in the preceding Articles in the interests of the party.

During the weeks that followed that historic day when the formation of the Party was officially announced, the founders of SAPP took the opportunity to expound the objects of the Party to the peoples of Sabah.

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