Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s speech at the party’s recent 27th anniversary celebration was spiritless and lacking in vision.
His information chief, Johnny Mositun, had earlier promised that Pairin “will address several thousand party leaders and delegates and talk in detail of the party’s achievement, directions and also what has to be done to face the general election.”
But Pairin’s speech did nothing of the sort. It was so uninspired and uninspiring that the anniversary deserved only a 200-word report on page-three of a local daily and a picture of top PBS leaders cutting a huge anniversary cake.
The size of the cake was a reflection of the amount of unanswered questions bristling in the air.
There was a defeatist tone in Pairin’s speech. When he “put on record his appreciation to the party leaders from all levels and members at the grassroots for holding steadfast to the party struggle”, it sounded like a lament for the loss of many members to new political platforms.
There was also a strong hint that the party’s original vision may have gone fuzzy if it has not vanished. Pairin, admitting that PBS had been facing plenty of challenges in the past 27 years, said he was thankful that the remaining leaders and members were not easily swayed from their convictions.
He said it was up to them to safeguard the future of Sabah and Sabahans. How would PBS do that while being subservient to Umno? Challenges from the opposition have left a large dent on PBS’s credibility as a “party for the people”.
And Pairin is still reeling from the direct hit he got in his sparring with his younger brother, State Reform Party (STAR) chairman Jeffrey Kitingan.
To the total surprise of Sabahans, he lost his legendary cool on Feb 27, attacking Jeffrey without provocation for “lying” about PBS and “betraying” it.
The next day Jeffrey delivered a bombshell, saying the so-called betrayal was a secret act to save Pairin’s face for 18 years. He disclosed that then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad offered him the chief minister’s job but that he rejected it as unconstitutional.
According to the younger brother, his efforts contributed to making it possible for Pairin to be eventually sworn in as CM. However, Jeffrey said, he reneged on his pledge to Mahathir to accommodate some Umno leaders in the state cabinet. Apparently, that blunder led to the downfall of PBS in 1994.
It is general knowledge among Sabahans that Pairin and PBS have a lot more reason than Jeffrey’s killer punches to lose the will to be aggressive. As the main Kadazandusun and Murut party supporting Umno in Sabah, PBS has long been seen to have abandoned its original struggle for the rights and dignity of the people of Sabah.
One observer, Richard Libun Adou, sees PBS as the one party keeping Umno from falling in Sabah. “If PBS leaves BN, Umno will lose support and fall in the next general election,” he said.
“Unfortunately, PBS leaders want to preserve their positions and privileges in Sabah BN at the expense of the people. Because of this selfishness, it is practically a traitor to the people who brought it to power in 1985.”
Observers everywhere share Adou’s view. The pressure on PBS has become especially heavy since STAR came on the political scene.
Four thousand people attended STAR’s launching at the Hongkod Koisaan building, ironically owned by the Kadazandusun CulturalAssociation, of which Pairin is the president. It went on to attract hundreds and thousands to its district-level launches.
Because Jeffrey is Pairin’s younger brother, the implication of STAR’s rousing popularity is felt most acutely in PBS, and more so in Pairin’s turfs of Tambunan and Keningau.
The difference between the support for PBS and the enthusiasm for STAR in the interior regions is like the difference between what the Kadazandusuns would call a puzsu and a nulu – an anthill and a real hill.
For instance, in their walkabouts in Keningau during the recent Chinese New Year celebrations, Pairin had 100 people accompanying him, but Jeffrey had a train of 500 followers. Even divisional PBS leaders are also cozying up to Jeffrey. They have even been seen to converge at his house.
This has disturbed Pairin, and he has confronted these leaders to ask them if they still supported him. The typical response has been something like this: “Tan Sri, we still love you, but we don’t like BN anymore.”
And that essentially spells out the core concept behind the ideological shift from PBS to STAR, not only in the interior, but also in areas where the Kadazandusuns and Muruts are in the majority.
Even considering all this, it is still amazing that the anniversary speech was such a resounding dud. While Pairin is well known for his monotonous, boring speeches, but good thinkers and writers like Maximus Ongkili and Henrynus Amin could have crafted for him a more powerful speech.
But no, PBS leaders apparently thought it fit to let the party’s dying spirit show in the apex moment of the post-silver anniversary.