Leaders of local opposition, STAR, who recently returned from the party's recent SWOT analysis meeting are pessimistic about the party's direction.
KOTA KINABALU 15/11/2012: Has the State Reform Party (STAR) peaked too soon in Sabah?
The party is seeing a slowdown in membership applications, it has failed to attract high profile former Barisan Nasional leaders who have quit the ruling coalition and its campaign is disjointed.
Tongues are wagging and party leader, maverick local politician Jeffrey Kitingan, is taking most of the flak. He is being blamed for being indecisive in the face manifold problems confronting the local opposition party that was formed 10 months ago.
Hints of despair in the party are surfacing and Kitingan who is no stranger to controversy may fall into a political abyss yet again by “refusing to listen to good and alert colleagues”, according to people with knowledge of the situation in the party.
Insiders say party leaders are worried local politicians such as independent MPs Lajim Ukin and Wilfred Bumburing who resigned from the ruling coalition three months ago, do not see STAR as a viable option.
While it is widely known that BN component parties like Umno, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut organisation (Upko) are experiencing a leak in their membership, the former BN parties’ supporters are shunning the local opposition parties for PKR.
The latest example is former Lahad Datu PBS strongman, Mohamadin Ketapi, who like Bumburing and Lajim, is known to have met Kitingan a few times but did not join the party.
STAR has a few Muslim leaders within its fold but their influence is limited. Despite the drawback, the party is not giving up its bid to contest in mainly Muslim areas for a bigger share of power in the 60-seat state assembly.
But the party may also have other organisational and management problems. While its financial status is unknown, PKR and even fellow local opposition party, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) are deemed to be in a better position in this area.
STAR’s two separate wings – youth and women – on the other hand are said to lack cohesion.
SAPP may get a free ride from Pakatan Rakyat in three Chinese dominated state seats – Likas which was once held by SAPP president Yong Teck Lee, Api-Api where Yong’s nemesis PBS Yee Moh Chai is incumbent and Luyang, where the party’s incumbent Melanie Chia remains popular.
STAR, on the other hand, remains unsettled as the 13th general election gets closer. It is sending out conflicting signals and giving “false hope” according to some within the party.
STAR’s leaders pessimistic
An insider who declined to be named discussing party matters said that one such example of “false hope” is in KadazanDusun area, Kuala Penyu. STAR has little hope of wresting the seat from PKR’s John Ghani, the probable opposition candidate.
Such is Ghani’s popularity in the constituency that he is reportedly being pursued by Sabah Umno.
STAR’s search for credible leaders who can pose a challenge is bogged down. Of its four deputy state chairmen, only Nicholas Guntobon, a young medical practitioner is certain to contest in Liawan, Keningau.
Another, Paul Voon is said to be hesitant, while outspoken Daniel John Jambun is said to be struggling to get his party’s endorsement for contesting in Inanam which is also being eyed by SAPP’s Sepanggar MP Eric Majimbun.
Jambun could also be good for the Sepanggar parliamentary seat but since Kitingan has agreed to the status quo with SAPP, his deputy chairman is in a fix. He may still go up against the SAPP candidate in Inanam but this would split the opposition vote.
Another deputy, Awang Ahmad Sah Sahari from Petagas, is said to be reluctant to stand in his own area as it has over 4,000 postal votes from the army base in Kem Lok Kawi.
Awang was initially said to be keen to be fielded in Sekong, Sandakan but later switched to nearby Kimanis parliamentary seat where the Kadazandusun population is fairly substantial.
However he may end up having to now wait and see what happens in the Muslim-Chinese state seat of Tanjong Aru adjacent to Petagas. But even here its a toss up as SAPP secretary-general Richard Yong is also said to be the favoured opposition candidate.
Leaders of STAR who recently returned from the party’s recent SWOT analysis meeting in Tambunan are pessimistic about the party’s direction.
They said that despite strong grassroots support, there are many issues the party has not addressed including on funds for advertising and media campaigns.
“We cannot be operating on free services. We need strategists. We must have our party organs. Even our website was only recently put up.
“STAR must wake up and harness the strength of support of Sabahans. We cannot be complacent. The problem is some are already over-confident of winning, but this could be a false hope as many are still fence-sitters,” said one leader who asked not to be identified.
In the end, it will be all up to the mercurial Kitingan, a Harvard University trained academic-turned-politician. What his colleagues in the party are worried about is that he may add credibility to saying that leaders only want to hear nice things about them.