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Two-term limit for Sabah CMs. Three new ministries: Deputy Minister name change
Published on: Wednesday, October 18, 2023
By: Sherell Jeffrey, James Sarda
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Two-term limit for Sabah CMs. Three new ministries: Deputy Minister name change
This is the final of an 18-part series in conjunction with Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor’s third year as Sabah Chief Minister.
Kota Kinabalu: Sabahans can expect to wake up after the next State Election results are known to the prospect of whoever becomes Chief Minister only being able to serve a maximum two terms (five years each).

Changes to this effect to the State Constitution would be done soon, according to Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor. 

The Chief Minister hopes this would not only lead to better governance of the State but also ensure there would always be new blood occupying the top seat with new ideas on serving Sabah.

Hajiji also plans to raise the prestige of assistant ministers by renaming them as Deputy Ministers and increasing the number of ministries by three to 14. 

“I have proposed these and the State Cabinet has agreed,” said Hajiji, who hopes to have the relevant Bills tabled in the State Legislative Assembly next month in due course. 

“Amending the State Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds in the Assembly, therefore I’m hoping for their backing on this,” he told Daily Express in an exclusive to mark his third year in office. 

“Deputy Minister carries more weight and sounds much better,” Hajiji said, when asked for the rationale of the name change. 

It was Sabah’s first Federal Minister Tan Sri Peter Lo who got Federal to recognise the appointment of Assistant Ministers in a cabinet-style arrangement, instead of following the peninsula practice of referring to them as State Executive Councillors. 

Peter, a lawyer who later became Sabah’s second appointed CM, argued then that this was necessary to differentiate Sabah and Sarawak as partners rather than as ordinary Malayan states, as per the spirit and letter of the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

Federal agreed to this as well as the 20-Point safeguards which Lo suggested was necessary since the formation was a foregone conclusion.

Some of the Points were also contributed by Donald (later Fuad) Stephens, Khoo Siak Choo and then colonial Attorney-General Ken Jones.

As for increasing the State Cabinet from 11 to 14, Hajiji wants to see education, utilities, women’s issues, and health represented in the expansion. 

“It is up to Sabah to decide and we will let Federal know about it,” he said. 

On whether Sabah would rename the position of Chief Minister to Premier like Sarawak, Hajiji said this was also discussed. 

“Some people want ‘Premier’ while others prefer ‘Chief Minister’. 

“Sarawak has amended the Sarawak Constitution to this effect and although Federal has yet to change the Federal Constitution, they already recognise and respect Sarawak’s decision,” he said. 

For the record, Tan Sri Musa Aman (Umno) was the longest serving CM having served 15 years (2003-2018) while Tun Mustapha (Usno), Tan Sri Harris Salleh (Berjaya) and Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan all served nine years each. 

The two-year rotation of the CM post introduced in 1994 saw Umno (Tun Sakaran and Datuk Salleh Said Keruak), SAPP (Datuk Yong Teck Lee), PDS (Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, later Upko), Umno (Tan Sri Osu Sukam) and LDP (Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat) taking turns to hold the post. 

Warisan President Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal held the post for two years from 2018 until several members defected to the opposition and the state election that followed saw Hajiji, who led the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition, emerging as next CM. 

This made Sabah the state with the most number becoming CMs since independence through Malaysia in 1963.

The first appointed CM Stephens only held the post for 15 months when serious political differences with first Governor Tun Mustapha forced Kuala Lumpur to appoint Lo as caretaker CM from January 1965 till the first State election in 1967 which was won by Usno. 

In May this year, the State Constitution underwent reform when it adopted the Anti-Hop Law that was passed in parliament earlier.

The law barred elected representatives from switching parties. 

However, it does not prevent a party as a whole from forging alliances to form the State Government. 

Along with this move, the State Government deleted Article 6(7) of the Sabah constitution on May 25 over how the Governor could appoint the Chief Minister. 

Article 6(7), which was included in the state constitution in 1990, was meant as a guide for the Governor to pick the leader of the winning party to be Chief Minister to avoid attempts by losing parties from grabbing power, especially by ramping up their share of assemblyman by including six nominated assemblyman to achieve a “majority”. 

Under Article 6(3), the appointment of the Chief Minister was based on the Governor’s discretionary powers on “who in his judgement is likely to command the confidence of a majority of the members of the assembly”. 

Some felt the recently deleted Article 6(7) had served to guide the Governor on picking the leader of the party with a majority following in state election.

The deletion of Article 6(7) was tabled together with the anti-party hopping law by Hajiji. 

In defending the state government’s move to delete the article, Hajiji said it gave the Governor a free hand to pick the Chief Minister.

The Governor is now not bound to appoint the leader of the political party that won the majority of seats in an election. 

With the deletion of Article 6(7) it is left to be seen if there would be constitutional challenges ahead with future political developments after an election, given Sabah’s “Wild East” politics. 

The 1985 state election, Parti Bersatu Sabah led by Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan won 25 of the 48 seats, toppling the Berjaya state government led by Tan Sri Mohd Harris Salleh.

However, Usno President Mustapha, whose party won 16 seats, teamed up with Berjaya, which had won six seats, to get himself sworn in as Chief Minister. 

They included the six nominated assemblymen to argue the combined tally of 26 seats gave them a simple majority to justify the then Governor swearing him in. 

However, then acting Prime Minister Tan Sri Musa Hitam intervened, saying that the democratic process must be observed. 

Pairin was subsequently sworn in and in 1999, PBS introduced Article 6(7) to stop such power grabs. 

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