Kitingan’s “Borneo Agenda” strikes a chord with the Sabah populace. — File pic
ANALYSIS, Aug 11 ― The battle to win Sabah is drawn. BN (Barisan Nasional), Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and UBF (United Borneo Front) are set to slug it out to win the hearts and minds of Sabahans.
BN is banking on the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on illegal immigrants and other development issues to retain Sabah while PR is trying to prove that it has better alternatives to address the Sabah issues.
So far, UBF led by the “maverick” leader Jeffrey Kitingan refuses to budge on his Borneo Agenda saying that Sabah should stand on its own and not depend too much on the federal leadership.
At stake are the 60 state and 25 parliamentary seats.
BN, PR and UBF are all confident of big wins.
But it all depends on their success at changing the mood of the Sabah electorate who are known to have the habit of kicking their leaders out of office.
In the days to come before the election, political leaders will try as hard as they could to bring the Sabah issues to the attention of the electorate.
Those who are able to convince the electorate that they have better policies and leadership will stand a chance to win.
Let us look at how BN, PR and UBF fare in addressing the Sabah issues. It is really up to voters to decide.
So far, BN has agreed to form the RCI to investigate the influx of illegal immigrants into Sabah.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will announce to terms of reference (TOR) of the RCI today.
This has brought cheers to some people who want to see the illegal immigrant problem solved once and for all.
The questions that linger in the minds of Sabahans are:
- What is going to happen next after the formation of the RCI?
- Will BN act swiftly to address the illegal immigrant problem on the recommendation of the RCI?
- Is BN ready to show a strong political will to solve the perennial problem?
The sceptics are criticising BN for acting too slow. They question BN’s sincerity and regard the RCI as a “political ploy” to win support. This will be BN’s last chance to prove that the grouses of Sabahans are heard and will be addressed head-on.
PR has in its “Buku Jingga” a five-point approach to deal with Sabah (and Sarawak).
Key in the document is PR’s plan to increase oil and gas royalty from five per cent to 20 per cent, and the reinstatement of Sabah’s autonomy in line with the Federal Constitution.
But Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s refusal to wholly support the “Tambunan Declaration” announced by Jeffrey following the latter’s admission into PKR set tongues wagging in Sabah.
Jeffrey is a popular Kadazandusun leader known for his strong regional stance.
Some people regarded Anwar’s reluctance to acknowledge Jeffrey’s demands as an affront to Sabahans who supported the call for “Sabah for Sabahans”.
There is no other Sabah leader more able than Jeffrey in articulating the issues of state rights and autonomy.
Sabah PKR does not have strong and popular leaders to promote the “Sabah for Sabahan” campaign. They also depend too much on Anwar’s charisma to rally support.
Jeffrey has been fighting for the Borneo Agenda since his early days in politics in the 1980s.
He was harassed, charged and detained once under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for speaking out on Sabah rights and autonomy.
Say that he is flogging the dead horse but Jeffrey remains a popular figure.
He has a penchant for jumping from one party to another like no one’s business. But yet, he has a strong grassroots support especially in the rural areas.
Now leading STAR Sabah, Jeffrey is set to provide a strong challenge to the two giants of BN and PR.
Jeffrey has shown no indication that he will work under PR.
This means STAR Sabah will go all out in areas where it has popular support.
STAR Sabah’s “Ini Kali Lah!” (This Is The Time!) campaign tagline has so far resonated well among all strata of society.
But STAR Sabah’s strong regional outlook might backfire. The country’s political landscape has changed very fast.
“New politics” is coming to Sabah slowly. This means Jeffrey cannot afford to depend too much on the Borneo Agenda to win support as many Sabahans are now becoming more exposed to national issues.
Apart from the ability to articulate and to provide alternatives to address the Sabah issues, the other ingredient that BN, PR and UBF need to have to win Sabah is a team of young, progressive and politically savvy leaders.
When I say young, it does not mean young in age but in outlook and approach. Sabah BN is banking too much on Najib’s charisma.
Najib is doing all he can to engage with as many different stakeholders as possible. He is running very fast with his national transformation agenda.
BN leaders in Sabah are trying to catch him up. Some stop midway and remain complacent.
In the end, no one seems to be interested in running anymore and all wait for Najib who is struggling to finish the race.
Sabah BN leaders cannot depend too much on development issues and on-the-spot grants anymore.
As the country enters into a new phase of its political history, “old politics” must go.
In the same way, without Anwar, Sabah PR is politically lifeless.
Anwar has been able to capture the imagination of Sabahans with his excellent oratory skills.
But rhetoric aside, many Sabahans do not trust him due to his role in the infamous 1994 government takeover by Umno in Sabah.
The only visible PR leaders are Ansari Abdullah and Ahmad Thamrin.
But both also do not have the clout to spearhead PR’s influence throughout Sabah.
It is too early to tell what the new PR recruits ― Datuk Seri Wilfred Bumburing and Datuk Seri Lajim Ukin ― can do to the opposition coalition.
Bumburing’s influence is only in Tamparuli and Tuaran while Lajim in Beaufort.
If Anwar wants to use Bumburing to penetrate into the Kadazandusun areas to weaken Jeffrey’s influence, it might be a little too late.
Bumburing does not have anything new to offer through his new political vehicle Angkatan Perubahan Sabah (APS).
Similarly, Lajim’s Pakatan Perubahan Sabah (PPS) would have a tough time getting the Muslim Bumiputera support in PR.
The Muslim Bumiputera support in BN remains strong under Datuk Seri Musa Aman and Sabah Umno.
Jeffrey is a man with his own time. He has many good ideas but does not have a solid team to execute them.
Further, Jeffrey lacks the “political savvy-ness” of Najib and Anwar.
A chef can only produce good recipes if he could mix the ingredients well.
People do not mind paying a high price for good food.
In the same way, BN, PR and UBF must be able to package their electoral issues well and to use a variety of creative ways to win votes because it is not really cheap to get votes nowadays.
By Arnold Puyok
* Arnold Puyok is a political analyst based in Sabah.