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Saturday, April 30, 2011

‘Common enemy’ too powerful for minnows

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman is the man to defeat for his allies and foes but his position is unshakeable.

COMMENT

The spat between Sabah Barisan Nasional (BN) and its small partner Liberal Demoractic Party (LDP) is not likely to end any time soon. In fact, the row is getting worse.

Lately, the LDP, once helmed by Chong Kah Kiat, a former Sabah chief minister, is becoming bolder and more strindent in its criticism of the BN, especially Chief Minister Musa Aman.

Everything that Musa does is open to LDP attacks. In the process, the party is being increasingly isolated from the Sabah BN, which is rapidly turning into an Umno-PBS dominated arrangement.
Musa’s strongest critic is LDP deputy president, Chin Su Phin. By now Chin is no longer a welcome figure in BN circles, especially at Musa’s and Umno functions. Observers said that Chin has openly been rebuked by Umno leaders at such events.

While LDP president VK Liew, a federal deputy minister, may not agree that his party’s relationship with BN is strained, it is understood he is trying to play it down for his own political survival.

Political analysts said the man behind the attacks on LDP is Chong Kah Kiat. His tiff with Musa became public while he was a minister in Musa’s cabinet.

He went ballistic when his project, the “Mazu”, the statue of a sea goddess in Kudat, was halted by Musa for its proximity to a mosque there. That was in 2006. Chong had since left politics. He resigned in April 2007 in protest against Musa’s action.

LDP was also upset when Musa appointed mostly Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) Chinese

leaders to political posts that were previously held by Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP).

Common enemy

SAPP left BN soon after the 2008 general election in protest against Musa’s hand in BN’s decision not to field SAPP president Yong Teck Lee in that polls. So, LDP and SAPP now have a common “enemy” in Musa.

Chin and other LDP leaders openly criticised Musa for preferring PBS to LDP, which traditionally represented the Chinese. They were also hoping that with SAPP out of the picture, LDP would stand to benefit.

Recently, Musa got the LDP all riled out when he picked a new second deputy chief minister to replace Peter Pang (who left LDP for Gerakan). Musa went for PBS deputy president, Dr Yee Moh Chai, over LDP to represent the Chinese community in his Cabinet.

LDP could not stomach this choice because PBS, through its president Joseph Pairin Kitingan,
already holds the other deputy chief minister’s post. LDP leaders openly complained that there is a plot to isolate the party, which was formed in 1989. It joined BN in 1991.

They also accused Musa of not appreciating the party’s contribution during elections including the recent one in Batu Sapi which was successfully retained by a PBS candidate.

However, Musa yesterday brushed aside LDP criticisms, saying: “I would not be dragged into petty squabbling. I have more important tasks to do – delivering developments to the people.”

Some weeks ago, Musa said he had no problem with LDP (the party). Many local analysts interpreted the remark to mean that Musa was telling that certain leaders in LDP are the problem, and not the party.

Now observers are wondering how far LDP leaders would go to redeem themselves in the court of the powerful Musa. If they stay put with BN under Musa, they will have to swallow their pride and be contented with the treatment they are getting now.

Tiny party

The position is simple: LDP is just a tiny party with only one MP (Liew) and one assemblyman (after two others left it for Gerakan). Many believed that LDP, unlike PBS or even SAPP, has no grassroots support good enough to cause a major shift of balance to Sabah BN.

“Even Liew, a Sino-Dusun from Kota Belud, won in Sandakan with a slim majority in 2008. And Sandakan is where Musa has a big following. If Liew were to move to the Kudat parliamentary seat in the next election, even Musa would not be able to guarantee Liew would win,” said an analyst.

“Besides, LDP is always quarrelling with local Umno leaders in Kudat,” he said.

“LDP secretary-general Teo Chee Kang (the assemblyman for Tanjung Kapur in Kudat) may also find it difficult to be renominated as the area is considered a Muslim mixed constituency,” he added.

Teo was anointed by LDP to replace Raymond Tan who was dropped as deputy chief minister not so long ago. But Musa again flexed his muscle by appointing LDP’s Pang instead. It was like a slap on the faces of Liew and Chin, and this explains the bad blood between Umno and LDP.

Another cause for concern in the Sabah political scene is LDP’s perceived “link” with the opposition SAPP. Chong and Yong who could not see eye-to-eye in recent years were said to have met and talked about politics and Chinese community issues at some functions lately.

Only time will tell whether this warming up of relationship between LDP and SAPP would have a significant impact on Sabah politics. And time is running out for LDP and SAPP as the general election could be held anytime now.

Then there is Upko (United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation), a Kadazandusun-based party which had also been intermittently critical of the Umno leadership, especially with regard to power-sharing.

Though not as highly critical as LDP, Upko is seen as another possible detractor of Musa, come the general election, according to observers

Political minnows

MCA and Gerakan are just minnows in Sabah. PBRS (Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah) faces certain annihilation in the coming general election as its rural supporters are still waiting for the party to deliver on its promises of development.

MCA won its single-allotted seat in Kepayan through default rather than design when Edward Khoo gained much less than the combined votes of the opposition there in 2008.

Gerakan, although bolstered with former LDP and SAPP leaders joining its ranks, is too demoralised to be a credible threat to Musa, said analysts.

Observers believed that Musa will put more PBS candidates in the next general election, including in one or two areas previously held by SAPP like in Likas, Luyang, Tawau, Elopura and Karamunting.

Most observers agreed that PBS has been the most steady and trusted partner of Umno in Sabah. They said Musa has acknowlegded this, and hence his heavy tilt towards the PBS.

Thus, Liew, Chin and other LDP leaders must have come to the conclusion that their political future will remain bleak as long as Musa is around.

In Sabah BN, Musa is the man to defeat, but he is too powerful right now. The only other man who could ruffle a few feathers in the state is Shafie Apdal but he is said to be reluctant to rock the boat for fear of losing his position in the federal Cabinet.

Analysts believed there is no way that leaders like Shafie, who is an elected vice-president of Umno, would be tempted to leave a strengthened BN. Only leaders from LDP and Upko would harbour such a move (leaving the coalition) for reasons best known to them, they said.

State Legislative Assembly Speaker, Salleh Said, who is Musa’s deputy in the state Umno liaison committee, has openly supported Musa (and was duly rewarded with the Speaker’s post). Thus it is difficult to see a sudden change of leadership at the helm of Sabah Umno.

As a result, LDP has no allies to outmaneouvre Musa unless it leaves the coalition. LDP can only bark.

In the next few months, LDP, Upko and Umno will be assessing their respective position in the coalition. Only time will tell whether they can retain the spirit of camaraderie.

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