Some analysts in Sabah believe that as many as 20 seats, including five or six parliamentary seats, could go to BN as a result of a split in opposition votes.
KOTA KINABALU 11/10/2012: Sabah is set to see multi-cornered fights in most areas in the coming general election. This means that the ruling Barisan Nasional may have the edge.
At this stage, observers can conclude that the opposition parties in Sabah are giving Umno-led BN a “free advantage” to retain a majority of the Sabah seats.
At stake in Sabah are 26 parliamentary seats, including one in Labuan, and 60 state seats.
Sabah chairman of State Reform Party (STAR), Jeffrey Kitingan, said recently that his party is all but ready to announce the seats – parliamentary and state – it will contest.
“We can announce the seats shortly,” he said confidently to reporters when asked how many seats STAR will contest in Sabah.
Jeffrey in the past had talked about contesting in more than half of the 60 state seats. He had even at one stage indicated that STAR may go the whole hog and contest in all 26 parliamentary and 60 state seats.
But reality seems to have set in.
Asked if STAR had reconciled overlapping claims on seats with other opposition parties – Pakatan Rakyat and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) – Jeffrey refused to divulge further.
“Wait for another day,” he said.
He also reiterated that STAR had received the green light from the Election Commission (EC) to contest in Sabah in the coming polls.
STAR list ready
The Sarawak-based STAR’s eligibility to stand in Sabah under its symbol has attracted much speculation even though the party had done so in Kota Marudu years back.
STAR’s Sabah chapter secretary, Guandee Kohoi, said that EC Sabah director, Idrus Ismail, in a meeting with Jeffrey, himself and Edward Linggu (STAR information chief) had given them assurance that STAR indeed could field candidates in Sabah.
“STAR is already on the latest list of political parties EC gave us. Even the name of STAR has been amended and does not state the word Sarawak anymore but just State Reform Party.
“The latest list also contains the re-named party, Sarawak Worker’s Party’ [SWP], which was previously Sabah-based Sabah People’s Front [SPF],” Kohoi said.
Meanwhile, the number of STAR’s potential candidates has been growing steadily and in many places, they are already clear frontrunners.
At least half a dozen graduate teachers aligned to STAR have so far resigned from their posts, and a few other civil servants are said to be set to retire early to prepare to be the candidates.
STAR Youth leader, Hasmin Azroy Abdulah, is among the teachers who have resigned. He could be STAR’s candidate for Tenom parliamentary seat or one of the state seats in the constituency.
Another teacher who has also resigned is Maklin Masiau. He is poised to be STAR’s candidate for poverty-stricken Pitas state seat in the north. Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) is also eyeing Pitas.
Pinus Gondili is another teacher who quit his job and is slated to contest under STAR in Labuk. He is certain to fight incumbent Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) vice-president, Michael Asang, after PBS recently confirmed Asang would be retained.
PKR is also eyeing Labuk, making it one of those many seats in Sabah that are likely to see four-cornered fights between BN and the opposition trio – STAR, Pakatan and SAPP.
Meanwhile, both STAR and SAPP leaders are saying publicly, at least, that they would not want to face each other where their respective “big guns” are contesting.
That would mean SAPP would not put up a candidate against Jeffrey and his right-hand men. But there is a big question mark as Inanam, the seat of Jeffrey’s senior deputy Daniel John Jambun, is being eyed by SAPP through its deputy president Eric Majimbun who is Sepanggar MP.
The cunning SAPP has previously suggested that all should respect the status quo of the incumbents.
Soon after getting others to “respect” it, SAPP moved to claim Inanam.
“The question is, if SAPP is adamant on taking both Inanam and Sepanggar, then where will Jambun contest?” asked a STAR supporter in Inanam recently.
Jambun had in 2008 contested under PKR ticket and garnered a respectable 4,293 votes against DAP’s 2,864. The eventual winner was BN-PBS Johnny Goh who obtained 5,979 votes.
Karambunai is another state seat under Sepanggar, but it is possible that SAPP president Yong Teck Lee would want to stand there this time as he has scores of Malay supporters in this constituency.
Other possible places for Yong are his former seat Likas near here or Lahad Datu, his hometown in the east coast.
Yong stood in the Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election in November 2010 and lost badly, finishing last with only 2,031 votes behind PKR-imported candidate Ansari Abdullah’s 3,414 and eventual winner BN-PBS Linda Tsen who received 9,773.
SAPP could be fielding its secretary-general Richard Yong in the Tanjung Aru mixed state seat where another of Jeffrey’s deputy, Ahmad Sah Sahari, is keen.
It is understood that STAR is prepared to let SAPP take Tanjung Aru. But Pakatan – maybe through DAP – is also eyeing the seat.
Split opposition votes
The murky waters of Sabah’s politics is set to get murkier as opposition leaders fail to appreciate the importance of reconciling their differences and overlapping claims of strength.
Some analysts have said that this time as many as 20 seats, including five or six parliamentary seats, could go to BN by default as a result of a split in opposition votes.
One analyst cited Kadamaian where if the three opposition parties – STAR, Pakatan and SAPP – put up their respective candidates, they could garner combined votes of around 6,000, leaving a BN candidate way behind with only about 3,500 votes. But BN would still win because of the “strategic” split in the opposition camps.
He said a similar situation was also likely in adjacent Tempasuk state seat. The combined votes of the opposition could outnumber BN’s but because of the split, BN will retain Tempasuk.
For the record, in the last general election in 2008, there was a three-cornered fight for Tempasuk. BN won the seat after its candidate polled 6,541 votes. PKR garnered 4,109 and an independent took only 191 votes.
As for Kadamaian in 2008, BN-PBS Herbert Timbon Lagadan chalked up 5,382 votes, followed by PKR Lukia Indan’s 2,909 and independent Peter Marajin’s 1,729.
“There is no question that this time , votes for the opposition would increase in almost all areas and everyone can feel it and even BN leaders acknowledge this.
“But the one factor that can ensure BN will win in Sabah is the split opposition votes,” said an observer who is also an NGO leader.
Meanwhile, there is no signal that SAPP is re-engaging with Pakatan after being slighted by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s conniving manoeuvres.
There is also no sign at all that STAR and SAPP are close to working together. They have not started talking on a common manifesto.
In fact, both appeared to be trying to outdo each other with their respective draft manifesto.
While STAR commands a respectable following especially in Kadazandusun areas, SAPP cannot be ruled out of the scene.
Standing in the way, SAPP, no matter how small its sway over voters is, could make STAR stumble and suffer, either by default or design.
Pakatan, through its PKR component, is also a group to be reckoned with in many of the Kadazandusun areas as it has its own flock now, some of whom are led by Jeffrey’s former colleagues in PKR who are tired of following his political journey.
The sooner Jeffrey, Anwar and Yong realise their follies, the better it will be for Sabah.
If Jeffrey scales down on STAR seats, he could end up facing a possible revolt within the party as those who have resigned, or spent time and money believing they would be candidates would surely be frustrated and feel like they have been taken for a ride.
Currently “lost” SAPP needs a win-win engagement now but, except for STAR, no party seems to want to take it seriously as a partner, not even Chinese-based DAP.
PKR, to say the least, is already in a “tea-cup turmoil” with incumbent leaders feeling the pressure from new “blue-eyed boys” of Anwar – Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing, who are neither PKR members nor its enemies, but already “dictating” terms on political matters.